This a two part post:
You’re here: Part 1: 3 Shocking Mistakes Killing Your Health
Part 2: Check out Part 2 here
THIS IS WHERE IT ALL BEGINS.
It is inevitable that you will be bombarded with billboards in the form of food packages and advertisements during your grocery store road trip. Let’s face it, modern food packages are an advertising masterpiece. In the very best of cases, they educate you as to the true wholesome goodness of a product.
In the very worst of cases, they are designed to deceive you with a flashy promise on the front of the package, distracting your attention from the unhealthy truths hidden on the back of the package on the rarely read ingredient list. As has often been said about the used car market, the supermarket has truly become a “buyer beware” environment.
Due to this unfortunate reality, we want to give you the lay of the label, so to speak. A quick lesson in “supermarket smarts” will help you successfully identify foods that are delivering healthy nutrition and steer clear of those foods designed to sound healthy that are really only deceiving you with advertising jargon.
The Lay of the Label—Beware of the Con Artist
TRUE STORY: We once bought a used vehicle from a man named Cia Kahn (pronounced See A Con ). Get it? Not an ideal name for a used car salesman, and one that made us investigate his claims with a fine-tooth comb.
Luckily for us, the vehicle we purchased turned out to be everything good old Cia Kahn said it was and more. However, most of the brand names in the grocery store don’t conjure up the images of dishonesty like Cia Kahn’s name did, begging you to investigate them further.
Instead, brand names like Quaker, Healthy Choice, Pepperidge Farms, and Gerber bring to mind things like strong moral character, health, and wholesomeness. Their good names are meant to lull you into a false sense of security. But don’t be fooled by these slick corporate identifiers and think that you don’t need to investigate their products.
By learning the lay of the label, you will easily be able to “see a con” from a mile away! So, let’s get started. Divide and Conquer The strategic genius of the divide-and-conquer philosophy has stood the test of time, and that is why we are going to use it to conquer today’s food package.
By understanding each section of your food’s packaging, you will be able to masterfully discern whether you are about to buy a Rich Food or a Poor Food.
Let’s start by dividing the packaged food into three basic parts:
- The front, or “billboard”
- The Nutrition Facts, often referred to as “the label”
- The all-important, but often overlooked, ingredient list.
These are the 3 mistakes we tend to avoid reading and land into health issues.
Most of us are more than familiar with the front of the food package. Some of us may read a label now and again. But most of us rarely, if ever, spend time reading ingredient lists. As you will discover, however, the ingredient list is the last bastion of hope for health-conscious consumers trying to uncover the true facts about what is in their food.
To illustrate just how misleading packaging can be, let’s use our divide-and-conquer technique to compare two products manufactured by the same company.
Lay’s Classic Potato Chips vs. Baked! Lay’s Original Potato Crisps
LET’S BEGIN THIS COMPARISON by examining these products exactly the same way the manufacturers design them to be seen: face-first. Whether a box, bag, bottle, tub, or can, the first step is to consider the front of the package for what it really is—a billboard.
Take a moment to look at the two images of Lay’s potato chips above. What difference do you notice first? What is their marketing team trying to convince you of?
The most dramatic difference is in the look and texture of the two bags. The Classic Potato Chips are in a shiny bag with bright colors, whereas the baked chips are in a softly textured bag with warmer, muted colors designed to make them look more natural so you feel better about buying them.
The next change was made to the Lay’s logo, which, as you can see, was shrunk considerably for the baked version and replaced with a new headline—a huge “Baked!” spanning the width of the bag. This is their way of saying—no, screaming —“Healthy!” or “Not fried!” Additionally, an official-looking seal has been added, touting healthy claims to further imply a healthy message.
It appears as though this baked product, unlike the classic Lay’s, is now all-natural, with no MSG, no preservatives, and no artificial flavors.
Finally, did you notice that one product is called “chips,” while the other is called “crisps?” At first, we didn’t.
The graphic designers purposefully placed this barely legible identifier at the bottom left hand corner of the bag. Sometimes it is the details that are buried in the billboard’s flash that become the most important clues.
Forget about whether you like baked crisps or potato chips at all. Just ask yourself these questions:
How do you feel when you look at each bag, and what is the message that Lay’s has spent millions of dollars to convey?
If you answered that the Baked! Lay’s Original Potato Crisps are a healthier, smarter snack, you’re right! But are you really right?
Is the baked crisp really healthier?
Are they really a smarter choice than the old fried version of the Lay’s Classic?
Let’s continue our head-to-head comparison by next looking at the label, or Nutrition Facts, on both bags to see what information we gather there. As you turn the bag around, the cold hard facts stare you in the face: calories, fat, carbohydrate, protein, and numerous micronutrient levels in our foods are revealed.
This is where the other “swap” books tell you to focus your attention. Eat This, Not That, for instance, alludes to the idea that everything you need to know in order to make a logical, and seemingly valid, argument in favor of the Baked!
Lay’s as a better choice than the classic fried version is found here. The Baked! Lay’s total calories have gone from 160 to 120 per serving. That is a 25 percent reduction.
CHECK ONE. Sodium has gone from 170 mg to 135 mg—a 21 percent reduction.
CHECK TWO. Fat has an enormous reduction of 80 percent—10 grams to 2 grams.
CHECK THREE. Even the 1.5 grams of saturated fat in the fried chips has been reduced by 100 percent to 0 grams in the crisps. Yes, sir, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that the baked crisps check all the boxes for healthy, smarter snacking—if what we consider healthy is only lower calories, lower sodium, and lower fat.
But don’t be sold after inspecting only this portion of the information. There are other numbers in the Nutrition Facts that Eat This, Not That doesn’t encourage readers to consider.
Did you notice that the carbohydrates increased from 15 to 23 grams per serving? Or that the sugar more than doubled?
That seems odd, doesn’t it?
Why didn’t they bring that to our attention?
For the more than 100 million Americans who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, knowing the sugar content is important! Our point here is that the Nutrition Facts can only tell you one thing: whether the fats, carbohydrates, sugars, and protein levels fit in to your dietary profile.
That’s it, folks. It reports the numbers—and nothing more. If you are a low-fat dieter, you can scan the Nutrition Facts for low-fat indicators; alternatively, low-carb dieters can search labels for low-carbohydrate values.
While it is still important to read the Nutrition Facts to determine whether a food follows your dietary guidelines, it cannot help you determine if it is a Rich Food or Poor Food.
HARD LESSONS LEARNED
MIRA USED TO FOLLOW A LOW-FAT DIET.
She was programmed to pick up a food, read the nutrition facts, and choose only the foods that were less than 100 calories with no more than 1 gram of fat per serving. To her, that was smart and healthy, because she was told that choosing foods by reading the label was what smart and healthy people do.
What she learned was that many of her “smart” foods were full of Naked Calories and were micronutrient-deficient Poor Foods, which eventually led her to develop advanced osteoporosis at thirty years of age!
Oh, she was thin, all right, but far from healthy. We are not saying that just because a food is 100 calories or less and 1 gram of fat or less means it is bad for you—there are low-fat Rich Foods and low-fat Poor Foods; low-carbohydrate Rich Foods and low-carbohydrate Poor Foods.
We’re saying, take a moment to take the next step and investigate the ingredient list before you assume it’s a smart and healthy choice—because that’s what smart and healthy people do.