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Are you being conned by food labels?

Are you being conned by food labels?

By Laura Briggs

The words diet, low-sugar, low-fat, farm-reared, natural, wholegrain, and antioxidant are buzzwords that marketers use on food packaging in a clever way that may not be as honest as you think.

With people becoming more conscious about their food choices, food manufacturers are becoming more cunning with how they lure us to buy their products. 

Researchers at Houston University have discovered that certain words used on packaging actually trick our brains into disregarding the other unhealthy ingredients inside the foods.

And it’s even been discovered that the impact of buzzwords is so strong it can even counteract warnings in nutrition fact boxes.

"Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they're not,” said Dr Temple Northup, heading up the research.

 “Words such as organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit.”

Where gluten-free products were originally designed for those with coeliac disease, a life-long condition where the sufferer has an intolerance to the protein composite, now they are being marketed as healthy options.

But many gluten-free products contain extra sugar and fat to make them more palatable and can be packed with more salt. So often the gluten-free version of a product is in fact unhealthier than the one that contains gluten.

One large supermarket’s gluten-free pitta bread contains five times as much fat as the store’s own brand. And another’s wheat-free bread contains almost three times more fat than the regular version.

The study involved participants looking at an online survey with images of food products containing both the health marketing words and the same image without the words.

They were then asked to rate how healthy each product was. When they saw the buzzword they marked that product as being healthier.

The problem remains that we are just not very good at reading food labels properly, and often we are sucked in by the marketing words on the packaging. If labels were clearer, and people more aware of how they are being sucked in then perhaps we’d make the real healthier choices.

Follow these basic guidelines next time you're faced with confusing food labels;

Total fat

Saturated fat Sugars Salt
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g  High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g  High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium) 
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g  Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)