Fraudulent ‘Health’ Marketing

The truth behind ‘FAT-FREE’ and ‘100% Real’ and ‘No-Sugar-Added’

Last week, I wrote a detailed post about seeing through the deception of the Nutritional Label. I shared with you my simple, 4-step process that shatters the food industry’s attempts at obfuscating ‘nutrition’.

I’ve spent the last 15-years battling with obesity. It took me three attempts, three yo-yos of weight ups and downs, to finally figure my way around this deliberately constructed quagmire of half-truths and outright-lies.

As a marketing professional, it fascinates me — how these food corporations take what’s essentially a consumer-aid to making informed food choices, and turn it into a misleading marketing story that serves the opposite purpose.

As a fitness enthusiast, it disgusts me, how they take all that’s wrong with the shitty, nutrition-less, factory produced food they’re peddling, and portray it as the very reason you should be buying more of it. Bastards.

As you can see, I am extremely zen about this deliberate, corporate health-sabotage.

So I decided to pick a battle against this big corporate food-lie. Last week’s post was the opening maneuver, so I was being gentle.

This week, we name and shame.

So come, let’s head to the grocery store, and pick up some ‘healthy’ looking foods. Foods which make loud claims of being ‘sooo-good-for-you’. And let’s, rather than focus on what they’re telling us on the front-of-pack, turn it around and check what the Nutrition Label reveals.

I’ll take 4 examples today, to showcase 4 different lying techniques that these marketeers have perfected over time. Fasten your seat-belts, for I assure you, some of your favorite brands will lose your trust in the next few minutes.

The ‘Serving Size’ Technique

How bad can some nutella on one piece of toast be?

Let’s start with something that you’d already know isn’t very healthy. But it’s so darn finger-licking tasty that you still find yourself falling for it in a moment of weakness.

The marketeers at nutella know that they have a product which is so tasty, so addictive, that it’s hard to close the jar once you’ve put a finger in it. They also know that there’s no hiding the fact that it’s pure sugar.

Just see the nutrition label on the right — 50% of this food is carbohydrate, and ALL of it comes from sugar. And the rest of it is fat. They really couldn’t have made something more unhealthy if they tried to.

So, knowing that you know how unhealthy this is, how do they get you to open the jar. How do they get you to take just one dip? Because after that, your greedy tongue will do the job for them.

Well, simple, use the ‘serving size’ obfuscation technique.

Check-out the front of pack now. The only piece of nutritional information called out there is this:

Energy: 80kcal per 15gm serve

How sweet of them! They’re actually trying to help you see the calories without taking the trouble of turning the pack around. And just 80 calories for that chocolaty yumminess doesn’t seem like such a bad deal. Right? So why don’t you go dig right in!

Sure. But let’s do a little math first.

If one ‘serve’ is 15gm, then this 290gm jar has about 20 serves. So, even if you give into temptation every third day, this jar should last you about 2 months. Now ask yourself, has a small nutella jar ever lasted 2 months? I’d bet it hasn’t crossed 2 weeks.

Do you see the trick?

No one has a 15g serving of nutella.

No one eats just one piece of bread with nutella. Between licking the spoon and dipping your finger in the jar and pulling out another half-piece of bread, I’d bet that you end up consuming atleast 30gms. And we haven’t yet counted the calories and carbs from the bread. Not an indulgence you can afford anymore, can you?

The ‘FAT FREE’ Technique

Fat-free, yes. But why not announce ‘Only sugar and nothing else’ too.

This one is my favorite.

See the proud claims shouting out from top of pack: FAT-FREE

Buy this amazing, tasty sauce because it has NO FAT. Oh this must be so healthy, because something that is devoid of any Fat, can’t possible make you fat. Right?

Absolutely wrong.

I feel bad for poor Fat. A harmless, nutritious macro-nutrient that unfortunately shares its name with a body-condition that none of us want. It’s so intuitive — Fat makes you FAT — that it doesn’t even need any explanation.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but refined sugar makes you fat. A LOT more and a LOT faster than Fat. Fortunately for marketeers, sugar isn’t classified as Fat, but as Carbohydrate. How convenient.

Now look at the back of that bottle. It has no fat, true, but what does it have?

47gms of carbohydrate, all of which is sugar. And absolutely NOTHING else. Look at the front again.

