When it comes to making food choices, you want to know exactly what’s what, right? Well the same should go for these processed food items. The truth is that many food companies nowadays like to make their products sound better than they actually are, with many claims on the front of the package in hopes that you won’t read the ingredients or you will be thrown off by all the buzz words they throw at you. It’s crazy how much marketing can shape and mold our opinion of certain brands. Let’s be real – it’s because marketing works! However, it is becoming increasingly important that we become conscious consumers and really start to question if brands actually live up to the stories and claims they put out there.⁠ That’s why I wanted to share some tips to help you shop smart and look for quality products rather than junk food that likes to pretend it’s health food.  

If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know that I am a huge advocate for eating more whole foods and less processed foods overall. This is because the added sugar in many of the processed foods today come with little-to-no added nutritional value and lack the proper fiber that helps your body release and digest the sugars at a more steady pace instead of a huge spike.⁠ In contrast, natural sugars like those found in real fruit and other whole foods are often paired with fiber, vitamins & minerals. Plus, the sugar added to processed foods makes them more addicting and easy to overeat compared to fruit which is much more filling so it’s important to know when you’re eating natural sugar and when you’re eating processed sugar. 

And of course it’s totally great to treat yourself to processed sugars in moderation, but just knowing when candy is candy and consciously choosing to eat it can help you make intentional decisions to better your health. A good general guideline to help find a healthy balance with more processed foods is the 80/20 method, which is when you eat about 80% whole foods and 20% fun foods. Everyone is different and won’t be exactly the same (I personally stick to more of 90/10) but this method can be helpful to find a good balance.

Here are a few things you can look out for to help you avoid accidentally mistaking junk food for a healthier choice:

1- “Buzz words”: These are phrases or words placed on the front of the package that are popular and make the product seem much healthier than it is. A few examples of buzz words/phrases are: “No preservatives”, “Gluten free”, and “Made with real fruit!”. All of these make the product seem like a more nutritious choice but when you turn around and look at the ingredients it is full of added sugars, artificial flavors and coloring.
2- Ingredients that you don’t understand or don’t recognize (you can always do a google search to double check): When you’re trying to pinpoint the quality of a product the most obvious place to check is the list of ingredients. I suggest avoiding anything with a long list of chemical ingredients because they’re almost never derived from whole food ingredients. A couple other common ingredients to avoid are: high fructose corn syrup and food dyes.
3- Cartoons & colorful imagery: Of course there are some great whole food options with colorful packaging, but oftentimes the marketing for highly processed foods is geared to draw in children with bright colors and imagery. So while it’s not an exact science, just make sure to double check the ingredients on these type of products.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some examples of how a food company might try to use marketing to trick you:

They’re obviously trying to sell this as a “Healthy” Fruit Snack.

When looking at the front of these popular fruit snacks, they seem great. They’re “gluten free, fat free, made with real fruit, 100% vitamin C, no preservatives” and “Fruit is their first ingredient”! However when you turn it around and really look, the first ingredient is fruit puree, followed by corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavors, red 40, blue 1, and even carnauba wax which is often used on cars. None of these ingredients will benefit your health– trust me.

Some Better options:

As you can see, the ingredients in better fruit snacks are simple – just fruit which hasn’t been stripped of it’s fiber like in the Welch’s “fruit snacks”. Obviously, whole fruit is best option when you have access to it and it will contain the most phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals still intact from the fruit.⠀

Similarly, here’s a look at some popular drinks:

“Great for athletes” or “great for kids”

It’s pretty easy to see here that most of the ingredients in these drinks are artificially derived and packed with sugar. The Hawaiian Punch for example is pretty much just water & high fructose corn syrup with food dyes – yikes! Less that 2% is made from real fruit juices yet the company happily displays all the wonderful fruit on the front of the package.⁠⠀⠀

As for Gatorade, the amount of marketing tying that brand in with pro-athletes is unbelievable. They tout the benefits of “electrolytes” and claim it’s the best option after exercise.

Better options:

A more simple choice like water or coconut water that is full of natural electrolytes and natural sugars is much better than all the filler ingredients and blue food dye.⁠ If you want to add flavor to your water you can get creative by adding ice, fruit and herbs

So the takeaway here is that it’s totally ok to indulge in your favorite treats, but just be aware of the fact that they are indeed treats. I hope that these tips help you on your health journey!

MeowMeix aka Amanda