People are more aware of healthy eating these days (whether they’re successful at putting awareness into practice is another story) and marketers have gained another angle from which to sell products.
Enter the “less bad = good” ad/product label.
This is where companies frame their product as better than other products, or better than a previous version of their own product because, for example, the new/improved product might have less fat, sugar, or calories, and more nutrients. The trouble is, often the food is still appallingly unhealthy. Don’t even get me started on fruit juice.
I saw a TV ad for Hellmann’s, made with “real ingredients like whole eggs and oil”, now with half the fat. Their slogan is “It’s time for real.” and they boast that their product, Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise, is:
Made with high quality ingredients, including whole eggs, […] low in saturated fat, contains no trans fat, and is low in cholesterol.
Mayo is not healthy no matter how it’s packaged, yet they try to convince us otherwise by virtue of it being less bad than regular mayo. But a one-tablespoon serving of this product has 100 calories. Put in perspective, an equal amount of mustard has almost no calories; cream cheese — about 30 calories. Though Hellman’s tries to sell us on the benefits of “healthy fats”, that doesn’t change the fact that mayo is basically processed eggs and oil whipped into submission. Consumers concerned with healthy choices shouldn’t have mayo anywhere on the radar.
Here are some other examples I noticed during a recent trip to the grocery store:
First, Multigrain Doritos. Now to be fair, the bag doesn’t boast any health claims, but they are certainly banking on the multigrain moniker to sell products. People might be surprised to learn that these chips have 12 grams of fat and 260 calories per 50 gram serving. Multigrain fibre is a tad less healthy when it’s covered in salt and fat…
Another guilty party is baked chips, such as Baked Lays, which have 120 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat per 1 ounce serving — by the way, who eats one ounce of chips (28 grams)? Chips are bad for you, baked or not. Yet the “low in fat” marketing of baked chips seems to comfort people into thinking they are healthier than regular chips. Are they, though? Baked chips do have less fat than regular chips, but they have as much salt (note the serving size when comparing) and about the same amount of calories.
Another trendy grocery store item are those flattened hamburger buns that are supposedly healthier because… um… they’re flat, I guess. The idea is that they are supposed to have fewer carbs. But they actually have more fat, more calories, and more sugar than regular hamburger buns, despite the “healthy choice” label on the in-store brand. I guess I should point out that if the regular hamburger bun brands bothered to boast about their “nutritional content”, they’d win the fake healthy choice contest hands down.
The worst product that I noticed though, is the new Kellogg’s Fruit Loops and Corn Pops. Now with fibre! Super, so they added fibre to their 24 grams of sugar and over 200 calories per cup, boldly stating that “Kellogg’s makes fibre fun” in an ad campaign that is clearly geared toward children (adults generally don’t care if fibre is made fun for them).
If adults are having such a hard time making appropriate food decisions against the onslaught of misleading advertising, what chance do children have? Rather than decreasing the absurd amounts of sugar in their children-aimed breakfast cereal, they’ve added fibre as if this nutrient is a magic shield against diabetes.
I don’t believe there’s anything inherently wrong with the concept of cooking pre-made or packaged food, nor is there anything inherently wrong with having a treat every now and then. But we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that sugar, salt, and fat is healthy or invisible as long as one other unhealthy ingredient has been reduced or some arbitrary nutrient is promoted on the package.
Until companies change the way these foods are produced and packaged, we’re all better off with fresh food. Nutrients don’t necessarily mean healthy, especially when they are foremost a marketing tool.