Health buzzwords are popping up all over the place and have infiltrated the world of packaged food. Take a stroll through the supermarket aisles and really look at what’s on the shelves. You’ll see things like ‘superfoods’, ‘fat free’, ‘light’ and ‘sugar free’; all titles designed to lure and entice the consumer.
The Food Standards of Australia & New Zealand (FSANZ) is the governing body that regulates these claims. They set the amount of fibre required for a high fibre claim to be made and the amount of caffeine allowed in an energy drink. But these regulations are hard to enforce and food brands are working out ways to outsmart the consumer.
As consumers become increasingly aware of the dangers of some chemicals, additives and preservatives, they are opting for natural products. Today, you can purchase 100% natural almost-everything from potato chips to soft drinks to condiments; the dreaded numbers are nowhere to be seen.
While companies are not allowed to mislead or deceive consumers, in Australia the term ‘natural’ remains unregulated. Remember that just because something is natural, does not mean you want to consume that ingredient. Case in point, natural red colour cochineal or colour (120), made from the bodies of dried pregnant scale insects.
We eat food (not vitamins) or oranges (not vitamin C). Our focus on functional foods and added nutrition has steered us from paddock to laboratory and healthy to sick. Food manufacturers are constantly trying to get the consumer vote in their extremely competitive market and they are succeeding to do so by adding and promoting added nutrition. Beware! These products are often laden with sugar, preservatives, flavours and colours.
If you are after calcium, protein or iron, choose milk, steak or spinach. These products won't display a health claim, but will provide the nutrition for health.
Avoid food products that make health claims
No added hormones
More than three quarters of Australians believe that poultry in Australia contains added hormones and steroids. This misconception arose when a major Australian supermarket implemented a marketing campaign surrounding the “no added hormones” in their poultry. This led consumers to believe that other poultry contains hormones, when, in fact, no poultry in Australia is administered hormones.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is one of the most recognised and avoided flavour enhancers in the market today. This product has been linked to adverse health effects, such as migraines, nausea and heart palpitations, since it was introduced into Western food in 1948. Consumers began boycotting products that contain MSG, which has resulted in foods labeled “MSG free” and “no added MSG”.
While a product cannot claim to be ‘MSG free’ and contain MSG, it can contain other flavour enhancers. While these additives may not be as infamous MSG, many are believed to have similar adverse reactions.
This is just one example of a claim that, nutritionally, means absolutely nothing. In fact, it cannot be regulated as it is not a health claim at all. It is merely an attempt to take advantage of the unhealthy association our society has with food. These claims will often be made when regulated health claims cannot be used.
People tend to assume that ‘organic’ means healthier or better. Organic foods are great, especially fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry. They have not been fed hormones or sprayed with pesticides. There are two issues, however, which arise with this food claim. One is the enforcement of the claim: there isn’t any. The 'certified organic' label isn't regulated and won't stop producers using it on their packaging, even if the food isn't actually organic. The other is not all organic food is necessarily good for you. There is organic sugar and organic chocolate too! Don't let this claim fool you.
Now this is a claim that's completely deceitful. Two reasons for this are:
- Cholesterol is only found in animal products
- Cholesterol in food does not affect your blood cholesterol levels - saturated fat does.
This means olive oil products or sweets labeled cholesterol-free are an entirely negligible statement!
No food item should really have a cholesterol claim unless it contains meat, dairy or eggs and even if it does, won't necessarily impact your health.
This is one food claim that many argue has contributed to the obesity epidemic. In the 1970s, the government recommended all Australians consume a low fat diet; by the 1980s, food companies were producing a myriad of low fat products. To enhance flavour in low fat products, they substituted the fat for sugar and almost overnight our sugar intake skyrocketed.
Today, the fat-free claim still appears all over lollies and chocolate bars, ice-cream, condiments, dairy products and snack food. When you see this claim, turn the packet over and see if sugar appears in the ingredient list. If it does, put it down and walk away.