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Is it really healthy? The health food masquerade

Have you ever wondered about the health claims you see on packaged foods? Are they good guidance, or marketing hype? Unfortunately, they are likely to be mostly the latter. Claiming to help your health has become big business!

And of course you don’t see health claims on the really healthy foods: broccoli and apples don’t carry labels like that!


If you are reading a label with a long list of ingredients, you are not looking at the best food: there is no list of ingredients on a zucchini, potato, chickpea or chicken breast!


Companies put a lot of research into making foods hyper-palatable: creamy melt-in-the-mouth deserts, and chips with the optimal crunch, salt and fat balance. They appeal to our pleasure senses, and we eat more of them than we should.

And “healthy” has become sexy marketing: now we have health claims on many highly processed foods. In fact it is likely that most processed foods that carry a health claim are ultra-processed foods: the opposite of healthy! For example, when “low fat” was the advertising trend, the sugar levels in processed foods increased. Nowadays, given the move towards vegan and plant-based foods, processed food producers are working to expand that market. Some vegan burgers have shocked us with the length of their lists of ingredients: they are ultra-processed foods!


Here are some other examples:

  • Commercially produced salad dressings are full of chemicals: stabilizers, flavour enhancers, MSG, emulsifiers and the like.

  • Pre-chopped salads in bags: they don’t go brown and limp because they have been sprayed with sulphites and other preservatives. This goes for many salad bars and fast-food salads too.

  • Bagged “baby” carrots are just big carrots ground down to size and preserved by a chlorine bath: we find we can taste the chemicals on them!

  • Yoghourt can be a pure natural food. But commercially prepared yoghourts are often manufactured for a longer shelf life and greater palatability, using sweeteners, artificial flavourings and colourings, plus stabilisers and emulsifiers.

  • Crackers, even whole grain ones, often contain hydrogenated oils to prevent them going rancid, along with other flavourings, colourings and preservatives.

  • Rice cakes are not as healthy as you might think. Because they are fluffed up rice, they raise blood sugar fast, even more than a slice of white bread. The flavoured ones contain various chemicals to make them more appealing.

  • Commercial breakfast cereals, even the non-sugary ones, are fluffed and flaked into a refined carbohydrate food that will spike your blood sugar anyway. And since they sit on the shelf, they do contain preservatives.

  • Veggie “mock meats”: you have to add a lot to soy to make it taste like a hot dog!

General good advice is to shop around the edge of the supermarket, rather than down the aisles: the fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, and simple baked goods, tend to be around the perimeter of supermarket stores. The ultra-processed frozen meals and snacks with their long shelf-lives, tend to be down the aisles.

Remember, just because you can put it in your mouth, chew it, swallow it, and even enjoy it, doesn’t mean it’s real food!


We liked the article in The Guardian on-line about ultra-processed foods, enough to suggest that you read it. Here’s the link.

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