Today’s Topic: Food labels, marketing, and the machine that keeps you fat and sick
Goal: Become aware of the cycle so you can escape it
How: Education, Awareness
First it was low-fat. The low-fat marketing campaign was an early player in the processed food revolution know as operation Make America Fat and Sick. Lets break it down.
What happens when I say the word fat? What is the first image that pops in your head? You probably visualize an obese man or women or maybe Jabba the Hutt if you are a Star Wars fan. Regardless of what visuals appear in your head, it’s almost universal in this country that the word fat has is linked to being overweight. When we hear that someone is ‘fat’ we think of an abundance of adipose tissue—or the more politically correct vernacular, being obese.
Well than, it would seem intuitive to give people the following advice: “Don’t eat fat because it makes you fat.” Sure, that makes sense and I could see how it could become a popular notion. Unfortunately, the common sense of the masses is almost always wrong. And there is no better evidence of this than the ideas surrounding fat, cholesterol and what is considered a “healthy” diet. The idea that fat is going to make you fat, or eating cholesterol is going to clog your arteries, are two of the most health destroying ideas ever introduced to the American people.
A fatty grass-fed steak and a ton of fatty grass-fed Kerry Gold Butter....why am I not 300 pounds?[/caption]
America, The Land of The...Fat People?
It’s easy to dupe a large number of people with any common-sense-sounding assertion if it is passed around enough. The government and politicians have been utilizing this psychological trick for years. All you need to do is loosely (sometimes very loosely) connect the dots in a way that seems to make sense and the human yearning to believe will kick into full-effect. Little research or question will go beyond initial statements, and before you know it, something someone said on TV is now “common knowledge.” When this happens, the people that try to refute it are just brushed off and labeled something that makes it easy to ignore them, such as paranoid, tin-foil hat wearer, bias, etc. The reason is the average person doesn’t want to think. It wants to be told what is what. It wants absolutes. People want the easy way and they will believe whatever everyone else believes because it’s easier (see the concept “Mob mentality”).
Somehow triglycerides, which are an essential macronutrient and building block of life, become know as fats—I’m not familiar with how this happened but that’s neither here nor there. Vilifying fat by correlating dietary fat with being physically fat created the opportunity for food companies to initiate the processed food campaign. This created the low-fat label that ended up becoming one of the most detrimental marketing campaigns in U.S. history (second only to the “American Dream” by Fanne and Freddy). Low-fat swept the nation like wildfire with the help of faulty research from Ancel Keys and the Lipid Hypothesis. This helped to spit out evil offspring in the form low cholesterol and the heart healthy nonsense promoted by the American Heart Association (think Cheerios).
LF swept the nation like wildfire with the help of faulty research from Ancel Keys and the lipid hypothesis. This helped to spit out ugly demon-spawn in the form of the low cholesterol and heart healthy nonsense promoted by the American Heart Association (think cheerios).
This 'accidental' conspiracy was birthed from an opportunity made possible by a combination of faulty research, government regulation, and corporate greed. It grew the cheap-food-monster into a multi-billion dollar a year industry. And then came the final piece to this already massive harbinger-of-death consortium: the Pharmaceutical companies.
In came the drugs; the legal kind. People got sick form the shitty food and they went to their doctors for help. Drugs were created to fulfill the demand; lots and lots of money was made; huge markets were created; huge demand to fill. The food industry fueled the drug industry's growth to massive proportions (I personally think it's the main reason).
The cycle goes like this:
A Big Fat Conspiracy of Government Regulation, Food Companies, And Drug Companies
These “big three” are responsible for destroying this country’s health. There’s really no other way to put it. I call it an accidental conspiracy because it wasn’t planned, it just kind of happened. The science wasn’t understood at the time. They just got lucky and capitalized on a new market. These conspirators unknowingly joined forces and now our country is sick and getting sicker while corporations are making billions of dollars keeping us stuck in this profitable matrix.
I want you and our future generations to escape this destructive cycle. But you will only escape if you are armed with the truth. This will allow you to start making decisions that keep you out of the cycle. Some techniques you can start immediately to reverse this trend include buying local food, supporting small family farms, and avoiding any and all products from the big food companies.
After low-fat came low-carb. Low-carb was a response to the low-carb Atkins and South Beach diet trends. Products were promoted as low-carb to dupe consumers into buying a product that was perceivably healthier for them because it was based on these new diet recommendations.
Unfortunately, what consumers ended up consuming was food that was more processed and more damaging to their health. The companies replaced the carbs with other processed ingredients and slapped a shiny new label on it.
The companies just replaced the carbs with other processed ingredients and slapped a shiny new label on it.
