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Navigating Through Label Claims

Surprise, surprise – food companies may not have your health or body comp related goals in their best interest. Companies continually find new ways to make you feel like buying their product is the best possible choice. The conversation as of late with consumers has turned to “how can we get healthier?” relating to our products on the shelf.
So marketers had to change up their tactics – rebranding and repackaging their products with healthy buzzwords to make you THINK you’re eating healthier, while still making incredibly unhealthy products that keep you addicted to them.

You would believe its obvious that that sugary cereal is unhealthy, but now being labelled “made with heart healthy whole grains” can confuse someone trying to make a good choice. But making the healthy choice isn’t always so obvious:

  • Is buying organic really that much better for me?
  • Does “no sugar added” mean it’s automatically better than the ones with sugar?
  • What’s the difference between free range, grass-fed, vegetarian fed?

Organic
Probably one of the hottest labelling to get people to buy something is organic things.  Organic means natural. Natural is associated with healthy. Therefore, Organic is healthy, yes? Organic doesn’t automatically mean healthy.  You can buy organic cookies and organic cereal, but that doesn’t mean they’re better for you. Sure, they don’t have High Fructose Corn Syrup (a big no-no), but they can still contain a ton of sugar and empty calories. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, I try to buy LOCAL whenever possible, and organic if it’s with a fruit with a soft outside.

Gluten-free
Thanks to an increase in people being diagnosed with celiac disease like myself, every food company is rushing to put out a gluten-free version of their best-selling unhealthy product. Great to feel like these people aren’t missing out on their favourite food, but is gluten-free better for you?  Just like with “organic,” just because it’s gluten free does NOT mean it’s necessarily healthy for you. Many of these gluten-free products contain more sugar and fat to keep them tasting great. Instead of going on a “gluten free diet” to lose weight (and continuing to eat the same things), why not try a diet that full of whole, unrefined foods.  Just like going on a vegetarian diet doesn’t necessarily mean “healthy” (donuts and French fries are vegetarian!) gluten-free in and of itself is can still be unhealthy!

No Sugar Added
In an effort to make their food appear more healthy to health conscious individuals, companies have resorted to slapping this absolutely WORTHLESS tag on foods, deserts, and drinks. Ignore it. If you look at ice cream or juice that says “no sugar added,” it just means that after the initial creation of the product (which contains probably a boatload of sugar already)…no extra sugar was added. It still means it contains approximately a shit ton of sugar.  It might have LESS sugar than other products in that category, and thus better for you, but don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s actually GOOD for you.

Be smart. Read the back of the label. Understand that you’re eating something that probably isn’t healthy to begin with. Rather than eating buckets of the processed food that is promised to be ‘healthy,’ eat real food more often and then OCCASIONALLY go for the unhealthy stuff to stay on target.

Serving size games
Food manufacturers are given a lot of leeway when it comes to deciding how much a serving size is. To make products appear healthier, some companies have started increasing the number of servings listed per container, thus lowering the number of calories, fat grams, cholesterol grams, carb grams, sodium grams per serving. If you give somebody a big package of potato chips, they’re not going to think there are five servings in it. I don’t think people should have to do the math.”

Beware marketing slogans and claims:
Marketing a food as “low fat” can take your attention off the fact that these foods are much higher in total carbohydrate grams. Low fat products full of sugar and refined carbs can actually cause weight gain just the same as other products. 

Many consumers don’t know what’s good and what isn’t when they look at a food label and make their decisions based upon:

***Bold marketing statements proclaiming health benefits
***Calorie content
***Fat content

People tend to assume, mistakenly, that what’s stated on the front of the pack has the explicit or at least the approval of Health Canada. We’ve been programmed to believe that low fat, low calorie foods are the healthiest…but many don’t realize that low fat, low calorie can mean hidden sugars, increased carbohydrate grams causing blood sugar spikes, and even filler ingredients that can wreak havoc on your body.

The Moral Of The Story
I hope the take-home message is clear: Don’t trust food companies to tell you what’s healthy and what’s not. Decide for yourself!

Let’s all agree to take the time to find out exactly what’s in the food you eat. The next time you’re tempted by a healthy-looking package, turn it over and read the nutrition label. You might just be surprised to discover that the all-natural whole-grain organic cheesecake you’re holding really isn’t all that good for you.

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