Don’t get duped: what those “health” claims on packaged foods really (don’t) mean



First of all, I want to be clear that I strive to eat a lot of actual foods that don’t require fancy packaging and nutrition and ingredients labeling, like real vegetables, fruits, locally and responsibly raised eggs and meats. If it doesn’t require a nutrition label or ingredients list, it’s likely to be a healthier choice. But it’s simply not realistic for my family–or most of you, I’m guessing–to avoid buying products that require actual packaging. And that’s what this post is about: not getting duped by the health hype plastered across the front of food product packaging.

I have a habit of which I’m quite proud, but drives my husband bonkers at times (like when we are in a bit of a hurry). When grocery shopping, I automatically flip a product over to read the BACK of the label and check out the actual ingredients. What often follows this act is an immediate eye roll and placement of the product back on the shelf. It’s become so automatic for me. I absolutely disregard the front of the label because I know these are the marketing claims conjured up by some advertising agency to help their client sell a specific brand to their target audience. I know this, because in my past life I helped do similar work for the pharma / biotech industry. Emphasis on “past life” part of that statement.

Here are a few common claims that often sound great to us, but are really just marketing gimmicks that are way more hype than health.

  • “All natural”, as in “all natural” chicken, beef, whatever animal protein you’re thinking of purchasing. This term means absolutely NOTHING. Manufacturers can slap this claim on whatever they want, and it can mean whatever they want it to mean. When talking about animal proteins, like poultry, pork, and beef, the vast majority of animals raised in the United States are factory-farmed in the most UNnatural conditions imaginable. For example, factory-farmed chickens share a battery cage (about the size of an iPad) with 3 to 11 other chickens, and don’t see the light of day. Not exactly how Nature intended.


  • “No added sugar”. This claim sounds pretty straight-forward and healthy, right? But it’s sneaky. Next time you think about buying a pre-bottled, manufactured green drink, turn that bad boy over and look at the ingredients, the number of servings, and the actual grams of sugar in each serving. It doesn’t take a lot of “green” to make the product LOOK healthy. You’ll find that many pre-packaged green drinks on the market contain mostly apple juice or fruit puree, and then maybe the 9th or 10th ingredient is an actual green vegetable, but not a very meaningful amount. As of right now, the FDA doesn’t consider fruit juices or purees as “added sugar”, even though these ingredients cause a serious spike in your blood sugar. But maybe the product really does have “no added sugar”, but guess what? It may have artificial sweeteners to replace the sugar. In many low-sugar products, Splenda (aka sucralose) is added. Artificial sweeteners remain controversial among health experts, but there’s enough evidence there to convince me that they are NOT a good idea. Potentially neurotoxic, and also tend to magnify a sweet tooth rather than help people reduce sugar intake


  • “Multigrain”: this means that the product contains more than one type of grain, and none of them may actually be whole grains. Flip the product over, and you’ll likely see that the first (key) ingredients are refined flour (ie, straight to sugar in the body), and other highly processed, unnatural ingredients. In other words, not a health-food by any stretch of the imagination. In a similar vein, “made with whole grains” means just that. There may be some whole grains in there, but they may or may not be the main ingredients. Again, you’ll likely see lots of processed stuff in there, NOT a real food with real nutrients.


  • “Low-fat” or “Non-fat”. Geez, I can’t believe these things are still dominating the shelves. It seems that the message is FINALLY getting out that fat is not enemy #1. But I still have to look really hard for normal yogurt because it’s buried among 48,000 different types of no-fat, non-fat, 0% formulations. Very often, when you look at the back of that non-fat yogurt label, you’ll see lots of sugar! This is true for other food products that would naturally contain fat, but have had the fat removed to make it “healthier”. They have to add SOMETHING in to make it palatable with less fat, and often that means sugar or other undesirable additives. This being said, there are certain TYPES of fat (mostly man-made, of course), that are not healthy. And guess what? they are exactly the types of fat found in most packaged, processed foods!!!

