Just the other day a friend came over and said “everything causes cancer, so I’m just going to eat whatever I want.”
Seeing as how this is a pretty common thing to joke about, I started thinking: why is it so hard to figure out what’s healthy?
And how should people figure out what do eat to stay healthy, anyway, if it’s apparently that difficult?
Well, I not only want to show you here that it’s not hard figuring out what to eat, but also that there are a few key rules that make it incredibly easy to figure out. Seeing as apparently 47% of Americans agree with this statement that “everything causes cancer” (in other words, there’s ambiguous information on what’s healthy food) I did some research.
Naturally, I took my research to the grocery store.
The Surprising Ways That Food Companies Try to Trick You
I casually walked through every aisle of the grocery store and picked out things with labels that could be considered misleading, or otherwise made you think the product is healthy. Things that children or uninformed people might fall for.
The first one? Snapple.
#1 Snapple “Juice Drink – All Natural”
Ahhh all natural eh? Big green text that claims this is all “natural.” Sure! Maybe it is.
But with 46g of sugar, I highly doubt that. That’s enough to make a horse diabetic.
All natural, yeah it’s great for you!
We instinctively read “all natural” and are disarmed. As you’ll see in the next few minutes, this is a very common tactic for getting you to think things are healthy and that natural = always healthy, when in reality there’s usually a lot of other stuff added.
#2 Quaker Oats: “Heart Healthy Whole Grains”
With a big heart saying “heart healthy whole grains” you know this must be a health food, right?
Yeah.. until you flip it over and read, “ARTIFICIAL Fruit & Cream FLAVORS” which are conveniently written in an off-color that blends in, in a smaller font. Each part of the oatmeal (the flavoring, the oats, the fake fruits) has an ingredient list 30+ items long too.
Trickery at its best.
Heart healthy, for sure!
#3 Raisin Bran – “Good Source of Fiber & Made With Whole Grain!”
This is a little scary to me – that sugared up breakfast foods can be marketed to kids and moms trying to convince them that there’s actually healthy stuff in it, when they know there isn’t.
Yummy fiber! Yummy whole grains! Don’t forget the 19g of sugar and the ingredient list 50 items long!
This is taking advantage of selective attention at it’s best – provide a little positive about something to help draw attention away from the negative and obvious.
#4 Kellogg’s “Fiber Plus Antioxidants”
Yayyyy I need more fiber to poo, right!? Fantastic! These will do great.
Wait. I can get antioxidants from a dessert bar too?! OMG!! Sinfully delicious!
This one I call the “too good to be true.” You know it’s a dessert bar. But there’s good stuff in it?! Win!
But when you read the ingredient list, it’s 30+ ingredients, with half a dozen preservatives and words I can’t pronounce.
And that’s saying something because I majored in Bio in college.
#5 Pop Tarts “Good Source of 8 Vitamins and Minerals”
I’m amazed that people fall for this.
Pop tarts. A good source of vitamins and minerals? Are you kidding me? I almost wanted to bring an uzi into the poptart factory and start shooting. The sad thing is that people fall for this.
The ingredients in pop tarts are a high school science experiment – there is nothing that even resembles food anywhere on the label. Pretty much the only real foods on the entire label are cinnamon and brown sugar.
But I think psychologically it does something interesting… when we see pop-tarts, most of us are like “Okay, I know it’s bad” and then make a decision.
But once they add “Great source of antioxidants, calcium and minerals!” it suddenly sounds a little be less sinful, right?
#6 Chocolate Milk – “Vitamins A&D 37% Less Fat Than Whole Milk!”
Ingredients? Okay, so there’s actually milk in this. Good sign.
Ingredient #2 = sugar. Ingredient #3-6 = cocoa mix science experiment & preservatives. Ingredient #4 = Artificial flavors.
#7 Arizona Iced Tea “NO Calories!”
At first we’re like, “oh, sweet, no calories!?” But that should raise some huge warning bells. How can you consume something (unless it’s water), without it having any calories? How in the hell does it have substance?
