A recent study about teens believing sports drinks are healthy really got me thinking. How much of our food choices are made because of clever marketing, especially marketing that would make us falsely believe something is healthy. And we are no different from teens.
It is surprising how much we take the food companies word for it. For example, I was reading a nutrition label for a multigrain cracker that was in our company’s break room. The first ingredient was whole wheat, which is a whole grain. A good start. But to find the next grain (not wheat) I had to skim to the fourth ingredient. To find the next real grain, not just a grain byproduct, I had to go 9 ingredients past the 2% or less ingredients. Literally they are sprinkling other grains over the top and claiming multigrain.
I wouldn’t have been so upset about the whole issue except they had this picture of a big wooden scoop with all these different grains pouring out of it. Great, now I’m all upset about it again. Give me just a second…
I guess it never ceases to amaze me to see all the tactics that are used to try and trick us into eating food that is not healthy, and by my personal standards, not even real food. These tactics are regularly being exposed, but before we figure out what tactics they are using they are already on to the next one. Some marketing tactics are here today and gone tomorrow, but some can linger on for years, even decades.
A great example is margarine. Most people can remember when margarine was not only promoted as healthier than butter, but they were so good at their message some people would have considered it a health food. Sometimes the issue is not only good marketing, but in this case the government backed the promotion of margarine. We now know that the partially hydrogenated oils that made up margarine are the most unhealthy oils you can put into your body. They are especially bad for heart disease, increasing bad cholesterol and decreasing good.
So if the junk food and fast food industries are pumping 10s of billions of dollars into marketing and sometimes getting government support to promote their unhealthy food than what are we to do? How can we possibly overcome such a huge deficit of misinformation. The answer is actually easier than you would think. We need to learn how to buy and eat real food.
The most basic step you can take is start reading labels. Stop believing the commercials and the marketing jargon on the front of the label. Go straight to the back of the label and read the ingredients. Avoid processed oils, grains, and sugars, as well as food additives and preservatives.
If you need a refresher on what real food is here is a fairly comprehensive list: beans (legumes), whole grains, nuts, seeds, whole fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. If you spot one of these ingredients on your label than you have found something that contains real food. The question is how much of these real food ingredients are in there?
The only way to overcome false marketing is understand true ingredients. If you can’t understand the label, probably because the food companies don’t want you to, than you should just leave that food alone. Breaking free from sly marketing tactics will not happen overnight, but if you start to look to the source of truth- the ingredients label- than you are well on your way.