Deceptive Food Marketing
1st October, 20130 Comments
Written by: Kevin Shore BSc (Hons) Public Health Nutrition
A number of food products are marketed as being healthy. Food manufacturers will often use terms such as “Whole-Grain”, “Nutri-Grain”, “Reduced Fat”, “Virtually Fat Free”, “No Added Sugar” and so on. In a number of cases, this marketing can be deceptive, fooling the customer into thinking that the product is a healthy alternative when in reality, it is not any healthier than the original. Such deceptive marketing occurs for breakfast cereal bars, crisps and biscuits. Overweight people may think that they are eating a product that is reduced in fat and is a whole-grain product for example, but the product in reality is very high in sugar and the overall calorie composition of the product is no lower than the original.
It is possible that a high sugar intake plays an even greater role in causing overweight and obesity than a high fat intake. This is because when foods that are high in sugar are eaten, blood sugar levels rise rapidly and this causes the pancreas to secrete lots of insulin, which encourages the body to store the sugar in the cells that need it for energy. However, excess sugar will be stored as fat, which will lead to weight gain. Another reason is that when blood sugar levels rise and then fall rapidly as a result of the secretion of insulin, this can make you feel tired and hungry so that you eat even more foods that are high in sugar in order to get the temporary energy boost again. This can become a vicious cycle and in the long term can lead to excessive weight gain.
For a number of products that are marketed as being low in fat, they are often high in sugar to compensate for any reductions in food palatability or taste. Also, the calorie content of the reduced fat version may not be much lower than that of the original. In this case, there is no overall advantage in having the reduced fat product for promoting weight loss.
There is currently a voluntary scheme in place where food manufacturers and supermarkets can declare whether their food products are high or low in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. This scheme is known as traffic light food labelling but not all food manufacturers or supermarkets use this system on their food labels.
Making traffic light food labelling compulsory would certainly help the general public to make healthier food choices and potentially help reduce the prevalence of obesity here in the UK. Below is an example of the fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content of a standard pack of chocolate biscuits compared with a 30% reduced fat alternative.
Standard Chocolate Biscuits (Per 100 g):
Calories = 495 kcal
Total Fat = 23.6 g (High)
Saturated Fat = 12.4 g (High)
Sugar = 29.5 g (High)
Salt = 1.0 g (Medium)
30% Reduced Fat Biscuits (Per 100 g):
Calories = 457 kcal
Total Fat = 15.8 g (Medium)
Saturated Fat = 8.2 g (High)
Sugar = 30.1 g (High)
Salt = 1.0 g (Medium)
The reduced fat biscuits contain 33.1% less total fat, 33.9% less saturated fat, exactly the same amount of salt, but they contain 2.0% more sugar than the standard chocolate biscuits. Also, per 100 g, the reduced fat biscuits only contain 38 kcal less and only 8 kcal less per biscuit. There is no real advantage to having the reduced fat biscuits and the fact that they are higher in sugar may lead to you eating more to get the temporary energy boost. It is far healthier to snack on fruit and some raw vegetables.
You do not have to give up chocolate and other products that are high in fat and sugar completely. As long as the majority of your diet is healthy, then there is no problem with occasionally having such foods. But eating cakes, crisps and biscuits in high quantities will lead to weight gain.
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