Do you believe the buzzwords on the cereal box?


I noticed you’ve been trying to eat healthy lately. In an effort to shed (let’s face it) Diwali’s inevitable weight gain, you tossed bags of chocolates and boxes of cookies with reckless abandon. Some of the items found in our cupboard scream “goodies” – like the twice dipped caramel popcorn or that delicious bag of fried mix. These are the foods we can make quick decisions about, whether they are “good for you” or “bad for you”. Eliminate the “bad” foods, make way for the “good” ones.

Easy, mission accomplished, right? So let’s watch the pounds drop, okay?

Not so fast. We do not live in a world defined only in black and white, good versus evil, healthy and unhealthy. We must now understand that there is a substantial middle “gray area” on a spectrum.

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This spectrum applies to our food choices as well, and food marketers know exactly how to capture our attention in the gray area and prompt us to make food choices based on our perception of the health of foods. This is called the “health halo” effect of food marketing, a term defined by the MacMillan Dictionary as “the perception that a particular food is good for you, even when there is little or no. evidence to confirm that this is true ”.

If you don’t know how food marketers can trick you into believing a product is healthy for you when it is luckily in the “gray area” of food, take this example.

Imagine placing two boxes of cereal in front of you. Both are brilliantly labeled, adorned with gorgeous images of their fruit-topped cereal. One package contains buzzwords such as “naturally flavored”, “fortified with vitamins B12” and “gluten free”. The other packet of cereal doesn’t. So which one do you immediately perceive to be the healthiest?

As a nutrition coach, I review numerous food diaries for clients. I often talk to them about their food choices to better understand how “good” they perceive their food to be. Almost 80-90% of them will tell me their diet is “pretty good” while their food diary (and weight gain) will claim otherwise. I have realized over time that it is not my client who is acting flippant or ignorant. It’s just that they believed the flashy buzzwords presented to them in the supermarket aisle. After all, when we lead busy lives, we make quick decisions about our food choices based on the buzzwords on the box.

In early 2020, a UK youth organization called ‘Bite Back 2030’ commissioned a report to analyze more than 500 popular grocery brands to determine if their halo marketing tactics reflected the nutritional value of the product inside. the box. They found that a whopping 57% of these brands had health halo claims on their packaging, but were either considered high in sodium, high in fat, or high in sugar.

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One of my favorite examples of the health halo comes from the strangest source – the Snickers bar. Before you immediately judge me crazy, Bob Mostra, the leader behind Snicker’s rebranding, discovered that people who buy a Snickers bar think it is a quick and convenient meal replacement to satisfy. their hunger. Other chocolate bars on the market were sold as having a calming and relaxing effect. Snickers took this opportunity to talk about delivering power on the go. In continuation of this rebranding effort, ads featuring ordinary people going hungry (hungry + angry) in socially difficult situations, only satisfied with a quick bite from a Snickers bar. I think most of us would agree that these commercials were entertaining. However, they were entertaining and effective, as it consolidated in the minds of consumers that Snickers was a suitable replacement for a meal or a quick energy boost. It doesn’t change that Snickers is still a chocolate bar with chocolate, caramel, and peanuts in it. It can be delicious, quick and convenient; in good health, it is not.

My second favorite example is vitamin water. I won’t hide from you that I picked up some on my way to work from time to time, until one day I turned the bottle over to examine the label. I originally chose vitamin water because it came in brightly colored packaging. The flavor sounded good; the name itself said “vitamin” and I thought I would be healthier drinking it. Not really. One bottle of Focus, for example, contained 33g of carbs, 32g of sugar, and 26g of added sugar. (5) According to Coca-Cola, their 12-ounce can of regular Coca-Cola has 39g of sugar. You could argue that my synthetic vitamin soup had more nutritional value than a can of Coca-Cola; however, the trade-off of getting these vitamins came at the cost of a high volume of total sugar. I prefer to eat an orange.

So what and who do we believe in our food choices? The first step is to become more critical of the messages on the supermarket shelves. What awaits you, the consumer, is the shiny, fun and popping front of the box. Knowing what you now know about buzzwords and buzzword food marketing, the information you are really looking for is on the back of the box: the nutrition label and the ingredient list. You can take back control of your diet by familiarizing yourself with what constitutes a nutrition label so you can begin to determine if a food choice is right for you.

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The second step is to better understand how foods fit into your diet. Despite labels like “unhealthy” or “bad,” no food will automatically make you unhealthy or put on weight. It is the amount you choose to eat of what type of food can. Once you understand where your food choices fall on the spectrum, you can make better decisions about how much and how often you eat them to meet your goals.


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