A recent MSN.com piece, The Worst Packaged Food Lies, brings to light the problem of looking only at the front of a packaged food box for nutrition information. The thing is, the nutrition claims that are on the front of a packaged food usually aren’t lies. They are true. But they aren’t the whole picture. The whole picture is found on the back or side panels where the nutrition labels are.
The article refers to candy like Mike and Ike or Good & Plenty and their “fat free” claim on their boxes. They are, in fact, fat free. No lies there. What the front of the box wouldn’t dare ever declare is that these candies are “almost 100 percent sugar and processed carbs.”
What we as consumers need to learn is to never judge a box by its cover; to never assume that a food is healthy because of a healthy claim on the front of the package.
Here are a few other examples from the article of claims that might lead a consumer to think a food is healthy.
Organic – I know. I preach organic a lot. But there is organic junk food. Foods can be certified USDA organic and still not be healthy. Remember Batter Blaster canned pancakes? They are certified organic. Even the Newman-O’s, that are made with several organic ingredients, that did well in the chocolate sandwich cookie taste test aren’t really healthy.
Less fat – The article uses the example of Smuckers Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter. Sure, they’ve taken out 25 percent of the fat in the pb, but it’s been replaced with
maltodextrin, a carbohydrate used as a cheap filler in many processed foods. This means you’re trading the healthy fat from peanuts for empty carbs, double the sugar, and a savings of a meager 10 calories.
So while the 25 percent fat claim isn’t a lie, people who don’t know the facts can easily be mislead into thinking this is healthy.
A good source of vitamins and minerals – Ah, MSN.com picks on the product that I don’t eat anymore but I miss the most – Pop-Tarts. It’s the strawberry frosted ones I miss the most; however, they’re talking about the Chocolate Cookie Dough Pop-Tarts that are a “Good source of 7 vitamins and minerals.”
Five of the 7 vitamins and minerals are derived from this product’s first ingredient—enriched flour. That’s the code word for “refined flour that’s had nutrients added to it after it’s been stripped of fiber.”
This type of claim isn’t specific to Pop-Tarts. Most traditional breakfast cereals and bars brag about their vitamins and minerals while still being refined carbohydrate and sugar laden.
Companies usually aren’t lying about their organic, less fat, full of vitamins and minerals claims. They aren’t even lying about the other ingredients that are in the product. It’s all there on the box if consumers would just take the time to flip the box over.
As consumers we need to take the time to read all of the ingredients that are in a packaged food. We need to look at the first few ingredients. Those are the ones that make up the bulk of the product. We need to decide if those are things we want to be putting regularly into our bodies and our children’s bodies. We need to educate ourselves about ingredients and what they really are.
We need to remember that the front of the box is marketing. It’s there to grab our attention and make us want to buy the product.
The MSN.com piece says:
You see, food manufacturers think you’re stupid. In fact, their marketing strategies rely on it.
I don’t think we’re stupid. We’re in a hurry and want convenience. We’re misinformed and don’t understand what we’re reading. But we’re not stupid. We have the ability to educate ourselves and make better choices.