Emerging Evidence: Skewed Consumer Perceptions

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For decades now, consumers have navigated a world of low-fat, low-carb and diet food products that all claim to be the next best thing. Today, the influence of crazes like gluten-free, organic, non-GMO and all-natural are evident across every product in our grocery stores. However, few realize that not only are there scant guidelines as to what some labels mean, but making a product diet-friendly, low-fat and sugar-free sometimes means adding extra preservatives and additives that are less well known and can be just as bad as—or worse than—the original versions.

Misinformation is not the fault of consumers. Inherently,people accept whatever is printed on a label as true. Otherwise, it is faulty advertising, right? Unfortunately, no, because there just aren’t enough regulated guidelines or circulated information to educate the everyday person. For example, light salad dressings are marketed as better-for-you, but the list of preservatives and additives is a mile long, and most are unpronounceable, not to mention extremely high in sodium and sugar content to make up for that missing fat.

Similarly, many people consider fat-free yogurt a healthy choice. But fat-free doesn’t guarantee good nutrition. A 6-ounce serving may contain up to 15 grams of sugar. That’s more than half the recommended daily intake for women. These facts apply across the board to a multitude of other “healthy alternatives,” including trail mix, parfaits, diet sodas and mass-produced fruit juices.

It isn’t all bad, though; a growing number of products really do support smart choices. Consumers can pursue a healthier lifestyle by staying alert and aware, reading nutritional facts and learning to decipher trendy words and phrases, such as “organic” and “all-natural.” Don’t let buzzwords influence decision making. One child developed scurvy after consuming an almond milk diet, which was supposedly healthier than regular milk.

Instead of fat-free yogurt, buy plain Greek yogurt and add in your own fruit or sweetener. Instead of a light salad dressing, use olive oil with balsamic vinegar to supplement the taste. It isn’t impossible to stay healthy in a world of unhealthy products. Just stay mindful.

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