Look Good Think this is healthy? Think again

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Think this is healthy? Think again

There’s a reason food manufacturers use words such as ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ and ‘fresh’ on their packaging and marketing material. The fact is, whilst we all have the occasional craving for chocolate, lollies and chips, we’re more inclined to buy food if we believe it’s nutritious, jam-packed with goodness, and unlikely to have negative repercussions on our health.

However, a recent review of 200 supermarket products has revealed what we think of as healthy, is often laden with salt, sugars and fat.

The consumer advocacy group CHOICE, who label themselves ‘the people’s watchdog’ found that almost half of the 200 products they reviewed contained high levels of either saturated fat, total fat, sugars or sodium.

‘Coles and Woolworths have dedicated health food aisles in store and online, and while these aisles contain some healthy foods, such as nuts and dried fruits, they also have products that should be treated as more of an indulgence than a health food,’ the group wrote in a statement.

CHOICE specifically reviewed products whose brand names imply ‘naturalness or healthiness’ – examples of which include ‘Be Natural’, ‘Go Natural’ and ‘Nice & Natural’. Indeed, whilst the study focused only on 200 products, the database of products held by The George Institute cites 1,300 products and brands that use the word ‘natural’ either in their product name or package marketing.

“Manufacturers are trade marking healthy words such as ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ and ‘fresh’ to give the impression that a product is healthier than it seems,” said CHOICE spokeswoman Ingrid Just.

But these claims are misleading, says CHOICE, who found sulphite preservative in the Natural Cordial Company’s lime cordial; a number of processed ingredients such as maltodextrin in the Natural Chip Company’s honey soy chicken flavoured chips; high levels of saturated fat in Mother Earth Baked Oaty Slices; and a soy-based emulsifier in the Nice & Natural Nut and Yoghurt Muesli Bars.

One of the worst offenders – Loving Earth Organic Activated Almond and Purple Corn Raw Dark Chocolate Bar, which is sold in health food shops – was found to be 25 per cent saturated fat, when anything over five per cent is considered high.

The key message CHOICE hope to reinforce is that, just because it looks and sounds healthy, doesn’t mean it is.

“Just because a product’s brand name suggests that it’s healthy or natural doesn’t necessarily mean its good for them (consumers) or the environment,” says Just.

So how come companies are getting away with marketing their brands as ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’, when they aren’t? According to Just, manufacturers can circumvent regulations by making bogus health claims in trademarked brands.

“Trademark law prohibits the registration of a trademark likely to deceive or cause confusion, but nutritional analysis is not part of the approval of new trade marks,” she said.

Whilst CHOICE recommends consumers always read the label and look past any marketing message, Professor Bruce Neal from The George Institute for Global Health believes this is easier said than done.

“The level of information provided makes it almost impossible for consumers to determine whether something is healthy or not,” he says. “If companies want to put claims about the healthiness of their food on packaging, I’m very strongly of the view they should be required to have upfront evidence that justifies those claims.”

CHOICE believes manufacturers have been quick to tap into our growing concern over environmental issues, too. Research suggests we’re often willing to pay a premium for a product we believe is less harmful to the environment than an alternative. But these products, too, may be unworthy of the trust we place in them.

“Of the products with eco- and envirobrand names we looked at, many offer poor nutritional content despite their advertised connection to healthiness,” the research reads.

Moving forwards, CHOICE aims to help consumers cut through the misleading claims, and are part of a government-led initiative to develop a front-of-pack labelling system that would help consumers know at a glance whether or not a product is healthy.

How do you decide what is and isn’t healthy to eat? Do you spend time reading the label or do you trust the product packaging? Let us know using the comments box below.

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About the Author

Lizzy has more than ten years’ experience in the print and digital publishing arena and is the Editor at Single File. Having moved from the UK to Australia in 2008, Lizzy has worked for a number of leading publishers in Sydney and has particular expertise in the health, wellness and travel markets. If you have any questions for Lizzy, you can send them across by email to lizzy@singlefile.com.au.

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