Boxes of Lies – Nutritional Claims & Marketing BS

boxes of lies

I know this is a family site, but I’m going to talk about something that really cannot be accurately described without using a certain word – bullshit.

Nutritional claims = no bueno

We are all health conscious in America. Not that we all do much of anything with this consciousness, but everyone is bombarded by messages daily that we should be concerned about our health, and take steps to protect it and prevent disease. Even if you are completely ignorant of what being healthy or making healthier choices looks like, any trip down the aisle at your local grocery store will subject you to scads of nutritional and health claims at every turn.

Unfortunately, there’s precious little actual truth to any of the big, bold claims made on those packages. What you’re dealing with are boxes of lies. Another way to put it – rampaging, furious, relentless bullshit.

Check out this story about new Cranberry Raisin Bran for an example.

How to avoid Boxes of Lies

Michael Pollan, who I agree with on most things related to food, has counseled that one sure way to make sure you’re eating healthy is to avoid any product that makes any kind of health claim on the label.

I can hear all of you simultaneously screaming in frustration – “How the heck am I supposed to know what to eat then, Mister Smarty Pantaloons?”

I know. I get it. And I’m not trying to make this hard on you. How do you avoid marketing BS? Well, the simplest way is to just avoid the boxes of lies altogether. Eat foods that are ingredients instead of foods that have ingredients. Do your shopping primarily on the outer aisles of the store (this is where the real food is kept, in the produce section, the meat department and the dairy aisle) and only venture into the depths of marketing bullshit disguised as food when absolutely necessary.

“Ok,” you say, “what about when I need to dive in to the pits of despair because I need a box of lies?” Well, then you need to learn to read labels. I’ve got an image pinned on my Pinterest page here that will help you to figure that out. The US standard for nutrition facts labels isn’t perfect, but it’s what we’ve got. Rely on that and not the big splashy banner across the front that tells you a box of corn flakes

An Example of a Box (or in this case can) of Lies

Let me pick on a common item many of us buy – Rosarita Refried Beans – as an example. There are several varieties, and most folks are drawn to the big green label on the No Fat variety that proudly claims the beans are fat free (I won’t get into a diatribe about why seeking fatless food is a mistake here. I’ll save that for another time.) rather than the Traditional variety, which makes no such claim.

The Traditional version contains lard (a perfectly normal ingredient in refried beans – some would say it’s the reason they are tasty). The No Fat version doesn’t. So, the quick assumption would be that the No Fat version of the product is better for you. You’d be wrong. To make the No Fat version palatable the manufacturer ups the sodium content and adds partially hydrogenated soybean oil – something you should avoid for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a trans-fat, and not actually food.

“Wait,” I hear you saying, “I thought the label said there was no fat in it?” And you’re right. The label does say that because of a loophole in FDA regulations that allow products with less than .5 grams of trans-fat in them say they are not only trans-fat free, but fat free… even though neither claim is true.

This is a classic case of the marketing claim on the front of the product telling a lie that’s called out by the details in the ingredients list. See, you cannot hide your ingredients. You must specify what’s in the product.

I realize this is complicated, and probably seems like work you shouldn’t have to do just to stay healthy, but this is the world we live in today. Food marketers are allowed to lie to us. We can pretend they’re honest and truthful, or we can know that their job is to sell products, not protect our health and accept that we have to get involved and be responsible for what goes into our bodies.


I wrote a short e-Book that offers more suggestions on how to improve your overall nutrition. Fill out the form below to get your copy.

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