Health marketing ploys rely on the use of clever and deceptive language on labels, and misleading advertising, to trick you into imagining you are buying health.

Almost everyone knows that whole meal flour is better than refined flourno added sugar is better than added sugarsfresh is better than packaged… the list goes on. However, deceptive marketing fools sometimes even the most discerning customer.

One healthy ingredient doesn’t translate into health

Many food giants use clever marketing tactics to get you to think you are buying healthy foods. But the mere presence of a healthy ingredient doesn’t mean that the finished product is good for your health. You are clearly being misled.

Spot the false bait

But you can stop this, by learning how to identify misleading marketing ploys. Check out the list of ingredients commonly found on labels of foods, marketed as “healthy”, “wholesome” and “nutritious.”

Here’s what you need to know about these:

#1 The terms “Real Fruit” or “Real Fruit Juice” often appear on candy wrappers and other beverage labels. However, most labels don’t tell you the percentage of these. Fruit juice is used, from a concentrate, and is therefore full of sugar and useless calories.

#You may come across the term “Fruit Flavor”, which again means the product doesn’t have the nutrients found in real fruit. Real fruit is healthy because it has fibre, which slows down the metabolism of fructose and prevents insulin resistance.

#3“Sugar-Free” product is different than one with “No Added Sugars”. This is because the sugar-free product could be sweetened with any artificial sweetener such as sucralose, stevia, aspartame, erythritol, etc. Even though sucralose, stevia and erythritol are generally considered healthier than aspartame, we don’t have studies on long term impact. Also, products with no added sugars may still contain natural sugars from fruit, or other ingredients. 

#4 Foods can also be marketed as sugar-free if they contain less than 5 g of sugar per serving. In general, sugar free products are ideal for diabetics and normal individuals too, if the amount of fruit sugar or other carbohydrate is negligible. But you should limit your intake of artificial sweeteners, and choose stevia (plant-based sweetener) over aspartame.

#5 The label “Fresh” must be reserved for products that have not been heat-treated, freeze-dried, dehydrated or prepared in any way or undergone any process. However, it’s often misused by several food companies, who place it on random food items in an attempt to make the food appear more nutritious.

#6  If a food contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving it may have the label: “No Trans Fat”. Trans fats have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Although 0.5 g sounds negligible, the fact is that it’s difficult to stick to precise serving sizes. Also, foods that are low-fat, are often loaded with salt and/or sugar to increase the palatability.

#7 Since there are no official guidelines on what qualifies a product as being “Whole Grain” or “Multigrain”, food manufacturers get away with marketing junk foods as diet foods. Biscuits, breads and cookies can contain mostly refined grain and miniscule quantities of whole grain, yet, still be bear the label of “whole grain”.

Similarly multigrain products should theoretically contain many grains and would be most beneficial if the husk of the grain is kept intact. But there is no guideline on how many grains qualify as being “multi”, and if they are refined, they are far less nutritious.

#8 The most deceptive label is “Healthy”. This world is plastered across icecream wrappers, cereals, fruit juices, biscuits, chips, and ready-to-eat foods. In order to find truly healthy foods, look for foods with:

  • low saturated fat
  • less than 60 mg of cholesterol
  • have adequate iron, calcium, protein, fibre
  • between 360-480 mg of sodium
  • No added sugar
  • If artificially sweetened, try to look for stevia, sucralose or erythritol in products instead of aspartame