You’re browsing the shelves in the supermarket, maybe you’re trying to choose a cereal or muesli bar. It sounds simple enough—but when faced with an aisle full of products, all boasting different health benefits, the decision can quickly become confusing.
Do you choose this one which says it’s natural?
Or that one which claims it’s cholesterol-free?
Or is it best just to get the fat-free version?
A few head scratches later, and still none the wiser, you end up grabbing the one that’s on special, because really, you have no idea what to choose.
Welcome to the power of marketing!
Food manufacturers use a variety of tricks to make their food seem healthier and more appealing, urging you to buy their product over other brands. Today, we are going to cut through the hype, and take a look at what some common claims really mean.
This one makes me laugh, the word natural has crept onto the packaging of many products lately. The word is meant to conjure up wholesome images, perhaps of us picking our own food and getting back to nature. Thus we are meant to believe the food is healthy.
But the word ‘natural’ is unregulated in Australia (and as far as I am aware also in American and Britain), meaning it can be slapped onto any product. Check out these potato chips – apparently emblazoning the packet with the word NATURAL will make us think this is a healthy option.
The word natural is meaningless. It doesn’t mean a food is healthy. Arsenic and belladonna are both natural – doesn’t mean they will be appearing on my plate any time soon.
2. Cholesterol– free
Trying to reduce your cholesterol or keep it down? Seeing cholesterol-free or low-cholesterol across the food might make you think it’s a good choice.
Only animals can make cholesterol, so animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and butter will contain cholesterol. But often, the cholesterol-free or low-cholesterol label is found on a product made from plants, (such as margarine and oil). The label is pretty meaningless because plants don’t contain cholesterol anyway! (But these foods can still be high in fat and kilojoules)
Watching your cholesterol levels? You are better off reducing your saturated fat intake instead. Less saturated fat is what will help reduce your cholesterol levels more effectively.
3. Fat-free or reduced-fat
But when you see 99% fat-free slapped onto boiled sweets, sorbet, marshmallows and other sweet foods it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. These foods never had much fat in them in the first place, just sugar!
And watch out for low-fat or fat-free dressings and mayonnaise. When the fat is removed, sugar and other fillers are used to replace the fat – often the kilojoule content can be the same. Proceed with caution for this claim.
4. Light or lite
Light or lite versions of food usually means less fat, sugar or kilojoules. But not so for some products, such as oil. The light or lite refers to a lighter taste, colour or consistency.
That extra light olive oil? It still contains the same amount of kilojoules and fat as any other olive oil, it’s just lighter in flavour.
5. Baked not fried
Sounds like a better option right? This one mainly appears on snack foods and frozen items like chips and wedges.
However, the baked versions could have as much fat as fried items so check the label.
Trying to make the best selection can be a minefield as you navigate around the sneaky claims made by food companies. As a general rule of thumb, ignore the food packaging and take a look at the ingredient panel or nutrition label – these will both show you what’s really going on with the food.