I am deeply disturbed by the state of our food industry. The countless advertising tricks that are used to persuade us to buy their products are out of control. Food manufacturers and marketers are pushing the limits of what is considered truth and what is considered a simple technicality. Take a look at these 10 products that I found shopping the grocery store. Understand how marketers use these tricks to persuade you.
Less Sugar – Reduced Sugar Heinz Ketchup
Here’s the thing with these reduced sugar, or less sugar products – they replace the sugar with artificial sweeteners. Take a look at the back of the bottle at the ingredients. Sucralose, an artificial sweetener, is listed as one of the ingredients. Given the many negative health effects artificial sweeteners have on your body, I’d pass on this one. If I had the choice, I’d take the regular ketchup – even if it has more sugar.
Low Carb, 0 Trans Fat Flour Tortillas
Many low carb products hit the market back during the Atkins craze. This one is a low carb tortilla that has only 6 net grams of carbohydrates. The other 11 grams of carbohydrates are fiber. Sounds great! You can eat tortillas now on low carb diets.
What bothers me is the 0 grams of trans fat this product claims to have – and it does have 0 grams, but only on a technicality. Look at the back in the ingredients. It clearly shows that there is hydrogenated oil (it doesn’t say if it’s partially or fully hydrogenated, but it’s not a natural fat regardless). However, based on FDA regulations, if the product has less than .5 grams of any fat per serving, they are allowed to list it as 0 grams. If that sounds misleading – it is. Something should be done about that. Here’s the FDA rounding rules straight from the FDA.gov website. Take a look at it and be shocked at what’s allowed. This food advertising trick is common in more products than you might imagine.
Contains Antioxidants – Cherry 7up
Whole Grain Trix
General Mills seems to have started a new marketing campaign. On all of their boxes is the graphic “More Whole Grain than any other ingredient!” It’s whole grain, so it must be healthy…right? They even say it twice on the box to drive home the supposed health benefits. Claiming health benefits is one of the biggest food advertising tricks in the book. Now, take a look at the back. Sure enough, the first ingredient on the back of the box is whole grain corn. Ingredients are listed in order of weight from highest to lowest. Now, take a look at the second ingredient – sugar. The third? Corn meal. Forth? Corn Syrup. The list of chemical ingredients continues from there.
So what if whole grain is the #1 ingredient in the product by weight? If there were a gram of crack in there, would that make this product healthy? What if it were the last ingredient (least amount)? Would that make it healthy? The marketing department does its best to persuade you that Trix is healthy. I’m not going to say if it is or isn’t – I’ll let you be the judge.
Heart Healthy Quaker Weight Control
Quaker tries to promote its “Heart Healthy” instant oatmeal. It says “Weight Control” in big letters on the front and says it’s for your weight management plan. Who doesn’t want to lose weight? If the box says this oatmeal is for weight control, why wouldn’t you buy it? And hey, it’s heart healthy too. **Food Advertising Trick # 135 – claim that your product is good for the heart and will help you manage your weight.
Now, let’s take a look at the back of the box. In the ingredients you’ll see maltodextrin listed as the #3 ingredient by weight. Maltodextrin is basically glucose – one of the highest glycemic processed substances out there! What this means is that maltodextrin is easily digestible. So easy, that it is absorbed quickly by the blood stream – causing a surge of insulin. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. Tell me how that helps with weight control. You’ll also see acesulfame and sucralose – 2 artificial sweeteners. Is this product really supposed to be heart healthy?
Smart Baked – They Must Be Healthy
This is an easy one. I don’t think anyone thinks these snack cakes are healthy. However, let’s point out some of the food advertising tricks being used. First, they call them “Smart Bakes”. Marketers know that putting the word “smart” on a package makes it more likely you’ll purchase it. Using the power of persuasion, they make you think you’re making a good decision. Plus, it’s 100% whole grain and has 3 grams of fiber. Awesome!
On the back of the box you’ll see that they list trans fat as 0 grams. However, as I’ve circled in the ingredients, it has partially hydrogenated oil. It obviously has trans fat. And again, they are able to get away with this because it has less than .5 grams per serving, so they are allowed to express this number as zero.