‘Made with quality ingredients’, it says

Well, they must be using the best kind of highly refined sugar, because this bottle doesn’t have anything else in it. Blatant, fucking liars.

Om…Om….Om… Bastards.

The ‘100% Real’ technique

So real they named it REAL

Just take a minute to appreciate the elaborate lies on this packaging.

On the front: Fresh, whole fruits swirling in a joyous dance of purity.

At the side: A happy school going kid sipping on nature’s bounty, unable to keep his feet on the ground. A big blurb right next to the nutrition label that says ‘Real Belief’ and goes on to claim that this pack has a ‘unique blend of fruit nutrition and irresistible taste’. And a big splash in the centre that says ‘Healthy is happy’.

What else do you need, to convince yourself that you’re feeding your kid nutritional awesomeness? What else do you need to convince yourself that you’ve made this healthy choice, instead of some sugary, carbonated drink?

I guess by now you know how this ends. So go back now and take a look at the Label.

First of all, all these juices are made out of fruit concentrates. Which, by definition, have lost most of the fruit-fibre. Which, as it turns out, is the most nutritious part of whole fruit. What they retain are the fruit sugars, which, while better than refined sugar, are still sugar.

Ever wondered how they manage to deliver a consistent, sweet taste in all juice packs? After all, when you extract juice at home, every batch varies basis the fruit. Clearly, they must be sourcing some great, organic, fruit — right?

Naah. They just add sugar.

So this pack of juice that’s supposed to be so nutritious that your kid should carry it to school, is, I’m sorry to say, nothing but sugar. No other macro-nutrient. Just half natural sugar and half refined, added sugar. Zero nutrition.

And these bastards had the audacity to name the brand ‘Real’. Makes my blood curdle.

The ‘No Sugar Added’ Technique

But then I realise, they aren’t done yet.

The same brand has another ‘no added sugar’ variant.

Phew”, I think, “maybe they’ll redeem themselves”.

How naive!

Did I mention, this juice brand controls more than half the packaged juice market in India? So confident they are, of their ability to package shit as gold, that they took it a step further.

This ‘Fruit+Veggie’ juice is so pure, it has no added-sugar. But then, how come, in the same 100ml of juice, it has 12gms of natural sugars? That’s DOUBLE the amount the previous juice from the same company had! Isn’t the addition of veggies supposed to reduce the amount of natural sugar? What sort of black sugar-magic is this?

It’s the concentrate.

You see, the trick is in ’No-Added’. As long as the manufacturers of the end-product didn’t add any sugar themselves, it’s ok. So what, if the guy providing the fruit concentrate, very conveniently, doubled the amount of sugar in the concentrate. That’s his problem, not theirs.

I wonder though, who told him to? Any chance it’s the people selling the finished good, because they wanted to make it taste great?

Rampant Lying

These are but a few examples. Supermarket shelves are full of shitty, sugary foods packaged with such expertly crafted ‘health’ claims that consumers stand absolutely no chance of seeing past them.

Check out this sauce from the same manufacturer above. 78% Fat-Free it says. That must be so healthy!

22% Fat. 100% Godless.

But did you know: 78% Fat-Free actually means 22% Fat!!!!

Yes — turn it around and you’ll see that 22 out of every 100gms is fat. But, rather than declare that, the marketeers chose to twist this data and pitch it as a healthy sauce!

Doesn’t this blatant lying make you sick?

It burns me up to think that all those years, when I was telling myself that I’m making healthy choices, I was actually being fooled into consuming sugar. And when, (ofcourse) the results didn’t come, it left me confused and heart-broken and demotivated. Which, in-turn, pushed me to consume more junk.

A perfect, vicious circle of health based profiteering.

Well it’s time we broke this circle. These blog-posts are my tiny, almost immaterial step in that direction. But they can become material, if you pass them forward.

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2 thoughts on “Fraudulent ‘Health’ Marketing

  1. Hi Shashank, I have been following your posts since past couple of months.
    A heartfelt thank you ! The basic science and a very different writing style has attracted me to your posts and what is unique is a rarely found genuine effort to help us on our journey of fitness.
    You write sensible abd share possible to adopt tips. Just one aspect which I struggle with two daughters is how does a professional student with hardly much time for workouts manage a daily or weekly workout routine?

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