If you’re ever stuck wondering what it is you’re actually putting into your body, you’re definitely not alone. The food industry can be a nefarious and downright confusing thing to understand, and consumers are constantly having to make tough and often uninformed decisions about food. So what is it they don’t want us to know? Here are just 10 secrets the food industry is keeping from us.
10. Sweet, Sweet Lies
When people talk about going on a diet, they are often referring to reducing the amount of unnecessary fat they consume. But contrary to popular belief, fat isn’t the only major contributor to weight gain and health problems. Highly addictive and found in high doses in many products, an excess of sugar is more to blame. And while we now know that sugar isn’t great for your arteries, there’s a lot the food industry has covered up in order to keep consumers buying sugary products. According to NPR (National Public Radio), a study funded by the Sugar Research Foundation conducted in 1960 was doctored because of damning evidence of the correlation between the consumption of sugar and heart disease. The SRF funded the Harvard study and asked researchers to highlight the effects of fat over sugar in order to shift the negative spotlight off their industry. The end result was a heavily edited view of the sugar industry, placing fat as the problem, and discrediting many sugar studies suggesting that Americans lessen their sugar intake. What’s more, many of the articles referenced in the study were handpicked by SRF, which suggests they shine a favourable light on the industry and don’t address any opposing views. The report was later published in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, and no mention of special funding or SRF’s involvement was included. Meant to be viewed as an independent study, this propagation of false information left Americans in the dark, and although we know better now, it should never have happened in the first place.
9. Veggie-less Veggie Straws
Often marketed as a healthier alternative to the regular chip, most people seem to believe that the infamous Veggie Straws are somehow made with real vegetables. But it comes as little surprise that this is not the case. In fact, the straws are more like chips than any fresh produce you can find in your local grocery store. The snack is also missing most of the essential vitamins characteristic of vegetables. For example, in an ounce of Spinach, there are only 7 calories, but within those calories are the vitamins A and C, as well as a small percentage of calcium and potassium. The Veggie Straws on the other hand have only low levels of iron and a little bit of fiber. So, Veggie Straws aren’t so veggie-like, but why do so many people think they’re better for you than they are? According to some, the association with vegetables and the low-fat claims are what fool people. The snack’s creator, Sensible Portions, wants people to associate the straws with being healthier and can technically slap on the “veggie” label because of the powdered veggie flavors that exist in each chip. In fact, because consumers believe they are eating a relatively healthy snack, they tend to eat more of them than they normally would, which is just as unhealthy as eating regular junk food. So, next time you’re in the store, rethink those veggie snacks you’re about to buy because they may not be all that they seem.
8. No Gluten, No Problem?
Today, many gluten-free options are harkened as the healthier alternative as they are aligned with many vegan and vegetarian diets. Having gluten-free options is also a necessity as those with celiac disease need the alternatives. But if consumers are just looking for a healthier version of bread, is gluten-free really the way to go? Apparently not, as the more your food is being processed, the worse for you it is, regardless of whether it has gluten in it or not. In many gluten-free bread products, the absent ingredient leaves the dough dry and in need of another “gluing” agent to make the ingredients stick together. To do this, many companies end up adding rice flours and other starches that contain a lot of trans fat which our bodies can’t process. And like sugar, having too much trans fat in your system can lead to heart disease and other health problems later in life. But gluten-free diets aren’t the problem by themselves, it’s only the man-made substitutes that create issues. As a common health term that gets bandied around pretty frequently, consumers forget that things like meat and dairy don’t contain any gluten and are already gluten free. So really, the true gluten-less diet is simply an elimination of starchy foods that contain wheat and rye. And while your body needs the sugars and fats that come from these kinds of food products, they can also be consumed in foods other than bread. So, unless you have celiac disease, maybe lay off the gluten-free pasta and enjoy some rye bread instead.
7. Addictive Chips
Have you ever wondered why we can’t get our hands out of the chip bag once it’s open? As it turns out, there’s actually a scientific reason for this, and the secret lives in the way some of our favorite snacks are engineered. In popular chips like Doritos, researchers have identified a phenomenon called the “bliss point” which causes our brains to miss signs of fullness. According to reports, this bliss point occurs because of the absence of a distinct taste in the chips. The combination of sugar, salt, and fat are largely behind this and can cause serious damage if they are consumed in excess over long periods of time. If our brains are always being tricked into eating more than we should, the health impact could be catastrophic. What’s more, these foods are widely available and contain next to no nutritional value, and we all know what you get when a good-tasting food is coupled with easy access and high fat and sugar content – obesity – a rising issue within North America and beyond. If that isn’t enough, companies like Coca-Cola and General Mills have chosen to ignore their part in this rising statistic and continue to sell people unhealthy foods. And maybe the worst part is, we continue to buy them! As of December 2017, chip sales totalled at a massive $5.3 billion in sales, which is more than a 7% increase from the previous year, and the sales are only rising. We had better be careful with what be put in our bodies or we just might end up like the people in “Wall-E.”
