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October’s 31 Days of Real Food- Day 4

by Olivia Furlow

Day 4- Healthwashing


Healthwashing is a term used to describe the activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the crusade forward to good health while engaging in practices that may be contributing to our poor health. A good product, campaign or service stands on their own goodness, not on a claim and offers FULL DISCLOSURE of all ingredients and activity. It’s always best to judge something by what’s IN the box, not by what’s promised across the outside in big, fabulous exciting designs. The bigger the claim, usually the more healthwashed.


Healthwashing Lie #1: Low Fat, Non-fat


When the food industry and popular media, continually tell you that fat is evil, we can’t help but believe after it has been pounded into our heads and shoved down our throats. But hundreds of studies have now shown that fat is NOT the problem. It is processed food.

Obviously, there are bad fats, just as there a good, healthy ones. Not all fat is created equal.  Fat is essential. The right kind of fat is what’s most important.


Healthwashing Lie #2: Light, Lite, Lean, Skinny


You would think these descriptions would mean lower in calories and fat. Nope! If you read the fine print, it can refer to color, texture or flavor. These are prized words of trickery. Most foods using these claims are rarely healthy since they’re usually full of highly processed ingredients such as artificial sweeteners. They have to make it still taste good right?! So they add a little bit of this and a little bit of that and now we have a food product that is “light” but doesn’t have one ingredient that can be pronounced, usually containing lots of sugar, refined grains, highly processed fats, and salt to give it taste.


Healthwashing Lie #3: Natural


“Natural” is healthy right?!. Technically “natural” means a product does not contain artificial ingredients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have a definition for the word “natural,” so companies use it way too freely.

“Natural Flavors” are usually made with a variety of unnatural chemical processes. All that’s really required to earn the “natural” label is that the initial product they start with has to be edible. So we have to assume any “Natural ” flavor is made in a lab, and that it’s no better than the artificial kind.


Healthwashing Lie #4: Real


Food companies use this term to highlight a “premium” ingredient to convince consumers their product is high quality. One ingredient does not make a box or bag REAL food. Made with Real Fruit & Vegetables claims continue to be popular as brands try to convince you fruit juice or a sprinkling of veggie powder will make candy or a snack chip healthy. Don’t be fooled. While these options might be a bit healthier than the junk food alternative, it is still all smoke and mirrors. Read the entire ingredient list. Unfortunately, you’re likely to find that the majority of the ingredients are a whole lot of crap that isn’t “real”.


Healthwashing Lie #5: Flowery descriptions


Are you a sucker for packaging? How often do you walk through your supermarket and read luring food labels that convince you that you’re eating healthier? All the time. Packaged foods and beverages are doing this more and more in an attempt to trick you into believing the product came from anywhere but a factory that uses highly processed ingredients. Look at pictures on the box, some contain pictures of happy animals or nature scenes which really have no relation to how the product was created. Some common flowery wording examples are: Artisan, Authentic, Fresh Baked, Chef’s Pick, Homestyle, Made From Scratch, Small Batch, Bakery Fresh, and Craft. While some of these products may actually contain less processed ingredients, it’s still healthwashing at it’s best!


Healthwashing Lie #6: Antioxidants, Calcium, Fiber, Omega-3’s, Protein


Antioxidants can be great when they’re naturally occurring in produce, but in packaged products? Really?! I don’t think so. Many processed foods use supplements similar to what you’d get in a vitamin to achieve their antioxidant claims. As WebMD reports, “Getting a single antioxidant from a pill, such as vitamin C or beta carotene, isn’t as protective. Supplements don’t seem to protect against cancer or help fight it. Some antioxidants may even increase the risk of certain cancers.” So skip the processed foods fortified with supplements and instead choose REAL food that’s naturally packed with antioxidants, calcium, fiber and omega-3’s!

Omega-3’s are needed for your body to function. Big food companies like to hype them by supplementing processed foods with them and then making claims like “Omega-3s support heart, brain and eye health.” Eating a healthy diet rich in real, unprocessed foods is without a doubt the best way to support heart, brain, and eye health.

Calcium is another popular additive in foods and drinks. Everyone has heard that diets rich in calcium are best for optimal bone health but calcium additives?

Fiber is also an additive that can be mixed into all sorts of foods. Is fiber good for you? Yes! But you are better off looking for sources of naturally occurring fiber to get the real health benefits.

Protein is great and your body needs it, but don’t get suckered in with highly processed, protein-fortified foods, like a chocolate protein bar. You’re much better off choosing real, naturally-occurring protein.


Healthwashing Lie #7: Whole Grain & Multigrain


Multigrain means very, very little other than more than one type of grain was used in the manufacturing process. And while whole grain can be very beneficial since it means the entire grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) was used, the benefits of whole grains can be destroyed by ingredients like sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other processed additives. Check out breakfast cereals claiming “made with whole grain”. Most are described as a fun part of a complete breakfast, and is a good source of fiber. Sugar is the first ingredient then partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors (red 40, blue 2, yellow 6, and blue 1), and some potentially carcinogenic BHT for freshness. Big food companies LOVE to disguise junk as good for you with whole grain claims!

A bunch of other healthwashing lingo….

May lower cholesterol
No trans fat
Strengthens your immune system
The words Reduced, Added, Extra, Plus, Fortified, Enriched, High, Rich In, Excellent Source Of, Good Source, Contains, Provides, Goodness.


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