When you see splenda, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and virtually all of the artificial sweeteners, that should make you stop and think.
In the next week or two I’ll have a long post on the research behind all of these additives. I’ll save you time though: you don’t want them in you.
#8 Frosted Flakes “Good Source of Vitamin D!”
Some more selective attention. “Look mommy! I can get vitamin D from this!”
You know where else you can get it, kid?
By turning off your damn computer and playing in this thing called S U N L I G H T.
In any case, you’re looking at 11g of sugar (better compared to some breakfast cereals), preservatives, and a long list of artificial flavors.
No, Tony, they’re not GRRREAT.
#9 Juicefuls “Juice Filled Fruit Snacks – 100% Real Fruit Juice In the Center, Made With Real Fruit!”
Ingredient #1 “juice from concentrates.” “Made with real fruit.” But what they neglect to tell you is that it’s 2% fruit juices, and 98% dyes, sweeteners, and preservatives.
Yep, there’s fruit juice in there all right…. about a tear drop worth.
#10 Kraft Easy Cheese “Made with Real Cheese!“
Okay, let’s start with a fun game first:
Does it really seem likely that cheese could come out of a spray can?
In reality, there’s not really cheese in there at all, it’s a clever mix of whey and milk protein with other additives that make it somehow seem like cheese.
Oh, and then other goodies to make it taste like “bacon flavored cheese” (gross).
#12 Lucky Charms “With WHOLE GRAIN First Ingredient!”
Woohoooooo, we’re getting whole grains in the cereal!
Don’t mind the 10g sugar, 170mg sodium (how is there that much salt in cereal, anyway?), marshmallow sugar, more sugar, corn syrup, added colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, and other goodies. Those are okay though. There’s whole grains in there folks!!
#13 Tradewinds Slow Brewed Ice Tea “100% Natural”
To be honest, this one isn’t that bad. The first ingredient is brewed tea. Victory!!
Unfortunately here’s 19g of sugar in one 8 oz serving, in addition to some yummy caramel color.
If you’re into reading science journals, read this toxicity report on a common issue with caramel colorings.
So, no, this isn’t 100% natural. Yeah, the teabag and water are natural, but not the 19g of added sugar making you obese.
#14 Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup – “Healthy Request – Heart Healthy, 0g Trans Fat”
Heart healthy? DERP.
Let’s start with this one. In that one bowl of soup, there’s about %40 of your daily sodium intake. In just 140 calories of soup.
The noodles have an ingredient list 20 items long. Preservatives, artificial flavors, and other fun stuff!
Then we get into the chicken (this part is funny). The first ingredient in the meat is “mechanically separated chicken.”
Generally I put this in the “eat at your own risk” category.
#15 Betty Crocker Sour Cream & Chives “Made with 100% Real Mashed Potatoes.”
See, the problem with saying “100% real mashed potatoes” is that I envision someone stuffing already made mashed potatoes into a box, then maybe adding some slight preserving solution, and voila it’s ready for me! Maybe that’s how you envision it too.
Let me tell you what’s actually in this…
Potatoes, salt, MSG, Artificial Flavors, Hydrogenated oils, silicon dioxide, and another half a dozen preservatives to keep it fresh.
All this time I thought Betty Crocker cooked those mashed potatoes and put them into a nice to-go bag for me! Arggggg
“Made with 100% real mashed potatoes” means “Yea, there are a couple potatoes in here.. mashed in with a bunch of preservatives and other things you can’t pronounce.”
#16 Dole Fruit in Gel “All Natural Fruit”
This one was interesting.
You’d think that, seeing as I can see the fruit in there, they would be telling the truth.
Well, yeah, there’s fruit in there… but the third ingredient is sugar (22g in each container), the fourth is an artificial sweetener, and the 5th, and the 7th, and a hell of a lot more.
So yeah, I guess there’s fruit in there, in addition to a whole bag of other fun goodies.
#17 Chocolate Cupcake Pudding “As Much Calcium As an 8oz Glass of Milk!”
