If there’s one important piece of advice I could make stick in everyone’s head who is interested in wanting to eat and be healthier, it would be to READ THE INGREDIENT LIST AND NUTRITION FACTS LABEL. This is easier said that done, however, due to the savvy ways food companies are allowed to market to consumers (a majority of them CHILDREN), the concept of “reading labels” isn’t enough anymore (not to mention deciphering what nutrition labels actually mean can be an art in itself…stay tuned next week for a lesson in that). Many of these labels found dazzled across food packaging in bold, attractive fonts and colors are misleading and at times downright false pieces of health claims aimed to get you to buy a product rather than look out for your health and well-being. I cringe many times when I shop in food stores and see the mass of unhealthy foods targeted at shoppers in strategic places on shelves (and yes, even the healthy stores like Whole Foods have products that may seem healthy, but aren’t, such a sugar-laden snacks boasting a “gluten free” designation). With that, here are some of my top-offenders of nutrition claims to watch out for and why. One of the easiest ways to avoid getting sucked into the food marketing manipulation vortex is to shop the perimeter aisles in food stores – the aisles that contain fresh produce, fresh meats (if you eat them), fresh dairy (if you aren’t vegan), and less-processed foods. The center aisles tend to be traps of processed foods and less-healthy choices.
Marion Nestle (nutrition superwoman and one of my idols) puts it best from her book “What to Eat”:
“The foods that sell best and bring in the most profits are not necessarily the ones that are best for your health, and the conflict between health and business goals is at the root of public confusion about food choices. At the supermarket, you exercise freedom of choice and personal responsibility every time you put an item in your shopping cart, but massive efforts have gone into making it more convenient and desirable for you to choose some products rather than others.”
The other unfortunate thing you need to realize is that the USDA and FDA are heavily influenced by food industry financing, lobbying, and lawsuit intimidation (heavens forbid the USDA say that eating too much red meat is unhealthy! The beef industry has already been all over that, leaving the USDA backing down with shaking knees). Many people ask me, “Well, the FDA or USDA wouldn’t allow something super unhealthy be put on the shelves, so it can’t be that bad for me, right?” I hate to break it to you, but yes…. Yes, it most certainly can (and in most cases is). No fear – empower yourself with the knowledge to shop smart and vote with your fork. The more people who won’t buy into these false claims will eventually shift the market and hopefully change standards. Already, the tables have turned with individuals and proactive groups filing lawsuits against food companies (and even the USDA) for misleading nutrition marketing and labelling….and some are even winning.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR:
While this list is nowhere near as comprehensive as I could get in the complex world of misleading claims on labels and marketing tactics of food companies, I hope it raises enough awareness to help you carefully navigate through your way of becoming an educated and empowered healthy consumer. Stay tuned next week for a lesson (or refresher for some of you) on deciphering nutrition labels.
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us