I was eating breakfast this morning (pasture-raised eggs and uncured bacon) when this red and white striped box on the kitchen table caught my eye. Someone brought a box of candy canes into the house. Ok, I know the season…I get it…I’m not judging. What made me roll my eyes was the labeling on the box.
-They’re made by a company named Wholesome
-They’re organic, vegan, and kosher
-There’s no HFCS or synthetic colors
Now, let’s take a look at the ingredients. There are precisely four of them:
-Brown rice syrup
-Natural peppermint flavor
-Color from fruit juice
In other words, there are two forms of highly refined sugar, some substance made from something that some food scientist managed to get to taste like peppermint (hint: there’s likely no actual peppermint involved), and coloring. There’s literally nothing healthy about these candy canes. Of course, no one who has a clue about nutrition is going to expect a candy cane to be healthy.
So, what’s my point? My point is that this company has gone to great lengths to imply that these bent sticks of refined sugar are healthy (or perhaps just not unhealthy) by peppering the box with all of these labels. There are likely no false claims here, but I think there’s an attempt to mislead. This happens all the time in the marketing/labeling of processed food products. This candy cane example is relatively easy to spot. But there are labeling strategies that are much more insidious. The most common one (used here as well) is to include various forms of sugar with unfamiliar names so as to hide the fact that the product contains a large amount of sugar.
So what should you do? Well, the first and most effective strategy is to avoid all packaged and processed foods. This approach is in line with my guidance to eat a diet composed of nutrient-dense whole foods. If you do buy a packaged or processed food, read the list of ingredients. Don’t rely on the labels on the box or even the nutritional info to make your buying decision. Learn what all the typical ingredients are called. Learn them by all of their varied and tricky names. Buy packaged products with the fewest ingredients possible to minimize the chances that something bad sneaks in.
Remember, most processed food companies do not have your best interest in mind. Their goal is to maximize profit. In fact, they have an obligation to their shareholders to do this. So, they’ll do whatever they can do to make their products at the lowest cost possible and motivate you to buy them.