Do we even need to look at the rest of the ingredients? They are trying to portray this product as healthy, yet the first 3 ingredients are sugar, flour, and cornstarch. Yum – that will do wonders for your midsection.
Water is Healthy – Right?
I like this one. They market it as water. There’s no artificial colors, so the product looks like water. Makes it seem healthier. And hey, there’s no artificial flavors either! On the food label, it says there’s 0% juice. I would love to know how they got this natural strawberry kiwi flavor without either strawberry or kiwi. Not to mention, the product contains an artificial sweetener (sucralose). I guess “no artificial colors or flavors” doesn’t include the artificial sweeteners that you can taste. The best part is that this product will help you earn green points. So, if you are a fan of the environment, you’ll be doing the earth a favor by buying this product.
Naturally Sweetened Vitamin Water
Next up on the list is Vitamin Water. They really know how to choose their wording. With words like vitamin, water, zero, and naturally sweetened, why wouldn’t you think this is good for you? Not only do you get all the benefits of water, but there are vitamins in there too!
Don’t get too excited. The label lists Stevia extract as an ingredient. Stevia is the hot new sweetener on the market. It’s being marketed as natural because it comes from the stevia leaf. I’ve got news for you – unless you’re eating the stevia leaf whole, there is nothing natural about this sweetener. Coca Cola lists out its 42 step process for deriving the Rebiana (Stevia extract) from the stevia leaf. The steps include the uses of methanol, ethanol, isopropanol, and many other chemicals. Not to mention, there are several heating and cooling steps involved. Take a look at Coca Cola’s patent right here. You tell me how natural that looks.
WhoNu Nutritious Cookies
Next up…nutrition rich cookies. Finally, you can have your cake and eat it too – or can you? Food advertising tricks are everywhere on this box. They say they are “nutrition rich”. They have “as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal”. They also have “as much vitamin C as a cup of blueberries!” Not to mention, there’s no trans fat, no hydrogenated oils, and no high fructose corn syrup. With cookies this nutritious, why eat just one?
On the back of the box always lies the truth behind the tricky advertising tactics. First of all, all those vitamins and minerals are fortified. See that separate section labeled “vitamins and minerals”? It has its own section because it’s not naturally found in the product. You might as well eat some Oreos and take a vitamin pill – the effects would be the same. Now, let’s look at the ingredients. Let’s forget about the fact that nearly every ingredient is some kind of processed food. Take a look at the circled “corn syrup”. The front of the box says there’s no high fructose corn syrup. I suppose that’s true, but that doesn’t mean corn syrup is any better! Expect this to be broken down quickly, creating a quick rise in blood sugar, and a resulting release of fat storing insulin hormone. All these companies get away with these advertising tricks on technicalities.
100 Calorie Right Bites
Last on the list is 100 calorie right bites. Marketers make you think it’s not bad for you because they’re only 100 calories. What’s that going to do to your waistline after all? A calorie is not a calorie! They also call them “Right Bites”. Why? Because you are right to be making such a right decision. Right, smart, healthy – these are all keywords advertisers use to make you purchase the product. Last but not least, these cookies have 0 grams of trans fat.
And again, the truth lies on the back of the package. They claim zero grams of trans fat, yet in the ingredients, there lies partially hydrogenated oil (ie trans fat). If you haven’t figured it out by now, they get away with this because the FDA allows them to express any trans fat that is less than .5 grams per serving as zero. Since this package has 6 servings, and each serving could potentially have up to .5 grams of trans fat, this product could have up to 3 grams of trans fat – not exactly 0, huh?
Food Advertising Tricks
I had a lot of fun writing this article. It felt a little odd taking pictures of food in the grocery store while people strolled the aisles, but it was well worth it. Being that I usually ignore what’s in the aisles, and shop the perimeter of the grocery store, I hadn’t realized how out of control advertising had gotten. There were hundreds of products like this. The next time you’re in the store, look for yourself. Check both the front AND the back of the box.
So, what kind of tricks have you noticed?
This article is part of the 10 Ways to a Better Body blog series. Be sure to check out the rest of the series!