Navigating the heinous arena of food labels and associated propaganda

Have no doubt about it: Most food companies give exactly zero f*cks about your health and well-being and only care about one thing and that is a continuous stream of profits and more return for shareholders.  

There's nothing wrong inherently with wanting to make more money for yourself and your stockholders and investors.  However, I do think we can all agree that once the surge for profits usurps the fundamental rights of health then we have a problem and someone needs to fess up.

Companies like Monsanto, the scourge of mankind and quite possibly the most evil corporation on the planet, are avid and somewhat transparent in the quest to not tell the consumer about what's in the product or whether it is safe for consumption.  They seem to go out of there way to keep consumers in the dark, skirting legalities and loopholes and attempting to use "science" as an excuse to poison the public.

This article deals with how to spot garbage foods quickly and easily, but it is important to get the before-mentioned information; largely this:  Many food companies will blatantly lie to the consumer in an effort to sell a product.  They will use cartoon characters, actors and other famous people of similar ilk, long-debunked ideas, and every other sales tactic in the book.  These companies spend the vast portion of their profits on marketing.  They have the best specialists in the world, they know what's popular, they know how to use subliminal advertising, mind control, and any other horrendous psychological trick in the book.  

And its working pretty God damn well considering how out of shape and unhealthy this country is and how we seemingly normalize this sickness.  Somehow its become acceptable to get sick all the time, walk around with injuries, be on twenty medications and still the doctor will say "besides the fact that Bill has type 2 diabetes, is obese and on 5 medications, besides that he's relatively healthy".

Here's how to stick it to 'em and hit 'em where it hurts:  The pocketbook.

Cartoon claptrap replacing facts

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Here we have exhibit A: We see a cartoon drawing of a rancher staring listlessly off into the pasture, where his free-roaming cattle bask in the sunlight and enjoy the greenest of grass.  The rancher seems so be pondering life, while a stream of golden light rises in the distance...

And now we have "reality":

 Free roaming the pasture...well, sort of.

Free roaming the pasture...well, sort of.

If you look at most food labels in the supermarket you will see this time and time again: Misleading cartoons created to captivate kids' attention and make it appear "hip" to literally consume toxins and garbage.

 Excuse me for a moment while I blatantly lie to your face.

Excuse me for a moment while I blatantly lie to your face.

"Look mom!  If I eat these berries I can grow up to look just like Napolean Bonaparte!"

Here's one thing to understand about this box of cereal:  There is not a single berry to be had here.  Apparently artificial flavorings and colorings can now be called 'berries'.  This is a lie, period.  If I promised you a sack of berries and then sold you a bag of dyed corn, that would make me a liar and a scam artist.

If the company has to go out of their way to make the package look particularly exciting or over-the-top, this is typically an indication that they would rather you be enchanted by a cartoon as opposed to being a conscientious consumer who wants to know what's in the food.

Bandwagon bullshit

Another aspect of food labels is jumping onto a bandwagon idea that sounds great in theory but is actually quite misleading and unfortunately false.  Here's an example:

 All-natural!  Just like nuclear waste.

All-natural!  Just like nuclear waste.

Here we have a double whammy.  Cage free eggs!  Its so nice of them to let the poor chickens out of their cages where they are often fat and utterly blind.  We also have "all-natural", a strangely vague statement.  We also have a weird cartoon of some sort of gypsy and / or Native American woman.  As we can see none of this has anything at all to do with the product.

And here are our lovely cage-free chickens:

 Technically they are cage free...

Technically they are cage free...

This is the cage-free, all-natural chicken coop.  I don't see the strange gypsy woman though...maybe she was trampled by the chicks.  

What vitamins, minerals and nutrients am I actually looking for?

This is the hard part and sadly there is no really easy way to understand food labels completely without at least a modicum of nutrition knowledge.  There are several tips that we see publicly.  These generalizations are often times true but they can also demonize a truly healthy product.

Tip #1: Generally avoid products that have a very long ingredient list.  This makes sense most of the time, as the worst and most processed foods can have a daunting list of ingredients.  Lots of ingredients usually means lots of chemicals, dyes, flavorings, "fillers", and what not.  However, just having a long list does not mean that it is unhealthy.  Some products actually have lots of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

Tip #2: Avoid excessively short ingredient lists.  Many, many sports supplements use buzzwords and vague claims, but when you look closely they are stripped clean of what real food contains.  Real food has lots of ingredients.  If I have a chicken breast, there will be no food label, only the chicken.  However if we break down that chicken we'll find various proteins, cholesterol, fat, b-vitamins, iron and a ton of other trace minerals.  For this reason a good product should contain these same things.  This is one crucial difference between a "protein shake" and a "meal replacement shake", the latter being what I use personally.  

 24 grams of protein and...what else, exactly?  This is not how real food works!

24 grams of protein and...what else, exactly?  This is not how real food works!

Tip #3: Eat organic and non-GMO when you can.  Today's non-organic meat is simply horrendous and unfit for human consumption.  If you look at the ingredient list of non-organic chicken you will see many flavors added.  This is because the meat is so poorly raised and nutrient deficient that it is almost tasteless.  Good meat should be flavorful on its own, and should not require added flavor and "broth".  Also while the evidence isn't completely clear on the safety of GMO's, it is my personal opinion that since many of the people involved with the research, study and implementation of these foods are so crooked they can't even walk straight.  We are currently the experiment.

Tip #4: Beware the true imposters.  This is predominately things involving fruit flavorings.  Sadly, most of the fruit out there that is added to food isn't even real fruit.  I was none to pleased when i finally looked at my cranberry juice to see that it was 13% juice.  The rest was just pure sugar!  Also, lots of products will claim to contain fruit but its really just "artificial flavorings".  So literally it will taste like fruit, but with NONE of the benefits!  Same goes with cheese.  Lots of cheese out there is created in a lab, and it doesn't have any of the benefits of real cheese!

Tip #5: Educate yourself.  Sadly most major food companies simply can't be trusted to give reliable and useful facts about their products.  This is just business; no company in its own right would want to publicly have their product made out to be really unhealthy, fake or flat out misleading.  Reading a nutrition book or two is a wise investment in your life and health.  Just one book could make a huge difference over the longevity of your life!  Health is an investment and once you lose it its hard to get back.  

The battle for personal health has begun!  Learn to read the food labels and know what's going into your body.  You'll be surprised just how good you can feel when you know how to feed yourself!

Ben Hetzel

Nutrition Specialist