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Top 5 Dirty Secrets of Food Marketers


You're probably eating insects, GMOs and more. And you don't even know it! Read on to see what tricks Big Food companies employ to fatten their profit margins at the expense of your health!

Natural Colours, Flavours and Additives

The trend amongst big food brands now is to claim the use of natural colours and flavours. This is a good thing, as it means artificial additives of this sort are being phased out of the food system. But lets not get too excited.

food additivesWhat about the natural red colouring in your strawberry yoghurt? Is that from strawberries? For the cheaper, mass produced brands, it may well be from additive E120, sometimes known as cochineal or carmine. A more literal (or truthful!) description is crushed and ground pregnant scale insects. Its also commonly used in savoury sauces and confectionery.

L-cysteine (E920) is a preservative commonly used in commercial bread and pastry production. It is usually obtained from goose and duck feathers, but can also be obtained from human hair and the hair and hooves of pigs. Yum!

And the biggest bombshell of all, castoreum. Approved by the US FDA as a ‘natural flavouring’, its commonly used in ice-cream and fruit flavoured products. This flavour is extracted from the secretions of a beaver’s anal gland. You read it right, its beaver’s butt! Its not used in Australia, but imported products may still contain it, and it will be labelled ‘natural flavouring’. Natural, yes, but certainly not something you’d expect in your ice cream!

The Different Names for Sugar

When reading ingredient labels, many people rightfully look for added sugar to make sure they’re not loading up on the sweet stuff. But its not that simple! There are many different forms of sugar and equally lots of different names for it.

sugarWe’ve even seen an Australian-made snack brand in Coles stating no added sugar on the front of the packet, but one of the main ingredients was glucose! Aside from learning all the 50+ names for sugar, what can you do to avoid it? Read the ingredient label and if any of the ingredient names look suspicious, or you don’t know what they are, then give it a miss!

Hidden GMO’s

The scientists tell us there’s no evidence that foods containing genetically modified organisms are bad for us. In some cases, these studies have been directly funded by the corporation benefitting from the sale and use of GMOs, so the independence of some studies is questionable. The popular movement is clear in places like California where there's an ongoing push by the public for mandatory GMO labelling. Big food companies are strongly against this. Why? Because GMOs are in way more foods than you think!

GMO maizeMore than 90% of US production of corn, soy and canola is GMO. The most common genetic modification of these plants is to make them resistant to herbicide, so that they can be sprayed at any time when there is a weed (or pest) issue. The result is that GMO crops have lead to an increase in the use of toxic chemicals. In a world where we’re all seeking better availability of organic foods, GMO engineering is moving us swiftly in the opposite direction.

If you think you don’t eat corn, soy and canola from the US, think again. All three are are used in many common food additives. Added starches, fibres, proteins, emulsifiers, tocopherols, cellulose, xanthan gum, vegetable oils, citric acid, fructose, sorbitol, calcium stearate, magnesium stearate and many more additives are commonly produced from corn, soy or canola. The fact is that the average consumer in Australia is consuming these GMOs every day.

50% Less!

In the race to grab consumer’s attention, the front of the pack is often used to spruik the fact that this particular product has less fat, more protein, fewer calories, or less sugar! But less (or more) than what? Well you’ll have to take out your magnifying glass and read the fine print hidden on the back of the pack for that.

We recently took a wander around the supermarket and spotted potato chips that had 75% less saturated fat (compared to chips cooked in 100% palm oil) and rice cakes that were just 27 calories per serve (where a serve was 1 rice cake weighing just 6 grams. Who eats just one rice cake??).

Beware of these often misleading and spurious claims. It can be the case that if a product is making such a claim, its likely to be the brand you cannot trust…

Incredible, but meaningless, health claims

This is a favourite strategy of supplement products. Claims like:
‘May assist in addressing a variety of health concerns’
‘May help maintain a healthy immune system’
‘Assists in maintaining and improving the functioning of all organs and systems in the body’

supermanSeriously? If there was such a wonder food or supplement, then everyone would be rushing to buy it! Oh I see, maybe that’s the intention…

Sensational claims are certainly attention grabbing, but they are cleverly worded to draw you in, without ever making a direct claim at all. Terms like ‘may help’ and general phrases like ‘variety of health concerns’ are used so as to avoid making a specific claim at all. If you’re not making a specific health claim, then you’re not bound by the Food Standards rules about health claims. Bingo!

So What's the Answer: Just Eat Real Food!

Its sometimes hard to recognise, but the best defence against these tactics is to Just Eat Real Food! Shop at your local markets, or from the outside aisles of the supermarket. And for packaged foods, read the labels and choose products with simple, minimally-processed ingredients.

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