Look out for these 3 ways ‘label language’ is used to fool you

Posted by
May 6, 2014

supermarketBy BILL BONVIE
The fact that consumers are becoming more and more knowledgeable about what they’re eating these days hasn’t stopped today’s big food conglomerates from finding all kinds of creative ways to try and fool them.

Last week, we revealed a particularly outrageous example – the substitution of a formula containing the neurotoxic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate for a widely trusted, MSG-free herbal seasoning, Old Bay, in Herr’s “Old Bay Seasoned Potato Chips.”

While it’s not often one sees anything that blatantly deceptive in the marketing of processed foods, there are lots of other, more subtle ploys used by the industry and the “Mad Men” it hires to make its products seem more benign than they really are.

Here are some examples of the misleading label language with which the industry tries to camouflage some of its more insidious ingredients:


1) Health claims that divert your attention from the presence of atrocious additives.  You see them all the time on product packaging – buzzwords and phrases that convey the distinct impression that the manufacturer can be trusted to look out for your  health and well-being.

  • Goya Brown Rice With Vegetables, which features the words “heart healthy whole grains,” along with a heart symbol, on the front of the box, and tells you on the back that “a delicious healthy side dish is only 5 minutes away,” one with “low fat” and “high fiber” and that’s “seasoned with carrots, corn, bell peppers and rich chicken flavor.” Only that “chicken flavor,” if you bother to check, is actually enhanced with monosodium glutamate and yeast extract, a related form of free glutamic acid, adding up to a double dose of excitotoxins (which can literally excite certain brain cells to death).
  • Manischewitz Matzo Balls & Chicken Broth, an ethnic favorite with a comfortably familiar brand name, whose can notes that it has zero grams of trans fat and carries a seal bearing the slogans “To Life” and “Healthy Body, Healthy Spirit.” But what it doesn’t mention is that the monosodium glutamate it contains could be harmful to the health of your brain (especially if you’re one of the older generation of consumers who might be most apt to buy this traditional product). Nor does it warn you of the other adverse reactions it could cause that might not even be attributed to it.

2) Expressions of authenticity intended to fool you into thinking nothing new has been added. It’s almost a subliminal reaction you get to certain types of words and images – for instance:

  • Hershey’s Syrup with Genuine Chocolate Flavor – although the first ingredient turns out to be the laboratory-concocted sweetener high fructose corn syrup, which is anything but “genuine.”
  • Heinz Tomato Ketchup, whose label includes a declaration that it’s “grown, not made,” with an asterisk referring to a further assurance that the tomatoes are “grown from Heinz seeds.” Reading that, you might not realize that HFCS is also one of the ingredients – one that is definitely made, not “grown.” (Tip: You can avoid it by simply buying organic ketchup, which is now made by several companies, Heinz among them).
  • Mott’s Original Apple Sauce.  From that name, along with the graphic of appetizing-looking apples, you’d never know it, too, contains HFCS – something that most certainly wasn’t included in the “original” recipe, since it was first introduced in food products back in the 1980s.

3) Terms of endearment that might cause you to ignore the product’s less-loveable aspects. This   is where the creative departments of ad agencies shine – for instance, when coming up with fanciful prose for things like:

  • Campbell’s Home Style Chicken Noodle and Chicken with White Wild Rice soups. Along with the use of “Home Style” in the name, you’ll find the nostalgia-inducing slogan, “The taste that takes you home.” Of course, without reviewing the ingredients, you might never suspect that the taste they’re talking about comes from a mind-numbing combo of flavor-enhancing additives – not just monosodium glutamate, but soy protein concentrate and yeast extract (a ‘triple whammy’ to the brain cells of growing kids).
  • Mott’s Original Apple Sauce.  Yes, it gets citations in two categories –  this second one for the charming characterization of how “Mott’s brings the best of the orchard to families so they can enjoy delicious fruit goodness every day.” Along with that daily dose of added high fructose corn syrup.

I could cite various other examples – and you probably can, too – but I think you get the point: Don’t fall for the smoke and mirrors that food companies (and their ad agencies) use to distract you. Instead, go directly to what they usually would rather you didn’t notice – the actual list of ingredients.