Bottom-line: you have to be your own food detective. Sad but true. If it requires a wrapper or container, if it has a “brand”, turn it over and scan the nutrition label and ingredients. For the next post, I’ll give you some easy tips for how to quickly determine if a product is worth your health and money.

Killing ANTs: How to get rid of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that steal your joy


Here’s some food for thought:

Every thought you have produces a reaction in your body. This may be hard for some of you (wink, wink), but try to recall a time when you had angry, cranky, or unkind thoughts. More than likely your muscles tensed, your heart rate increased, your blood pressure may have gone up a bit, your breathing rate quickened. Ever been so upset you had actual physical symptoms, like a headache or stomachache? You get the idea.

Now, recall a happy occasion, when good, hopeful, or kind thoughts filled your brain. Such thoughts tend to relax the muscles and drop the heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.

In other words, negative thoughts make your mind and body feel bad. Positive thoughts make your mind and body feel good.

This is one several key concepts addressed in a book I’m reading titled “Change your brain, change your life”, by Dr Daniel Amen, a physician and double-board-certified psychiatrist. Dr Amen believes that “when your brain works right, you work right; and when your brain is troubled you are much more likely to have trouble in your life”.

Your thoughts are a key source of trouble-making for your mind and body. In particular it’s those Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) that can infest your brain and steal your joy, happiness, and positive belief in yourself and others. Dr Amen coined this term after a particularly hard day at his office, followed by coming home to a massive ant infestation in his kitchen. He immediately thought of his patients from that day–their brains were infested with Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs, just like his kitchen!

I’m sure you’ve all experienced an ant infestation at some point, whether at a picnic or in your own kitchen. At first, you see one or two or three, but when you look more closely, all of sudden there’s a swarm of ants taking over!

It’s the same with negative thoughts. Maybe one or two here and there aren’t a problem, but they quickly accumulate and begin to infest your brain and affect your mind and body.

In his book, Dr Amen identifies 9 particular “species” of ANTs that rob us of happiness. For brevity, I’ll touch on 4 that really stood out for me, and I bet I’m not alone. In addition to describing these “ANT” species, Dr Amen gives an example of how to “kill” the ANTs.

  1. The “All or Nothing” ANT: This ANT happens when we make something out to be all good or all bad. “I’m the worst runner ever, I had to stop 3 times on today’s run. I think I’ll just drop out of training for this half-marathon.” To kill this ANT: “Every runner has a bad training day. I’ve actually had a few really good runs, too. Next time will be better.”
  2. The “Always, No One” ANTs: This happens when you think that something that happened will “always” repeat itself. For example, “No one around here appreciates what I do.” Really? Probably not. Other ANTs within this species include thinking in words like never, everyone, every time, or everything. These ANTs are rarely accurate, but are VERY common. To kill this ANT: “That’s not true. I do see that people appreciate me, even if they don’t tell me everyday.”
  3. The “Mind-reading” ANT: You believe you know what the other person is thinking when they haven’t even told you yet. “My boss doesn’t like me!” In my house, we refer to this ANT as the “assume” ANT. I assume I know what you thinking or feeling. And, we know that when you ass-u-me, you end up making an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. To kill this ANT: “I don’t know this to be true. Maybe (s)he is just having a bad day”.
  4. The “Guilt-beating” ANT: this ANT involves thinking in words like should, must, ought to, have to. “I should workout at least 3 days a week”, or “I ought to go visit my in-laws”. This type of thinking frames things as chores that we don’t want to do, but then feel guilt when we don’t. Guilt is NOT a helpful emotion. To kill this ANT: reframe the thought. “It would be helpful for my stress and energy level for me to work out 3 days a week.” Other words that can help reframe: “I want” and “It’s in my best interest to….”

The bottom line is that your thoughts are very powerful. So cultivate good ones!