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Don’t Judge a Box By Its Cover!

Try to wrap your brain around this...

there are a whopping 17,000 new food products introduced every year!


The grocery store shelves have become...needless to say...intimidating, especially if you are trying to eat healthfully.  Then, it's even more complicated with the mind-boggling marketing and health claims on the front of the boxes and packages.

The food companies spend huge money to develop packaging that leads us to believe the contents are “healthy” and “nutritious.”  You know the ones...”light,” “skinny,” “natural,” “lean,” “simple,” “made with whole grains,” “artisan,” “great source of protein (or fiber).”  They even use the word “REAL” to convince you the “fake” food has REAL ingredients and nutrients in it!


This is why it is SO incredibly important to read the ingredients!


Here are just a few examples of the traps that are so easy to fall into:


Natural”.  Sounds simple and healthy, right?

Several years ago on Thanksgiving, we went to Kansas City to spend the holiday with my parents.  I was making a Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash that called for pure maple syrup.  My parents agreed to pick some up at the store, even though they didn’t typically use pure maple syrup.  When we arrived, they were so proud they had found the pure maple syrup for me.  When I pulled it out of the fridge, it said “All Natural Table Syrup!”  I hated to burst their bubble, but they had been tricked!  This “All Natural Table Syrup” had zero maple syrup in it!  Food industry marketers win again!


IMG_2786What about “lean?”  That MUST be healthy, right?

The dictionary says "lean" means “physically thin, strong and healthy.”  So, how about “Lean Pockets?”  Sounds like a great healthy meal or snack!  There is a scene in the Fed Up movie where a mother is trying to help her son change his unhealthy habits.  She says “He loves Hot Pockets, so they have Lean Hot Pockets…so I make sure to have the ‘lean’ ones versus the regular ones.”  She obviously didn’t look at the ingredients; otherwise she would have seen this…

Water, Whole Grain Wheat Flour, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Cooked Grill Marked White Meat Chicken Strips (White Meat Chicken, Water, Isolated Soy Protein, Modified Rice Starch, Chicken Flavor [Dehydrated Chicken Broth, Chicken Powder, Natural Flavor], Sodium Phosphate, Salt), Broccoli, Margarine (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Palm Oil Water, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Sugar, Mono and Diglycerides, Artificial Flavor, Soybean Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate and Citric Acid [Preservatives], Colored with Annatto and Turmeric, Vitamin A Palmitate), Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto Color), Low Fat Mozzarella Cheese ([Pasteurized part Skim Milk, Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Non-Fat Milk, Modified Food Starch [Ingredient Not in Regular Mozzarella Cheese], Annatto Color), Seasoning (Maltodextrin, Whey, Nondairy Creamer [Coconut Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Caseinate, Mono- & Diglycerides, Potassium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide, Soy Lecithin], Buttermilk Powder, Cheese Flavor [Natural Flavor, Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Whey, Maltodextrin, Whey Protein Concentrate, Buttermilk, Modified Cornstarch, Salt, Garlic Powder, Potato Maltodextrin, Disodium Phosphate, Onion Powder, Citric Acid], Bleached Enriched Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Benzoyl Peroxide, Amylase, Ascorbic Acid, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Salt, Sugar, Seasoning [Cornstarch, Propylene Glycol, Extractives of Turmeric and Annatto, Polysorbate 80, Natural Flavor], Annatto Color, Methylcellulose, Lactic Acid, Calcium Lactate), 2% or Less of Seasoning (Whey, Corn Maltodextrin, Reduced Lactose Whey, Salt, Onion Powder, Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Garlic Powder, Canola Oil, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Natural Flavor, Disodium Phosphate, Spice, Blue Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Whey Protein Concentrate, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Extractives of Annatto), Sugar, Onions, Whey, Modified Food Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil (with Soy Lecithin), Seasoning (Enriched Wheat Flour [Enriched with Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Garlic Powder, Tapioca Dextrin, Parmesan Cheese [Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Onion Powder, Dried Parsley, Citric Acid, Sugar, Romano Cheese [Sheep's Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Yeast, Soybean Oil, Salt, Dried Chives), Dough Conditioner (Calcium Sulfate, Salt, L-Cysteine Hydrochloride, Garlic Powder, Tricalcium Phosphate, Enzymes), Egg Yolks, Yeast, Salt, Methylcellulose, Soy Flour, Egg Whites.

If you go to their website you will see things like “We believe the Hot Pockets journey from the farm to your home is part of what makes every bite so irresistible.”  REALLY?!  What farm did these come from?!  Well, score a win for the Nestle marketers every time someone puts these in their shopping cart!

IMG_2778One more…breakfast cereal boxes are a paradise for all types of health claims!  And, when you are standing in the cereal aisle (with over 50 choices in front of you), a box that says “fruit and yogurt” with a fresh strawberry and blackberry is like a life preserver to pull you out of the ocean of mass confusion!  Real fruit and yogurt HAS to be healthy!

Plus, the box reassures that the calories are nourishing…including whole grain, fiber, Vitamin D and folic acid.

However, after taking a closer look, you probably could have just given in and bought the Lucky Charms, even with its rainbow marshmallows, because the healthy fruit and yogurt cereal has the same amount of sugar as the kids’ favorite!

IMG_2782But, wait, maybe the fruit would contribute to the sugar content?  Nope...the list of ingredients does not include those strawberries and blackberries on the front of the box.  And the yogurt…well, see for yourself!  This time, it's the Kelloggs marketers who are high-fiving themselves when the box crosses the grocery store scanner!

What do we do?

The solution is actually very simple.

FORGET ABOUT THE FRONT-OF-PACKAGE CLAIMS AND READ THE INGREDIENTS!  So, if there is a health claim on the front of the package, then proceed with caution.  Keep in mind, REAL food generally doesn’t come with these claims, and REAL food doesn't have marketers to develop such creative packaging!  Check out our ingredient label tips if you want to learn more about reading the ingredients!


Please remember…Keep it simple and EAT REAL!


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3 Responses to Don’t Judge a Box By Its Cover!

  1. “Wow” am not eating real at all, these products are just some of the one’s me and my family eat. I try to eat right and is willing to try different things, but am realizing am doing it all wrong. I sometimes read the ingredient label but they are so small its difficult. Today I started taking pictures with my phone and decided not to buy it until I know what am eating.

    • Nancy – thank you for asking! Canola oil actually contains a great combination of the beneficial mono and poly-unsaturated fats, is low in saturated fat, and even includes omega-3’s, which many Americans need more of. It’s economical and works well at medium-high heat, and is widely recommended by nearly every prominent health organization. Yet, many are hesitant to use canola oil, because it is perceived to be highly processed. We hope this helps and for more info about other types of oil, feel free to check out our coaching tip! Thank you!

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