As far as industries go, they don’t get much older than the food one. Whether it’s trading a few grains of rice back in the Middle Ages, or handing over a tenner for an overpriced salad at your local health shop, food has always been the one necessity we need to keep us all going.
Unsurprisingly, then, the food industry has had a lot of time to perfect its marketing strategies. And it turns out they’ve had a few tricks up their sleeves all these years for making us part with our money… How many of these trade secrets were you unaware of?
1. Don’t Fall For ‘Less Fat’ Labels
Be food smart. Image: parkwaydriverin / Instagram
Yes, there may well be less fat in that yogurt, but what companies don’t seem too keen to shout about is the fact that they may have added in more sugar or more carbs to keep that tasty flavour – which, of course, makes it far less healthy overall when compared to its ‘fuller fat’ counterparts. Next time you’re at the supermarket, compare the sugar and calorie content between your two options in order to make the healthiest choice possible.
2. The Industry Loves to Get People Addicted
Love me a cup of MSG. Image: alliosn / Instagram
You’re probably aware that MSG isn’t something that’s actually good for you, but did you know why? As a flavour enhancer, MSG is often added into foods like Chinese takeaways and KFC chicken to bring out subtle flavours. In his book ‘Why Humans Like Junk Food’, Steve Witherly argued this is a significant reason why people are addicted to junk food. Thankfully, MSG is on the US’ Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ‘generally recognised as safe’ list, despite persistent suggestions that large amounts of the chemical can cause headaches and nausea in sensitive individuals.
3. There’s a Scientific Reason Behind All Those Celebrity Endorsements
The greatest Pepsi commercial ever. Image: lovepopmusic1991 / Instagram
The food industry knows the power of pester power. For that reason, they’ll often get celebs/TV characters on board to promote their products. One estimate shows that kids are 65% more likely to grab an apple if it’s got a Sesame Street character on it, which just goes to show that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink (unless it’s got cool, colourful creatures on).
4. Use-By Dates Are a Load of Rubbish
This is the kind of best before date we like to see. Image: mukeshadh / Instagram
How many times have you stood in the kitchen, staring at the contents of the fridge and contemplating which meals to try a spot of culinary Russian roulette with? In the UK, it’s estimated that around 20% of food waste (amounting to around 370,000 tonnes of food!) is all down to sheer confusion over expiration dates. The truth is, though, that those ‘use-by’ dates are relatively arbitrary. It’s actually best to use your own judgement with a little sniff and a browse of the food itself to make sure it’s relatively edible.
5. You Can Have Too Much of a Chilled Thing
Yum. I’ll have that with a side of listeriosis, please. Image: franciskajulita / Instagram
Hands up who’s rather partial to pre-packed sandwiches, salads or soft cheeses? They’re pretty much an almost daily part of our consumption, but it turns out they can actually have some rather nasty consequences. A study by the Food Standards Agency, a UK-government body, found that there’s a rise in the deadly disease listeriosis, all thanks to people consuming those easy, ready-to-eat foods that have been in their fridges for too long. We’re guessing it won’t be a problem for your daily Boots sandwich though, so don’t worry too much…
6. Red Food Colouring Comes From Crushed Insects
How many bugs do you reckon you’ve eaten in your lifetime? Image: wandererbynight / Instagram
Even if you’re not a vegetarian, this one is pretty gross. Next time you go to eat something that’s red, you may want to check out what exactly is in the food. If it’s made using ‘carmine’, ‘cochineal extract’ or ‘natural red 4’ you may want to put your food down, as that means it uses a red food dye made from – ew – bugs. Up until 2012, Starbucks was using the red food dye in many of their products, but thankfully that’s now all changed.
7. Colours Are a Complete Lie
The salmon pigmentation scale. As you do. Image: TCI_News / Instagram
Now it’s time for something that’ll completely blow your mind. Thought salmon was actually pink? Think again. While wild salmon are definitely pink (thanks to their diet of krill and shrimp) farm-raised salmon are fed a diet that gives them a grey hue. So, what do companies do? They dye the salmon flesh pink so we don’t all freak out.
The same is true for other foods too, like pickles, with yellow dyes often being added to the spears to make them appear more vibrant (and healthier). While the use of these dyes isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about with regards to effects on the body, it’s a classic example of how the food industry likes to deceive us – and how happy we are to be deceived. Because, after all, would you eat grey salmon if it was put on a plate in front of you?
8. That May Not be Real Fruit You’re Eating
Best to make those blueberry muffins yourself for ultimate goodness. Image: wolfvillenutrition / Instagram
At least, that’s in terms of fruit-filled cakes, muffins and other delicacies. Because fruit has such a short shelf life, you often find that companies will use artificial alternatives. Take blueberry muffins, for instance. Many of the muffins don’t contain actual blueberries, but rather corn syrup mixed with food colouring and other chemicals. Again, this isn’t something that’s going to hurt our bodies, but if you’re thinking that blueberry muffin is a good way to get one of your five-a-day down you, you might want to think again.
9. Our Food Contains Stuff Our Bodies Aren’t Supposed to Eat
But why does it have to taste so gooood?! Image: hcevolo / Instagram
Rather than using oil, many manufacturers often opt to use a cheap alternative called ‘trans fat’. While it may save them a few pounds, it’s actually likely to give us some pounds. Reports have shown that trans fat increases the risk of obesity and of heart diseases, and can also raise our levels of LDL cholesterol (not good). Unfortunately, all of the best food contains hydrogenated oils, including fried foods, pre-made baked goods and coffee creamers.
10. Beware of Health Claims – They’re Not All They Seem
Once again, it might actually be better to go with the normal version… Image: cpm / Instagram
Watch out when a packet is keen to shout about the fact it ‘contains whole wheat’ or ‘zero sugar’. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the item is good for you – it may just mean that the food company has got creative in the form of other ingredients, like extra salt or a bucket-load of saturated fat.