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Highlighted as a trend in 2016 and thanks to the collective effort of various TV reports, media articles, bloggers and influencers, there is no doubt about it; consumers are better educated and more aware of the products they are buying. But despite this new shared knowledge, are we still being fooled? Marketing is a powerful tool that take maximum advantage of language to appeal to the consumer. Continuing the series we started around ‘smart snacks’, we wanted to turn our attention to some surprisingly unhealthy foods on the market. The obvious ones are, well….obvious. So we’re turning to the sneaky ‘health foods’! First up to the stand: fruit and nuts.
Surprisingly Unhealthy Foods
The healthy food industry is booming. In the UK alone, the guardian reported that for a sixth year of consecutive growth, organic sales rose by 6% to a record £2.2bn. For the most part this is great news because it highlights that the consumer is demanding better food! But on the other side, retailers and wholesalers are jumping on board for all the right and wrong reasons. At the end of the day, money talks. So while the consumer is asking for healthy options, the producer often succumbs to making adjustments in the form of one of the following: cheap ingredients, mass production methods focusing on consistency and not preserving nutrients. All of this is then masked by fancy marketing language, which while not wrong, masks what is truly going on.
The result? You, the consumer, sees honest foods named on the front packaging when the ingredients list tells a very different story. Two very clear examples concern fruit and nut as ingredients e.g. mylks (more below).
How do you like your fruit? Fresh and Organic of course! But just like the fresh fruit in your kitchen at home, exposure to the elements results in quite a short shelf life. So manufacturing has to come up with alternative options to create a packaged snack that can stand on a shelf for 6-12 months.
Fruit Smoothies & Juices:
In general when it comes to store bought juices and smoothies, the buyer should beware. This seemingly ‘healthy’ product comes with some immediate ‘no nos’:
- Long shelf life: fruit and vegetables start to lose nutrients from the moment they are picked. What has been used to preserve this product? And where did the fruit and vegetable ingredients originate from?
- Sugar: The world of smoothie marketing is a magical place, rich in terms like “health,” “energy,” “weight loss” and “vitamins.” But what marketing misses is a pretty important keyword: sugar. Most of these drinks are denser in fruit than vegetables. And it takes quite a few pieces of fruit to make one glass of juice. Some bottles contain up to 3+ pieces of fruit which is very easy to drink in one glass. Just one glass of orange juice can have up to 30g of sugar! It’s natural but it’s still a significant sugar hit to your body! What’s more is that without the fibre of the fruit, the juice hits the system very fast creating a blood sugar spike. Quick spike usually means quick drop which wreaks havoc on your daily energy.
However, Innocent was one of the brands highlighted last year as containing high levels of sugar: a 250ml serving of its pomegranate, blueberry and acai smoothie contains 34g of sugar, around the same as a 330ml can of Coke (source)
- Concentrates: The word concentrate should be an immediate flag because it means the juice was heated to first pasteurise it (most vitamins die at high heat) and then placed into a heat evaporator to remove the concentrate for later use. Great for production but bad for the consumer who wants to get some benefit from the product.
- Puree: A lot of these products don’t list fruit or vegetables at all but rather use purees. This means even more concentrated in sugar and zero fibre.
- Added vitamins: another red flag is seeing ‘fortified with vitamin x’ or a list of added vitamins at the bottom of the ingredients list. Real food doesn’t need to be fortified so what’s happened during processing to create this need?
“Mintel found that 83% of people drink fruit juice, a juice drink or smoothie at least once a week. It also estimates that the market will grow by 13% by 2018. It found 34% of consumers were concerned about the amount of sugar, but “a striking 76%” believed juice and smoothies to be healthy.” – SOURCE
Whole Fruit as Ingredients:
All the above spreads to whole fruit too. A whole range of products on the market today have real fruit listed in the ingredients list. But while the front of the box/bag might say ‘made with real fruit’ you might spot some of the following:
- Dried fruit: the dried varieties also tend to be the high sugar varieties i.e. dates, mangos, grapes etc. When condensed into one product in high amounts, you’re again just basically eating a high sugar snack, albeit with some fibre this time.
- Syrup: Some natural sugar alternatives are date syrup. But the key message is that it’s still sugar so when it’s listed high up on the ingredients list, the benefits of the snack start to become outweighed. It’s fine to use it but just be aware that this can also form part of a message on the front of the label ‘made with real dates’.
- Date paste: Ever seen the front of a snack mention ‘3 dates/20 cashew nuts’ etc? But remember that a healthy medjool date can weigh up to 20g. How can this be when the total product is 35g in weight containing all these listed items? Well usually it’s because they are using date paste which is a condensed alternative (of sometimes poorer quality dates) to using the whole version and also means there is processing involved. Also, don’t forget that a fully ripe date is 80% sugar so listing it as a first ingredient is basically listing sugar as number one.
Nuts are a great source of many nutrients including healthy fats, fibre and even protein. Due to their great taste and versatility, nuts are also very often used in healthy snack production. But there’s some things to watch out for with this ingredient:
- Heat and processing: While nuts are a great ingredient, the fact that they contain omega fats makes them sensitive to heat.
- How much: How many nuts are you actually getting? The classic example of this is nut mylk. We recommend a quick read about nut mylks and whether they were worth the hype but the message is simple. You get what you pay for. Most conventional brands contain 6+ ingredients and only about 1-2% actual nuts. So is it really a healthy drink in this case? When you pay more, you will get more bang for your buck (up to 8%) but of course making almond (or whatever nut) mylk at home is the winner.
So consumer beware: not everything is what it seems. For more on this topic, check out our other posts:
- 100 kcal snacks full of nutrition
- Smart Snacks Part 2: Facelifts, zero waste and sustainability.