When shopping recently I’ve noticed that healthfood buzzwords seem to be spreading. First it was marshmallows proudly declaring themselves “Fat Free”, as if this would detract from the fact that they’re almost pure sugar. Now beef jerky is announcing that it’s “High Protein!” Good. If you weren’t, I’d have to ask some serious questions and would never consider buying you. Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese has a whole wheat version (which is actually only 50% whole wheat), as if the pasta would be the problem. The list goes on.
What is with buzzword obsession? It doesn’t tell you anything useful about the food, or give information you could actually use to make informed decisions with regards to a healthy diet. And this is especially ridiculous when they’re being slapped on junk food, particularly since it’s easy to rig the system. Decrease the fat level, add more sugar. “Lite” or even “Fat-Free” without making it one iota healthier. It’s been standard procedure ever since ‘Fat’ became a dirty diet word.
I wonder whether this might be a reaction to the shifting food wisdom, since recent reporting has highlighted the fact that fats may not actually be as big a problem as previously thought, and that the traditional view of carbohydrates and sugars being the big issue may be correct. “There’s uncertainty! Quick, everything pretend to be a healthfood!”
Or maybe it’s just an attempt to tempt people by salving their guilt at eating something that’s bad for them. “But if the peanut brittle is high-protein and fat-free it can’t be that bad. And nuts are good for you, right?” If that is the case, then it really shouldn’t work… but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does. It’s like those desserts that claim to be “Only X calories per portion!” and only admit under duress that the portion is about a quarter of what an actual human being would want to serve someone.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for foods trying to be as healthy as they can. Often there are ways to cut down on things like sugar and fat without sacrificing taste, or simply switching to another problem substance to hide the change in flavour. But that isn’t what this seems to be about. This is about hiding issues, not dealing with them. And at the end of the day, there are always going to be some food which simply cannot be healthy without losing what makes them appealing. Part of being a responsible and healthy consumer is accepting that, and eating those foods in moderation as part of a healthy diet. And without guilt! If you really fancy a treat now and then, go for it. You shouldn’t beat yourself up and force yourself to have only healthy food all the time. Otherwise, you leave yourself open for this sort of trick. As the old saying goes, “Everything in moderation – including moderation”.
One response to “When Did Every Food Need Buzzwords?”
I work in marketing. I also run an online shop that sells foodstuffs. So in some ways, I’m in the intersection of “food marketing”, which is what all the explosion of health claims is about.
I am all for the free market – if a product has some advantage over others, the producer should shout about it. So if it really is “fat free”, feel free to label it as such.
However, what I detest is dodgy marketing. And there’s alot of that going around – health claims that only have a tenuous evidence behind it. Hiding the bad stuff in small print on labels. Not telling the full picture. Saying “fat free” (but then having loads of sugar). As a consumer, I want to trust that what I read on the label is accurate – and that’s why I think food labelling & food marketing regulation is very important.