False claims, fabrications, and the use of ambiguous terms have become fundamental advertisement strategies utilized by food manufacturers to increase product demands. Playing off of consumer ignorance, companies often times flash deceiving labels and meaningless claims to influence shopper preferences against competitors.
Here are some common labels to look out for:
It is well known that a diet rich in fiber is vital for a healthy digestive system. Many companies are misleading consumers by adding isolated fiber to products that would otherwise have little to no natural fiber. Isolated fibers are either chemically synthesized or extracted from plant foods and inserted into other foods. These untraditional sources of fiber do not contain the same nutritional value as fiber that is naturally present, although this is not specified on food labels.
For instance, although this fiber bar claims to provide 35% of the daily-recommended dose, a majority comes from isolated fibers such as chicory root, which does not contain the same health benefits as whole grains.
Structure/Function Health Claims
FDA approved labels claiming heath benefits provided by the consumption of a specific food product must follow a strict set of regulations regarding nutrient content. The Food Labeling Chaos report created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, explains how companies dodge these requirements by utilizing a structure/function claim instead of direct claims that must be approved by the FDA. By marketing with broad generalizations and creative wording, labels can simply imply positive health benefits without explicitly stating them. According to a study conducted by the industry-funded International Food Information Council (IFIC) and stated in the above document, consumers cannot distinguish the difference between either claim, nor does one have a greater affect on product consumption than the other.
An example of a health claim is “reduces the risk of cancer,” while a structure function claim may state, “supports the immune system.”
Flip Side to 0 grams of Trans Fats
Similar to deceptive wording techniques used in structure/function health claims, Part VIII of the same report touches upon the strategic marketing strategies used by companies when declaring fat content. Trans fats are known to be the unhealthiest of fatty acids, so in 2006 the FDA mandated that trans fat content of food products must be listed on nutrition labels. In reaction to these standards, many companies substituted the use of trans fats with high levels of saturated fats. Though foods may promote “0 g trans fat,” many of these products contain substantially high and unhealthy levels of saturated fats.
These Aunt Annie’s Pretzel Pocket sandwhiches have 0 grams of Trans fats yet there are 8 grams of saturated fats per serving, 40% of the recommended daily dose.
“Made With” Ingredient Claims
Product packaging depicting photos of fruits and vegetables may be used to fabricate the use of ingredients not actually present.
These Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers do not list strawberries anywhere on the ingredient label although pear puree concentrate and grape juice concentrate are used.
The terms “Multigrain” and “made with whole grain” are often times used but do not bear the same meaning as “whole grain,” or “100% whole wheat.” The mayo clinic organization differentiates these terms be describing “whole grain” as containing all parts of the grain kernel whereas “multigrain” indicates the use of more than one type of grain, none of which may be whole grains.
The phrase “Free Range” only applies to chickens and turkey that are grown for meat consumption. Though regulated by the FDA, these regulations bear little meaning according to Humanefacts.org webite. Birds may live in terrible conditions amongst others in a packed warehouse with “access” to small opening outside for only a few minutes in order to be considered “Free Range.” This term is not regulated on cow or pig product, nor is it regulated for eggs, and therefore has no marketed meaning.
Cage Free labels on the other hand are only regulated for egg-laying hens. Though cage free may sound appealing, the living conditions are crowded, dark, unhealthy and restrictive. The Humanefacts.org website also mentions meaningless use of cage free labels on chicken and turkey meats used by some producers to deceive consumers. An example is provided below
When shopping in the supermarket it can be difficult to decipher which products are the best among competing brands. To avoid falling into the trap of choosing based on inaccurate product photos or labeling hype, it is most important to be attentive to product ingredient labels and educated on misleading marketing techniques. Don’t be a fooled consumer; consider these tips next time you are at the grocery store!