Does food labelling help us make informed choices?
In an ideal world we’d all eat real foods, those without a label and an ingredients list, because the food should be an ingredient that goes into making up a meal. Yes, a meal, not a snack! However, food marketing is big business. In many cases, more money is spent on the marketing than the production of the food. Why? Because we buy into it.
Large food companies wouldn’t pursue this line of product push if we didn’t bite. So, what’s wrong with food marketing? Why shouldn’t we buy those foods that we feel best suit our lifestyle choices or our health choices? Well, because the image you see on the TV, on the billboard, in the newspaper or magazine, is just that — an image. This is not reality.
Eating one kind of cereal doesn’t give you the body you have always dreamed of, allowing you to casually glide around your seaside penthouse suite in a stunning red swimming costume. And drinking a certain kind of energy drink won’t give teenage boys the ability to play the guitar, with an armful of tattoos and instant street cred, though they might think otherwise. The reality is, regardless of the marketing and health claims made for a product, we must look beyond that.
So many food products now carry claims on the packaging that are designed to make the product seem healthier. However, just take a look at the real ingredients of one product versus another, cheaper product, which doesn’t carry health claims. Try comparing it against your own home-made version and you might find that the claims are poorly founded, or only highlighting one aspect of the product and none of the negative aspects.
For example, be aware that:
- ‘Fat-Free’ products often have added sugar to make them more palatable.
- If a product contains ‘30% less fat’ it may still be really high in fat, it really depends on how much fat was in the product to start with. Even worse, the manufacturer may have changed from using a fat that the body can recognise and metabolise to a fat that it cannot (i.e. a trans-fat).
- ‘100% good’ could mean absolutely anything!
So, you can see that food marketing can, and most likely does, pull the wool over our eyes when it comes to making better food choices.
If you want to get around this then you need to buy real foods that the ingredient, so there’s no need for an ingredients list or to become a label reader. Any food or drink that has 2 or more ingredients must have a food label, listing the ingredients in weight order — the ingredients at the top of the list are found in the product in the largest quantities.
Over the years sugar has crept higher and higher up the list of ingredients in a larger number of products than ever before. At the same time our palates have changed. The sad fact is that we very quickly get used to the taste of higher-sugar foods and find healthier (lower sugar) ones less palatable, which has long-term implications on our health. A prime example of this is what has been happening to breakfast cereals. In just a three year period up to 2015 the sugar in some children’s cereals rose by a 1/3rd. There aren’t many children who would complain at this rise in sugar, but it is an incredible amount for anyone to be consuming at breakfast time alone.
Food has become processed and over-manufactured, so much so that many food products sound more like chemistry experiments than food. Some chemicals are there to make the product last, giving it a longer shelf-life. Sadly, others exist simply because they are cheaper and ‘fill’ the product to make it look bigger or stretch further.
You can make up your own mind about food marketing, but do look at ingredients labels on products. Look for ingredients that you recognise and that sound natural, not chemical. If you can, go one stage further and buy foods that don’t have an ingredients label, because they the ingredient. This is what some of the healthiest nations on earth do and it seems to work well for them.