Has it ever crossed your mind to bring a dictionary or thesaurus with you to the grocery store? When were food manufacturers granted permission to be so cryptic with their language that even those of us with an English degree can be fooled into purchasing foods that sound like they fulfill our nutritional needs? It’s hard enough to walk into a supermarket and fill a shopping cart with foods that provide us with proper nutrition – and now it takes a linguistics expert! In order to maximize our health and wellness potential, we need to pay attention to every detail, including the actual words used to define what is and what is not good for us. It should be as simple as this: eating nutritious foods will increase your chances of being healthy. If you choose taste over nutrition, then you are less likely to boost your body’s health. Sadly, the lines have been blurred and eating for sustenance is even trickier now because the language on food labels is often misleading. This leaves us in the dark, thinking we are eating one thing when in reality, it can be something completely different.
Camouflaging food labels to make products sound like something they aren’t has been used effectively by food manufacturers for years. It has been so effective that people are finally calling for the FDA to reevaluate the laws behind food and language. It starts with simple misunderstandings between words like healthy and nutritious. To most of us, these two words are interchangeable when in reality, they define two very different things. There is no such thing as health food because food is not healthy; food is nutritious. The word healthy should only be used to define the individual that eats nutritious food. The body is healthy, not the food supply. No one would ever describe themselves as nutritious, they would say they are healthy. This is because nutrition comes from food and it boosts our health.
The food industry is filled with words that can seemingly be interchangeable with a minimal overall effect to our health. The problem is these words can have vastly different meanings and are held to completely diverse standards. For example, foods can be labeled as either “natural” or “organic” foods. Do you know the difference? A study conducted by Consumer Reports found that almost 70% of the people asked thought foods labeled as “natural” were just a cheaper version of their organic counterpart. Consumers assumed the benefits of “natural” foods were still intact without the higher price tag. Currently, there is still no standard definition of “natural” foods. Just let that fact sink in for a minute and imagine how many of us have blindly trusted that “natural” foods were good for us at one point or another. With that being said, the good news is that foods labeled as “organic” do have a stricter standard that they are held up to. We have been taken advantage of by these clever marketing strategies and the blind faith that have trusted that what we see is what we get.
How about protein? Even most vegans and vegetarians would agree that a good source of protein, even if it’s not a meat protein is a necessity for optimal health. There are entire micro-industries within the food world that have made a good living from marketing protein as a staple in a nutritious diet. Walk into any gym around the country and you will more than likely find people sipping out of their protein drink shakers and if you forgot yours, chances are there is a protein supplement of some type for sale. So, if protein is most commonly viewed as one of the nutritional foundations for building muscle, how come there are also protein products out there that have been completely shunned by the general public? Pork skin products are produced by a number of different manufacturers but they all seem to end up labeled as junk food. No matter the company or the label, most people would argue that the fat or salt content in this snack would override any nutritional positives. While there is an argument to be made against the salt and fat content, pork skin is primarily a good source of protein. The process of frying the pork skin removes most of the fat content and what is left is arguably a good “protein snack”. There is no shortage of competition in the multi-billion dollar protein industry. So, if there was a way to slam a competitor, do you think this industry would welcome additional competition from a product that can easily be portrayed as junk food?
These are just two examples of how easily we can be misled when looking for nutrition. The food industry is rife with this type of deception and it’s time for us to get back to the basics. Navigating this journey to optimal health and wellness is hard enough without adding language as another barrier to achieving our goals. We will continue to highlight some of the bigger issues regarding food labeling but ultimately, what you put in your body should be your decision and you have the right to know exactly what it is you are ingesting whether it is good for you or not.