Archive for the tag - packaging

Study: Product Packaging Misleads Consumers.

Cherry 7upLast week, I shared 5 misleading nutrition marketing words that you should ignore on product packaging. Of course, the reason that marketers use those words in the first place is that they’re effective in generating sales. And now, a new study by researchers from the University of Houston is showing how effective those words really are.

For the study, researchers recruited 318 undergraduate students and asked them to rate the nutrition of various products. Students were able to examine the packaging and nutrition information for products including Chocolate Cheerios (labeled whole grain), Cherry 7-Up (labeled antioxidant), Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks (labeled organic) and more. All the marketing terms actually appear on the product packaging.

Researchers digitally removed the buzzwords from some of the packaging, and randomly presented students with the products. For every single product, students rated foods with the marketing words to be significantly healthier than if the word wasn’t included. In other words, including the word “antioxidant” made participants view Cherry 7-Up as healthier.

According to the researchers:

It is perhaps time that the food industry take responsibility for how they market their foods and acknowledge the role they play in keeping consumers in the United States misinformed about what is healthy to eat. Healthy foods exist, many of which are organic, whole grain, natural and all of those other things that many foods today are being labeled. However, using those labels on foods such as soda only serve to sell a drink rather than inform consumers about the actual health content of the product.

While it’s unlikely that the food industry will take responsibility for their role in consumer misinformation, perhaps we have more hope in getting the FDA to regulate such buzzwords – or even take the basic step of defining what “natural” really means.

Clearly, consumers need better education when it comes to nutrition. And by reading this article, you’ve already demonstrated that you’re one step ahead.

 

5 Misleading Nutrition Marketing Words!

Misleading-food-labelsMarketers are clever – especially when it comes to the packaging on the foods we eat. Some of the terms are especially misleading, and so I’ve put together a list of the top 5 nutrition-related marketing words to ignore. Despite their sexiness, these words don’t necessarily imply a nutritional benefit.

  1. Fat-free, low fat or reduced fat. First things first, the low fat craze of the 80s and 90s made Americans even fatter than ever. Though it seems counter-intuitive, fat doesn’t make you fat. Consuming more calories than you burn results in body fat. Moreover, our bodies need the healthy, essential fats to function properly (think avocados, nuts and olive oil). If a food is fat-free or low fat, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy. For example, Skittles are low fat – but they’re definitely not healthy and extremely calorie dense. Moreover, many manufacturers reduce that fat content in their low fat foods by adding sugar or salt. That’s not a good thing.
  2. Gluten-free. Unless you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten (which, it turns out, is a very small percentage of the population), there’s no need to cut gluten from your diet. Though marketers have managed to link the term gluten-free to implied nutritional benefits, there’s actually no correlation between the two. And nutritionists warn that following a gluten-free diet can increase the risk for nutritional deficiencies for vitamins and minerals found in foods that contain gluten.
  3. Detox. Foods (think juices and so-called cleanses) don’t detoxify your body. That’s a job performed by the liver and kidneys. If you’re looking to reduce toxins in your body, don’t put them there in the first place. Eliminate smoking, alcohol or foods laden with pesticides – like the dirty dozen.
  4. Low carb. Much like the essential fats, our bodies need carbohydrates to function properly. Not to mention, carbohydrates are our bodies’ main energy source. If you eliminate or overly reduce carbohydrates, you’ll feel sluggish and your performance (including at the gym) will suffer. Instead of eliminating carbohydrates, focus on eating complex carbohydrates from whole wheat foods, brown rice, beans and so on. Reduce simple carbohydrates like those found in candy, sugary drinks and pastries.
  5. Natural. Though many foods claim to be natural, the FDA has declined to define the term. In other words, marketers can really use the term to mean whatever they want. By the FDA’s non-definition, even high fructose corn syrup can be considered natural. After all, isn’t it derived from corn? Just because a product is labeled as natural, it doesn’t mean that it’s organic and it definitely doesn’t imply a nutritional benefit.

To really cut through the hype, it’s important to look past the pretty packaging and actually read the nutrition label and list of ingredients on any product you consume. This will give you a much better idea of how the product measures up.

People Eat Larger Portions of “Healthy” Food. [Study]

small-portion1If a food is labelled healthy, do you give yourself a free pass to overindulge? According to a recent study, you’re not alone.

The study, commissioned by Ireland’s Safefood agency, examined the relationship between consumer eating habits and product packaging/marketing. When participants were asked to serve themselves appropriate-sized portions of “healthy” and regular food brands, the participants both served larger portions of the so-called healthy foods and underestimated the caloric content.

Of course, this study brings to light what food marketers already know. According to Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan, the director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood:

Foods are marketed as being healthier for a reason, because food producers believe, and they correctly believe, that those labels will influence us to eat their products and perhaps eat more of their products.

Marketing a food product with health claims will not only get consumers to buy that product – but it will also get consumers to eat more of the product. In other words, it means more money and bigger profits for the companies producing these foods.

The moral of the story is two-fold.

First and foremost, don’t believe claims on product packaging. Instead, review the nutrition information and ingredients for real insight.

Second, review your portion size against the product’s serving size. Even if a product is truly healthy, it’s still not an excuse to overeat. If your body takes in more calories than it needs, then those excess calories will be stored as body fat – regardless of where they came from.

The bottom line: “Healthy” isn’t a license to overeat.

What Does the “All Natural” Food Label Mean?

label-100-natural_300If you’ve ever looked around a grocery story, you’ve probably noticed the ubiquitous “all natural” label on a wide range of food products. From Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to juice drinks and cookies, the label is everywhere. But what does it really mean? And does it signify some sort of health benefit?

According to the USDA (which regulates meats and poultry), a food can be labeled “all natural” if it contains:

No artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product.

For meats, it’s pretty clear. All natural meats aren’t tampered with between the slaughterhouse and the supermarket, but it’s not an assessment of how the animal was raised or fed (i.e., “all natural” isn’t synonymous with organic or grass fed).

Beyond meat and poultry, everything else is regulated by the FDA. And here’s where things start to get murky. According to the FDA:

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ … [The] FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

In other words, marketers and manufacturers can really use “all natural” any way they want. It tells consumers very little about the product they’re about to consume. So don’t be fooled. Instead, pay attention to a product’s ingredients, its nutrition information (i.e., calories, saturated fat, sugar, etc.) and the serving size.

Though the “all natural” label is marketing gold, it’s extremely misleading for consumers – and hopefully something that the FDA will address moving forward.