5 classic food marketing traps to watch out for when shopping

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 15 June 2022.
Tagged: food labels, health, Health Star Rating, healthy eating, label, nutrition

5 classic food marketing traps to watch out for when shopping
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It’s about time I listed those foods that can be surprisingly NOT healthy! These are a minefield. Sigh. Yes it’s flavoured yoghurts, muesli bars, juices, light foods and – my pet hate – legume chips. Read on for more.

  1. Flavoured yoghurts

All plain yoghurts have natural sugars and average from about 5 or 7 per cent sugars (they all contain lactose as a natural sugar). This is the same as 5 or 7 grams per 100 grams which you can check by running your eye down the Per 100 g column on the back Nutrition Information Panel. Think of plain yoghurt as “milk but in concentrated form”.

Most flavoured sweet yoghurts have under 15 per cent sugars OR 15 grams per 100 grams. This is due to added sugar and added flavouring such as from strawberry or passionfruit. 

Alternatively, if you don’t want the added sugars, you can buy a plain yoghurt and stir in your own diced fresh rockmelon, strawberries or blueberries, half a passionfruit, sliced banana or grated apple. Or else buy one that has the LEAST sugars, say less than 12 grams per 100 grams.

Woman Trolley Supermart Shopping

  1.  Muesli bars

Commercial muesli bars, whether made by Uncle Toby’s or Nice & Natural, sound healthy but aren’t always (they are today’s equivalent of the slice we munched into with morning tea). Don’t worry about any statement that the bar “contains no artificial colours or flavours” or “protein”. Or is wholegrain or is a “source of fibre”. That fibre may have come from the addition of chicory root fibre which is used by many a manufacturer to boost fibre but can lead to problems with bloating. Read more about inulin aka chicory root fibre here.

 And don’t forget that sugar may be disguised as glucose or invert sugar or honey.

Look for ones with the lowest added sugars content, say under than 20 per cent added sugars. This means less than 8 grams of sugars per bar. Also look for the least weight per bar, say around 40 grams per bar. That way you can still enjoy a treat without doing damage to your overall diet.

  1.  Juices

Don’t be fooling into thinking juice is the SAME as fruit. You can count ½ cup or 125 mL as ONE serve. This is only half a glass - which is not a lot.  Avoid drinking juice as it’s fruit in concentrated form. No fibre, no chewing that you get with whole fruit. I often say “Don’t drink in the calories”.

  1.  Light foods

Light foods MUST state what they light in. For example, light beer has to be lower in alcohol but light crisps are often lite in salt. Nothing else! Not less fat or carbs. Often the amount of kilojoules (Calories) you save is small. Remember that “light" does not always mean "low-fat".

  1. Legume-flavoured chips

Don’t be fooled by these veggie chips like lentil crisps or sweet potato chip. They’re still chips! They have a similar kilojoule (Calorie), carbohydrate and total fat content as regular potato chips! But they have a “health halo”, thanks to the lentil or beetroot or grain content.Woman Supermart Legume Chips

The bottom line

Along with ‘light’, watch out for the claims on the packaging such as natural, healthy, organic and real. Mostly they don’t mean much. And the terms gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free or nut-free. This doesn’t mean these foods are more nutritious than regular food brands. They’re formulated for those with special dietary needs but now taken more widely to mean “healthier”. Which they aren’t always.

Catherine Saxelby About the author

About the Author


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Catherine Saxelby's My Nutritionary

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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!