Deceptive Food Marketing

Walk down the aisle of any supermarket and you’ll read on food labels claims of “natural,” “no GMO’s.” “no added hormones,” or “wholesome.”  Are the claims to be believed or is it all about food companies being deceptive into tricking you into buying their products? 

There are many strategies food marketers use to get you to spend your money.  And one way is using the power of nutrition to target certain age groups.  For example, if you happened to have been born between the early 1980’s and 2000, you are considered a “millennial” meaning food marketers are watching your buying habits closely and they know what you want or don’t want in your food.  Nice that they care, isn’t it?  The problem is food brands will tap into that millennial mindset and use some rather devious marketing methods to get you to buy their product.  Here are seven ways they do this and how to protect yourself from this tactic:

1.      Claims of “natural”

Natural always sounds nice – it makes us think of purity or genuine.  But be careful.  Food companies know millennials want “natural’ foods and that’s why the word is everywhere on food packages.  The term “natural” usually doesn’t mean much. However federal rules for “natural” means it does not allow the use of artificial ingredients or added colors.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture also requires this in the case of meat, chicken, and eggs, that the foods be “minimally processed.”

The best way to know what is in a food product, is to read and use the Nutrition Facts label looking through the ingredient list to see if the food lives up to its claims.  Remember, the ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight.

2.      Claims of “no added hormones”

The term “hormone free” has become a selling point. Millennials are particularly interested  in wanting to buy foods with “no added hormones.”  Keep in mind, no meat is completely hormone-free as all animals produce hormones. 

With this new emphasis on keeping hormones out of our food system, it has also brought about an array of other nutrition claims that can be rather confusing - “cage-free” to “free-range” to “grass-fed” to “pastured-raised.”  How is the public supposed to keep up with this new terminology and how do they sort out which is best to buy?

One way is to check out a couple of infographics that delve into the details of which claims mean something and which don’t– one infographic is on organic foods while the other is on buying eggs

3.      Claims of “sustained energy”

Have you seen the term “sustained energy” on a package of cookies or crackers? Some food companies will cite their food as providing “4 hours of nutritious steady energy” or maybe it will claim “helps keep you going” or even “long-lasting energy.”

Is there evidence these food products live up to their energy claims?  Is so, the scientific studies have yet to be found.  What these food companies are relying on is that eating their product – and it’s usually a whole-grain food – releases the carbohydrates more slowly than sugar or refined grains keeping blood sugar steadier but there’s no guarantee the foods keep you energetic for hours on end.

Just because a whole-grain food like a cookie claims “sustained energy” does not necessarily make it a healthy meal or snack.

4.      Claims of “non-GMO”

The claim of “non-GMO” is one of the most hot button marketing tools ever in recent years.  It seems like everyone has a strong opinion on genetically modified organisms and yet most foods that allegedly contain GMOs actually don’t.  Foods that do contain GMOs such as soy, corn, cottonseed, canola oil, cornstarch, and sugar from genetically engineered sugar beets have been purified so greatly they don’t contain any trace of genetic modification. 

According to the National Academy of Sciences and along with other scientific bodies, the ingredients from GMO crops are totally safe. 

Bottom line, whether a food is GMO-free or does contain GMOs, the crops are considered to be equally safe to consume.  For more information, visit “Straight Talk on GMO foods.”

5.      Claims of “juicing is better for you”

The juicing craze is as strong as ever but some of those “healthy” juices may not have as much “greens” in them as you think and they are likely to remove a lot of “greens” from your wallet.

Many of the companies promoting organic juices use catchy selling phrases such as “cold-pressured, always organic, never GMO, chemical-free, filler-free, gluten-free, preservative-free, or juice without junk.”  Who wouldn’t want to buy these pricey juices?

Often these juices bate customers who don’t like veggies by stating their juice is made from greens such as spinach, kale, or Swiss chard – but read the ingredient list.  It’s not unusual that just because the juice is the color green, the greenest veggie in it may be from cucumber or celery – not exactly the superstar veggies you want.

Whatever happened to just simply eating your vegetables?  Leafy greens such as collards, turnip or mustard greens, broccoli, and kale are loaded with nutrients like vitamins A, C, and K, folate, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, lutein, and fiber.  They often taste better and they will contain far more fiber which juicing removes.