Selective attention once again.
Great, calcium like there is in milk.
There’s the subtle “Hey, there’s something good in this… it’s okay to buy it” hint. When in reality, you’re getting calcium, but also sugar, hydrogenated oils, and a half dozen colors and preservatives.
#18 Kool Aid- “Good Source of Antioxidant Vitamins C & E – 35% Less Sugar Than Leading Regular Sodas”
Apparently, since vitamin C & E are antioxidants, and since you can add them via ascorbic acid to food, even food that is obviously unhealthy can make health claims on the front of the package.
I think kids (in particular) sometimes get misled and think “Yummmmy it tastes like vitamins mommy! And look, it says there’s vitamins!!!”
Unfortunately, kool-aid is another high school science lab experiment. The first two ingredients are the sweeteners – sugar and fructose – and then a dozen other preservatives, flavoring agents, and artificial colors. No sign of real food anywhere in this cocktail.
#19 Heinz Ketchup “Grown Not Made”
To be honest Heinz is not that bad – As far as preservatives, additives, dyes, etc. go. But it does give you a misleading idea that it’s all “grown, not made” and that it’s totally healthy.
It might have been ten years ago, but now they proudly have high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup as the third and fourth ingredients.
Seeing as we’re in an obesity epidemic, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been shown to have a whole host of issues related to that, this one is out of the running too.
#20 Powerade “Advanced Electrolyte System: Vitamins B3, B6 and B12”
Let’s start with the obvious: since when did we need powerade to replenish electrolytes?
Hasn’t this thing called, uh, water (+ food & fruits) done the job for the past, say, couple hundred million years?
Alright. Let’s give powerade the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume it actually is a lot better to replenish thirst than water.
But let’s look at the ingredients now.
#1 water, #2 high fructose corn syrup (20g sugar in this drink), yellow 5, and some other goodies.
The irony is that if you did a hard workout, and then drank this gatorade after, you’d see yourself getting progressively fatter due to the sugar and calories it has anyway.
So you might not want to give your kids this after soccer practice…
#21 Minute Maid Fruit Punch “Made With Real Fruit Juice”
Now this is funny.
Ingredient #1 is water. So far so good.
Ingredient #2 is the list of sweeteners – high fructose corn syrup, sugar.
Finally, ingredient #3 is the fruit juices. But whats scary (and important to know) is that the higher up sugar and HFCS appear on the ingredient list, the more there is, and the more it makes up the drink or food you’re consuming.
So, not only is there a LOT of sugar in this, there are also several dyes and several preservatives. This story is becoming pretty repetitive, right?
#22 Waist Watcher Diet Root Beer
This one was just hilarious so I had to put it in here.
Waist watcher. Diet. Soda?
You know something is funny here, right?
This falls in the category of “have your cake, eat it, and not get fat.” You know it’s not true.
Keep these paradoxes in mind.
#23 Pepsi “Throwback Made with REAL Sugar”
This one is pretty hilarious too.
Made with real sugar!? I can FINALLY drink soda now, since it’s all natural!
I swear to god I’ve heard people say this. I have literally heard people say “it’s natural sugar!” and ignore the fact that one cup has 40g of of this “natural” sugar.
Natural or not, have fun with the “natural” diabetes you get from drinking this regularly..
#24 Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies “100% Real Chocolate!”
No way!? There’s just chocolate chips – pure chocolate in here? Sweet! Pillsbury made a come around.
Well, not really.
You’ve got “chocolate chips” in there, in addition to artificial flavors, hydrogenated sobyean and cottonseed oil, and the other typical stuff you usually find in foods made in labs.
#25 Top Chef “Healthy Choice – No Preservatives” Frozen Meal
No preservatives. Really?
I don’t know what the FDA classifies as preservatives. But in any case, I’ll point out a couple interesting things:
- Caramel color
- “Chicken type flavor”
Hmmmmmm… something to ponder.
#26 Freschetta “Naturally Rising Crust” (Sneaky one here, read on)
While I was reading the cover of this pizza box, I thought it was quite strange that they mentioned that it had a “naturally rising crust.”