Low-fat and low-carb are still kicking today. You will probably notice it everywhere the next time you go grocery shopping. And this brings us to the most recent trend in the food space, Gluten-Free. Gluten-free may be the most difficult of these marketing labels to dispel; it just screams I’m better. It is supported by the popularity of the Paleo and Primal diets and the gluten-free awareness that is sweeping the nation. Even I find myself getting sucked into this vortex of marketing bullshit from time to time. In fact, I recently realized this hard truth as I was staring at an empty box of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (I had just eaten 1100 calories, WTF was I thinking?).
This one is near and dear to my heart because of the gluten-free emphasis in the Paleo diet (which I endorse and eat). I know many of us are falling for the gluten-free trap and it’s leading us to eat more processed foods. And it's totally working for the food companies, hence the massive rise in popularity of labeling everything gluten-free.
Wait a minute, isn’t gluten-free healthy?! You aren’t asking the right questions Neo...
Gluten-free is better for you than gluten filled, sure, this is true of any food product. But that doesn’t mean jack when determining the food as a whole, and what ingredients make up the product. Most importantly, the majority of “gluten-free” labeled food is processed. Gluten is found in grain/wheat products and is also used as a preservative in other foods such as sauces, marinades, and dressings. These foods are bad whether they are gluten-free or not because, well, umm, they are processed foods!
Let's connect-the-dots in reverse on this one. You won’t find gluten in the produce section. You will usually find it in the dry goods and cold food areas. Examples of commonly filled-with-gluten items include: store-made potato salads, sushi, wraps, pasta, sandwiches, bread, crackers, bars, soy sauce, BBQ sauces, wheat, frozen meals, etc
Gluten-Free Grass-Fed Burger. Every ONCE and awhile. Not as a staple damn it.[/caption]
Second, products containing gluten are almost always empty calories. These processed products contain large amounts of carbohydrates and little in the way of healthy fats, protein, or vitamins and minerals.
A simple way to figure out if a GF product is healthy or not it is to do a little test. If a food is not healthy with gluten in it than it will not be healthy with gluten removed. A processed food with gluten removed is just a more-processed food.
This is exactly what the low-carb and low-fat model has done since the beginning: take something out and replace it with something else to support a marketing claim.
Let’s look at some examples of common gluten-free products that consumers buy:
Are any of these items considered healthy, gluten free or not? Of course not, this is just processed food, and when it’s gluten-free, it’s just more processed food. So, we can safely conclude that the majority of gluten-free-labeled foods are simply not good for you.
THIS IS PROCESSED FOOD
I want you to be weary of falling into the gluten-free trap. Especially those of you that are gluten-free, Paleo eating practitioners like myself. It’s easy to get excited when we see gluten-free. It’s easy to see a box of gluten-free this, or gluten-free that, and think DAMMMMMN there is my ticket to the good life. Then a box of cookies later and you are in 1000 empty calories, a stomachache, and wondering WTF just happened. In fact, this sounds like my average Wholefoods experience where every other product has a big fat GF label on it.
I see it all the time while standing behind the poor souls in line at the register: carts full of GF-labeled crackers, cookies, pasta, and all kinds of other processed food (if you can even call it that).
Next time you are shopping, I want you to avoid falling for the new marketing kid on the block.
Gluten-free does not mean good-for-you
A processed food is still processed when the gluten is removed. Also remember, your diet should consist of whole ingredients that are direct from nature with minimal to no processing: farm direct, nature direct, local, and organic are some examples.
A disclaimer: Not all food products that sport a gluten-free label are bad. In fact, you would prefer if your food labels always said GF because this means that no gluten is added as a preservative (which you can sometimes find in sausage and other flavored meat products). What I want you to be conscious of is the trap of buying processed food that is masked as healthy via a big fat GF label. Products that you you want to see a GF label on include Sausages, spice blends, protein powders, cured meats, and other Paleo-friendly, non-grain products. The GF label on certain products does help provide the peace of mind that the food is a bit closer to nature and doesn’t have any added gluten-based preservatives. This is where a GF label can benefit us.
This was originally intended as a response to all the gluten-free marketing I have been seeing lately, but now I realize that the message is bigger than that. It's about the food industry as a whole. Don't fall into the cycle of becoming a consumer of cheap, processed food. Low-fat, low-carb, gluten-free, lactose-free, vitamin this, vitamin that, and even organic are usually just marketing labels and do not tell the whole story of where the food came from, how it was treated, and what's in it.
Dig deeper and understand what you are buying, where it comes from, how it was made, and what has been added or taken away.
How to Be a smart consumer:
Be smart about your food choices. Buy smaller brands that put an emphasis on the ingredient, where it comes form, and the environmental implications. You will feel better about what you are eating, enjoy better health, and look good in then mirror. All from your food choices. It's incredible how powerful food really is.
To add some benefit-based motivation as to why you should care about your ingredients, here is a list of benefits you will receive from eating better and saying NO to processed food:
Remember that food is everything when it comes to your body and health (broken record I know). Beware the marketing traps, shop smarter, and eat better.