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The Truth About Food Marketing

July 23, 2020
Many Americans struggle to maintain a healthy weight under normal circumstances. But, during a pandemic, this task can be even more challenging. As people find themselves home more often and under heightened stress, it’s easy to overeat. On top of that, food labels with confusing messages and marketing make it even more difficult to keep a healthy diet. Recently, Jana Wolff, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition at GBMC’s Comprehensive Obesity Management Program (COMP), spoke with WMAR’s Ashely James about what to look for when shopping for healthy foods and provided helpful tips for reading food labels.

Jana began by emphasizing the importance of reading food labels and serving sizes rather than relying on buzzwords and packaging. “Marketing on the front of the product is always going to be flashy and gorgeous, and you’re going to want to buy it. But when you turn the label around, it’s usually a different story,” she explained. “You need to know what to look for because food companies are trying to get you to buy their product.” Words such as organic, low-fat, all-natural, and gluten free can be deceiving. These foods will often have more of a different unhealthy ingredient to make up for the ones they have taken out.

This is especially common with sugar. Many foods that claim to be healthy have very high levels of sugar. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends consuming less than 50 grams of sugar per day, an amount that can be exceeded by just a single serving of many of the foods sold in grocery stores. Jana provided a simple calculation to put the amount of sugar in products into perspective: take sugar grams and divide by four. The number you get will approximately equate to the number of standard sugar packets that food or drink contains. If a product has 50 grams of sugar, that’s approximately 12.5 packets. Jana asked viewers to think about whether they would ever sit down and pour that much sugar onto something they were eating. If the answer is no, then the product in question should be put back on the shelf.

Jana provided several other tips to follow when shopping for food:
  • Avoid going to the grocery store when you are hungry.
  • Come prepared with a list of foods you want to purchase and stick to that list.
  • Shop primarily on the outer aisle of the store. This is where you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, proteins, and whole grains.
  • Stay away from foods with long lists of ingredients that you’ve never heard of before.
  • Keep serving sizes in mind when looking at food labels.
In addition to eating healthy foods, there are many other factors that can affect a person’s weight. “The entire wellness spectrum plays into your weight,” said Jana. “Make sure you’re managing your stress, sleeping well, and exercising in addition to watching what you eat.” She then went on to answer viewer questions about specific foods and diets and provided suggestions for choosing healthy alternatives.
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