Most people are familiar with the delicious hazelnut spread that took the world by storm in 1969 when the already famous Italian spread came to the US. And while still being a chocolaty product, people’s first impressions of Nutella were that it was a little healthier than some other spreads because of the strong emphasis on the inclusion of Hazelnust. Unfortunately, Nutella USA caught on to this and attempted to convince us that their product was a healthy breakfast option through a tv ad which claimed that the three main ingredients are, “hazelnuts, skim milk, and a hint of cocoa,” which, while not being false on its own, omits a lot of other ingredients – like palm oil, artificial flavors, and added sugar. Thankfully, the public became outraged at this and filed a class action lawsuit against the company in July of 2014 for falsely advertising Nutella as a health food. As a result, certain consumers of the product were reimbursed, and the company was required to modify their advertising as to not be misleading. It might seem extreme, but when you think about the fact that Nutella the “health food” was being advertised to mothers to give to their kids, it makes a lot of sense that people were upset. To compare, take natural Peanut Butter for example. A serving only contains one gram of natural sugar, and seven grams of protein to Nutella’s two full grams of added sugar and zero satisfying protein. So next time you’re reaching for the Nutella first thing in the morning, maybe opt for a different spread.
5. Candied Energy
Having only been released around the mid eighties for athletes, energy bars have become a staple in North American society as a way to keep up with our increasingly busy and stressful lives. And while it’s a whole other can of worms as to why these bars are necessary, (capitalism, the consumer cycle, all that fun stuff) it comes as a little surprise that these products are a lot less healthy than we originally thought. Most people would agree that the best energy bars should have a lot of protein and iron to give you the boost you need, but it turns out that many brands use sugar as one of their main ingredients. The transition came about when energy bars started being marketed to office workers, and suddenly each bar had an unprecedented amount of added sugar. Thankfully, there are options out there for less sugary energy bars—certain ones that contain less than 200 calories are more likely to have less sugar as well. Otherwise, the savvy consumer can compare the amount of protein and fiber between brands to get a sense of which one will satisfy. Ideally, energy bars with less than 10 grams of sugar are the healthiest out of the bunch. Still, the healthiest alternative is to refuel the body with whole foods. Hopefully future iterations of energy bars will contain less sugar, but for now, we’ll just have to keep an eye out for those sneaky details.
4. Misleading Baby Formula
When raising kids, parents want to make sure that everything being fed to their newborn is safe and healthy in as many ways as possible. But how can we be sure of that with such misleading ingredients on the simplest things like baby formula? As one of the very first things that many newborns are fed, baby formula should be simply made and straightforward without any added ingredients or harmful chemicals. However, companies like Nestle have been using convoluted language in their baby formula ingredients lists to cover up a lot of problematic additives, stating that their formulas have, “an identical structure” to breast milk which sounds more than a little ominous when you think of what that could mean. Even worse, these kinds of liberties are illegal as stated by the WHO. It is unclear if the formulas followed regulations in North America, but in South America, Brazil, and Hong Kong, Nestle actually added sucrose to these formulas, claiming that it was for the, “baby’s good health.” Not only is this harmful to newborns, Nestle often recants and changes their stance on this issue, saying at one time that the sucrose is perfectly fine for young children while simultaneously omitting it from North American formulas. And while this opens up a whole wealth of other problematic practices by big companies, it is safe to say that newborns who consumed Nestle’s formula with the included sucrose were put at risk by an uncaring corporation. Thankfully, the controversy came to light in 1970 and caused an international boycott of the formula and a return to many mothers breastfeeding.
3. Fat Free?
Since we now know the negative effects of consuming excess amounts of fat, many companies have caught wise and began to market many of their unhealthy products as, “fat free” or, “trans fat-free” to soothe our worries. But little do we know, there are certain loopholes in this marketing tactic that allow for the rules to be bent. For example, if there is less than one gram of trans fat in a product, the company is not required to list it in the nutrition facts. But think about how much trans fat that could add up to if consumers are not aware of it being present in our foods? As for the, “no fat included” claims, companies often make up for the loss by packing foods with sugar to help their products still taste good. So, while they’re right that the item contains low to zero fat, the level of sugar is almost always double what it should be so the food still tastes good. This again harkens back to the “war on fat” and our misplaced focus on the true culprit of health problems—sugar. And like the veggie straws from before, people are led to believe these low-fat snacks are much healthier than they actually are and as a result, they tend to overeat. Many whole foods are naturally low in fat and are much better options than their man-made counterparts, so the next time you’re wanting a snack, look no further than the fresh produce section.
2. Aw, Honey
While widely considered as one of the best natural sweeteners, honey itself isn’t the issue here. As usual, it’s the incorrect labelling of products that is causing problems in today’s food market. As a lot of food enthusiasts may know, honey contains high levels of antioxidants and active phytonutrients which have been known to help boost your immune system. And while it’s already a little difficult to label honey, as beekeepers can’t monitor exactly where their bees pollenate, a better effort by companies could definitely be made. Not only that, but certain honey brands that give off the trademark golden yellow glow use sugars as an additive to make up for any variety in taste that each batch of honey may have. High fructose corn syrup is often one of these additives, and its inclusion almost defeats the purpose of using honey as a sweetener. Even when buying organic honey, consumers should still consider it as an added sugar just to be safe.
1. What’s Shakin’ Bacon?
To the chagrin of many bacon lovers out there, this processed meat isn’t all that it seems. According to recent studies, bacon is actually a carcinogen and has very few health benefits, but somehow it keeps flying off the shelves. This is largely because of misleading labelling, as there are bacon options that boast a “nitrate free” marketing plug, leading consumers to believe that it is a natural meat and a good source of protein. However, there is no evidence to show that nitrate-free meat is any less harmful. Like the honey ordeal, consumers are led to believe that the product is something that it’s not. Once in a while is fine, but everything in moderation!