Ten Top Tips on avoiding the Health branding Tricks

“How do I avoid health food branding tricks?

You are not alone if you ask this question.  Food labels, branding and claims can be a mindfield!

Here are 10 considerations with tips, when making your food purchases.

  1. Fat Free

This is an older marketing phrase and craze. In some cases a lower fat version may be better, if this is reducing trans or saturated fats. It is also a way to reduce total calorie intake as 1 gram of fat has 8 calories, whereas 1g of protein or carbs has 4 calories.  However, not all fat is bad, and healthy unsaturated fats can be beneficial and essential to many bodily functions. Watch this short video which explores “healthy fats, the story so far”

Watch out, as the fat often is replaced with extra sugar, sweeteners, or flavourings, so check out the ingredients. In addition to this fat does create satiety, so be aware that although it is higher in calories, you could end up eating more of the low fat version due to not achieving that satisfaction you need.

  1. High in protein.

Just because a label says high in protein, this does not necessarily mean it is a good quality protein, or has all the 9 essential amino acid proteins that our body needs e.g. a highly processed meat snack, protein powder with loads of flavourings and sweeteners added etc.

Always try to choose a minimally processed protein e.g. eggs, natural yoghurt, milk. If you are vegan and want to get all the essential amino acids, try to mix up grains and pulses e.g. brown rice, lentils, beans.

Do not be conned into that protein bar which you can easily make 20 at home or the price of 1 in the shop. Simply make in bulk, wrap individually and freeze until you want it. In addition, do not fall into the trap of buying a label that says high in protein, when that type of food is naturally high in protein anyway and the cheaper brands without the protein label contain the same levels.

  1. Vegan

Veganism is super trendy right now and we are constantly seeing food labelled as vegan. In many cases this has a positive effect on overall nutrition as generally by defect it means that people consume more plants, which as we know are nutrient dense. However, not all vegans base their diet around plants, and choose the foods labelled vegan such as sweets, highly processed meat alternatives, some vegan desserts that are full of sugars, flavourings & sweeteners, & some plant based milk with added sugars.

  1. Portion size

Often on cereal packets it shows on the front the calories per bowl, which can look pretty low and sugars moderate. BUT, these are usually based on a 30 gram serving which is the size of a variety pack serving, and is unlikely to fuel you until lunch. If you are opting for a sugary cereal, it is very easy to have a high amount of sugar to get the satiety that you need, and this leads to peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels which impact on mental and physical health.

Always look carefully at the actual portion size as marketers often show a nutritional value for a smaller serving size than is normally consumed.

  1. Organic

Organic food is often a lot more expensive than non-organic, so it may not be possible to buy all the time. Pesticide levels are regulated in the UK, however some studies have shown links between high pesticide consumption and hormone disruption, respiratory problems, and some cancers.

If you are wanting to prioritise your spending here, is a list of the “Dirty Dozen” which shows the fruits and veg that were highest in pesticides in 2018 and 2019

Pesticides-in-our-food-FINAL.pdf (pan-uk.org)

These included (from highest percentage to the lowest) Grapefruit Clementines, mandarins and satsumas Strawberries Pre-packed salad Grapes Lemons Peaches and Nectarines Pears Spinach Chilli Peppers Apples Blackberries and blueberries.

  1. No added sugar

Sugar is deemed to be the enemy right now, so “No added sugar” may seem the best option. Be aware though that a bag of sugar could actually be labelled *no added sugar” as it has had no extra sugar added! Also added sugar may be substituted for artificial flavourings and sweeteners which do not come without some caution. Try to choose a low sugar option without lots of poor substitutes. A great listen which explores sweeteners in a research based, balanced approach is in this link. https://www.spreaker.com/user/bencoomber/artificial-sweeteners-podcast-28-04-2021

  1. Multigrain

Multigrain just means a mixture of grains, but does not necessarily mean Wholegrain, so can still be grains removed of the kernel including germ, bran and endosperm. In addition to this many multigrain things can be highly processed and added with saturated fats such as crisps, or added sugars such as cereal bars.

  1. List of ingredients

Food ingredient lists are ordered in terms of content in the food. So, if the first few ingredients are sugars, E numbers, trans fats, or saturated fats, be mindful of the amount you are consuming.

  1. Traffic light system

It is advised that all foods follow the traffic light system, but in reality this does not always happen. Those that do not adhere with this may be afraid of transparency, so you may have to find the information you want on the nutritional value section.

  1. Branded/ Unbranded

Often there is no difference. Oats, are usually oats whatever brand, Weetabix is usually the same ingredients branded or unbranded etc. So avoid looking at just the pretty picture, and move to the ingredients and nutrition information.


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