Think you’re tucking into a perfectly healthy, nutritious snack? You may need to think again. The packaging is – most likely – telling a load of fibs. Lucy from @thefashionfitnessfoodie I feel is the main whistle-blower when it comes to highlighting misleading information on packaging. Her clever calorie comparisons are fast becoming famous on Instagram, paving the way for fellow nutrition savvy bloggers to educate people when it comes to confusing marketing messages and nutritional information. And now I offer my wisdom on the subject of all those ‘fake claims’ on would-be healthy snacks.
IS ‘FREE-FROM’ ACTUALLY BETTER FOR YOU?
Let’s begin with a biggy: the classic ‘free-from’ label. Most supermarkets have rather minimal, ‘Free-from’ sections, set apart from their more conventional offering. After studying several, I can inform you that these separated, unloved shelves mostly comprise of all manner of – heavily overpriced – foods in various forms. Everything is boldly labelled as ‘gluten free’ or ‘dairy free’, as if it somehow makes it 100% healthy.
(Fun fact: a tomato is gluten free, but that doesn’t mean you should wrap it up in fancy packaging, put a label on it and declare it worthy of an inflated price tag.)
In actual fact, when you turn these seemingly ‘healthy’ foods over to peep at the lengthy paragraphs they call ingredients lists, a multitude of sneaky sins are often to be found lurking beneath that once reassuring ‘free-from’ label. Sugar, which those of you who’ve read my recent post will have already pre-empted, is one of the chief suspects, along with a rainbow of artificial preservatives and chemicals you really don’t want to be consuming.
I think the issue is that these supermarket shelves are a confusing cross-section of health and free-from foods. When people spot ‘free-from’, they read ‘healthy’ instead, especially when all the packaging gives the impression of a more wholesome product (A meringue is gluten-free, but with extraordinary amounts of sugar, it could never be considered healthy!) Many of the products are a prime example of how marketing falsely leads people to believe they are all healthy. In most cases, you may as well be skimming the confectionary aisle.
BREAKFAST: WHY DO THEY GET IT SO WRONG?
From all manner of dubious sugar-laden cereals to so-called ‘brekkie biscuits’, why do food companies insist on creating such unhealthy breakfast products? They appear to have the nation hooked into the idea that breakfast comes in a gaudy box. Not only that, this box will often claim its contents are ‘wholegrain’ and therefore ‘good for you’, giving a healthy start to your day. In reality, that once precious wholegrain has been refined and processed to such extremes that the beige cereal in your morning bowl of cheerios actually contains precious little of its original fibrous wholegrain.
A healthy breakfast should include good sources of carbs and protein (see my latest post on sports-based nutrition). Why start your day with sugar loaded, empty calorie cereal when you could be enjoying proper forms of carbs and protein, not forgetting those ‘almighty’ wholegrains (avo toast all the way kids)? Here is another example of misleading claims that manipulate the consumer into believing they are choosing a healthy option when in reality, they’re buying over-processed, over-priced and over-promised products that at best might give you a few [synthetically added] nutrients, but at worst give you an unwelcome hit of sugar and not much else!
At the end of this post I’ve included a link to a rather shocking news article, uncovering a few dirty secrets regarding cereal companies camouflaging sugar content. Though I’ll warn you now, you may never buy another box of cereal again after reading it!
What I’m trying to say is don’t be fooled by swanky labels boasting golden claims. Turn the box over, you don’t even need to necessarily read the individual ingredients, if there’s a meaty paragraph’s worth of stuff, put it back on the shelf. Don’t give in to your naive self, always be sceptical of ‘health’ foods until you’ve read the label. Trust me, you’d be surprised at the amount of ‘healthy’ brands that cram the bad guys into their products.