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How Food Companies Trick You Into Thinking You’re Buying Healthy?

Things to watch out for according to Think Progress writer Tara Culp Ressler

“Gluten free.” “Organic.” “Natural.” “Wholegrain.” “Antioxidant.”

Those nutrition-related buzzwords can effectively mislead Americans to believe they’re buying healthy food, even when the product in question isn’t actually very good for them, according to a new study conducted by University of Houston researchers. Those words create a “false sense of health” that can override other warnings on the nutrition label. Food marketers use packaging and advertising, as well as social media messages, to make foods sound like healthier choices than they are. Food marketers are skilled at what they do. They know that if they can trick you into thinking a food is healthy, you're more likely to buy it.

“While many individuals may be trying to increase the health of their diets, food marketers are taking advantage of them by misleading those consumers with deceptive labeling,”

1.Food manufacturers have found that people tend to eat larger portions when the food picture on the package shows a larger portion. For example, if the picture on the front of a cracker box shows more crackers, we take more crackers. You want what you see. Let’s get this fan favorite out of the way first. Bacon is not good for your health. “Many don’t know that the World Health Organization has classified bacon in the same category as tobacco when it comes to carcinogenesis! Turkey bacon isn’t a healthy choice either. I know you don't want to hear this but... All types of bacon are processed to become bacon, so changing the type of bacon does not change the fact that it’s processed meat,” Better to learn recipes on how to make your own vegan sausages at home doing so will probably add a few years to your life expectancy and lower your medical bills significantly!

2. "All Natural" Foods and drinks that do not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances are allowed to write “All Natural” on their labels. This allows a lot of room for interpretation for the food companies. For example, kava, a plant native to the islands of the South Pacific, and often used as a dietary supplement for anxiety, may be associated with severe liver damage. Ephedra, an evergreen shrub-like plant native to central Asia and Mongolia that has been used for centuries for colds, fever, and other conditions, is associated with heart problems and risk of death. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids for safety reasons.

3. Reduced Fat/Sugar “Reduced Fat/Sugar”

Beware of claims about reduced amounts of fat and sugar. According to the FDA definition for “reduced”, the item only needs to have 25 percent less of the claimed nutritional value than the original referenced item. Many times items that claim to be reduced are not necessarily healthier. Companies make up for ingredients taken out in other areas. For example, a reduced fat item might increase the amount of sugar in the product to keep the taste consumers prefer. Always check the nutrition label to see if the product is actually healthier.


There is a common misconception about the powers of the term organic. Organic refers to the way a product is produced. It has to be produced by an approved method sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). People think buying organic is the key to weight loss, but buying organic items does not necessarily cut down the calories. Just remember to look at the nutrition and ingredients labels, even if the product is organic. Just because a product is labeled “organic,” it doesn't mean that it is nutrient dense. Some of these products are still highly processed foods high in calories, added sugar, salt, and added fats. Organic versions of snack foods such as cookies or boxed mac and cheese may have the same unhealthy characteristics as their non-organic counterparts—including too much sugar and not enough protein and fiber.

5. “Cage-Free and Free-Range”

Most people read this claim and picture chickens running free in an open farm pasture. This is not the case. The term cage-free only implies that each hen is not locked in an individual cage, but in an open barn. Many times these hens are never given outside access. Similarly, the USDA only regulates that a free-range hen must have access to outdoors.

There is one rule every consumer should learn “fresh is best.” The fresher the food, the more nutrients it will give you. Look for nutrient rich items in the grocery store or preferably farmers market. It is important to consume calories that give you nutrients which make you feel full. For example, eating a chocolate chip cookie gives you a lot of calories, but no nutritional benefits. It can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied thus you eat more empty calories and become obese.

6. "Ingredients and Serving Size"

Its so much more economical to buy fresh foods than processed and packaged gift wrapped meals. The packaging usually is worth more than the food! Pay attention to the order of ingredients listed on a label. The first few ingredients listed are the most used ingredients in the product. In most cases, the fewer ingredients, the better. The final thing to look at is the serving size because companies will often make it far less than a consumer would normally eat. Be aware that if you are going to eat double the serving size, you get double the calories, fat, sugar, etc.


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