Uhh… aren’t all frozen pizzas you put into the oven naturally rising? So why would they mention it?
Well, “naturally” is conveniently featured in big green letters – the same ones you typically associate with “healthy” or “organic” food labels.
In other words, it’s a direct attempt to play with your psychology and for a split second make you think it’s remotely healthy.
That is, until you see the ingredient list.
Not only is it one of the longest ingredient lists I’ve ever seen, they take the sneakiness up to another level: they bold each major word in the ingredients list, so you think you’re just seeing bacon, garlic, etc. But once you read what the bacon is made of is where it gets hairy.
More clever tricks to try to convince you that it’s not as bad as it really is.
#27 Eggo Waffles “Protein Original – Good Source of Protein!”
More selective attention at its best.
Yay, 8g of protein? You mean I can now get my protein from eggo waffles instead of eating eggs for breakfast? HELL YES!
Well, yeah you get 8g protein. I’ll give you that.
But you also get sodium aluminum phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, and 390mg of sodium in just one serving.
Classic case of of “you should probably keep reading the label to see what else is inside.”
#28 Minute Maid “100% Natural Flavors”
This is deceptive marketing at its best.
You look on the container and see fresh fruits. It looks healthy. It gives the illusion of being healthy.
But when you read the label you see that high fructose corn syrup is higher on the list than fruit. Apparently, those “fruit juices” make up that less than 1%. So yeah, sure, there’s fruit juice. But 99% is high fructose corn syrup and flavoring mixed in water.
Sneaky, sneaky people.
#29 Welch’s Fruit Snacks ” Family Farmer Owned Made With Real Fruit, Fat Free, No Preservatives, 100% Vitamin C”
Unfortunately, these bad boys are one of my favorite cheat foods.
It looks great on the front, they deceive you with the whole “family farmer owned” BS which makes you feel like they’re your friendly neighbor Bob.
Then it says “made with REAL fruit.” Well, actually, some fruit juice. Quickly followed by high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavors, and then a couple different dyes.
Sorry Welch’s, you sure taste good but you can’t fool Alejandro!
The 5 Sneaky Tactics Underlying These Labels
Underlying all these labels are a few common methods of tricking you.
#1 The “too good to be true” promise.
“Weight watchers soda” see #22
#2 The “calorie free” promise
If there aren’t calories, and you’re consuming something other than water, you should be worried. Usually that means they’re loaded with artificial sweeteners which have questionable effects on the body.
#3 The “have your cake and still lose weight” promise
Low calorie type labels often are low on calories but high in something else. Salt or sugar are usually the big two. Toss in some dye, artificial flavors, and voila, you’ve got your typical supermarket concoction.
#4 The “this has good stuff in it, I swear” promise
Selective attention – 8 g of protein! woohooo, but that’s not all. Sure, it’s got “real fruit” (1%), but it’s also got a whole host of other crap.
#5 The “look, my label is green and mentions ‘natural’ and looks like it should be on the cover of a healthy food box”
Putting fruits, fresh veggies, and mentioning “natural” on the front are all ways of deceiving you.
So How Am I Supposed to Know What to Eat?
So, let’s go back to the conversation with my friend (who thinks that everything causes cancer).
I told her, “Just eat real food.” (Which is something I often talk about in regard to weight loss, too).
How do you know what’s real food?
Uhhh… the same way a squirrel knows what to eat.
That means, ideally:
- Nothing in a box
- Something you can pull from the earth and eat (plants)
- Something that eats things that you can pull from the earth (animals)
- Foods in the, uh, food section of the market: the fresh section with produce
If you eat things in a box:
- Health food stores do a good job weeding out most of the bad stuff
- Watch out for more added sugar and salt
- Use common sense – if it sounds weird or too good to be true, it probably is
- Ask yourself: Would grandma know what this is?
Take It Away Folks…
Just leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
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Thoughts on these clever scalawags in the food industry?
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