As I’ve said before, there are only a few things that really unnerve me – one of them is dishonesty in marketing. (Surprise, surprise… that’s what marketing is.) If you browse an aisle at the supermarket, you will see claims made on package after package after package… but is it really worth it? For that matter, is it even accurate? Does it even mean anything? Here, I’ll list two things to watch out for on your packages, just to make sure you’re not paying extra for nonsense.

Natural flavors... with "other natural flavors?"

“Natural”

The word “natural” means a lot of things. Unfortunately for us, none of them mean the same thing. Clever marketing allows us to think that “natural” means the same as “organic” – pictures of farms, gardens, farmers and cows serve as the backdrop to a bright little starburst in the corner saying “All natural!” It makes you think “organic,” but it’s not. This is to the marketer’s benefit, because they get all the benefits of looking “organic” without all the hoops they’d have to jump through to be “organic.” For crying out loud, high fructose corn syrup can be considered “natural.”

For a product to carry an “organic” label, the ingredients have to have been grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. No chemical interference. For a product to carry a “natural” label… well, there are no requirements. That’s right. “Natural” could mean the processes an item went through to become what it is when you buy it. “Natural” also defines the “natural flavors” used in many of our processed foods. (Oh, and what are natural flavors, by the way? They’re chemicals created in a lab that taste exactly like whatever food they were created to mimic. “Natural,” indeed.)

It’s a load of crap.. and the FDA has officially gone out of its way to avoid defining the word “natural.”

What does this mean for you? It means that you might need to ensure that you know the difference between “natural” and “organic.” If organic is what you’re looking for, go organic. “Natural” won’t serve as the less-expensive-shortcut, because it’s obvious they’re using the terminology for the swindle. If there’s no clarification of what “natural” means on the label, skip it and find something a little less ambiguous.

“Zero Trans Fat”

I didn't wanna leave you, but I gotta go right now...

A lot of us might not even know what “zero trans fats!!111!11!1” even actually means, but if we see it on a package we might not’ve bought otherwise… it just might be enough to make us buy.

Not only is that horrible shopping practice (I do admit I was guilty once), but it’s a little dangerous.

What is trans fat, you ask? Well, you might see it in your foods’ ingredient list as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated soybean oil.” It’s an oil (usually vegetable or soybean oil) that has hydrogen gas whipped into it, making it a thick and super creamy substance. This was a part of the original process used to create margarine, meant to replace butter because the saturated fats found in butter were considered so harmful. The trans fats that originated were an unintended consequence. Eventually, we found out that this “unintended consequence” was way more harmful than butter ever could be, leaving us exposed to heart disease.

The stuff can be found in lots of junk – margarine (of course), crackers, some thick and creamy items, and some inexpensive cakes/cookies/pastries. Anything with a thick, rich, buttery, creamy taste to it may more than likely have it.

Why is the “zero trans fat!!!1!1!!111!” claim on this list? Well, here’s why:

The FDA says a person shouldn’t ingest more than 2.5 grams of trans fat a day. (How about just telling people to avoid it altogether? I bet I know why…) A loophole in the FDA’s requirements states that if a food item has less than .5 grams of trans fat in it, it can safely claim that it has ZERO trans fat. There are two problems with this: 1, if each food on my plate has .49 grams of trans fat, I might not even know I’m eating 2 grams of trans fat; 2, what about people who eat more than one serving of an item?

Here’s an example. A box of Ritz crackers will tell you that a serving size is 5 crackers, and that is has 0grams trans fat. If you pick up the box of Ritz with the “fresh wrap” packages – the ones with, maybe, 15 crackers in an individually wrapped package – it will undoubtedly tell you that if you eat a whole package in one sitting, you’re eating something like 3 grams of trans fat.

“But I thought 1 serving has no trans fat?”

I know. It’s crap, right?

How can you avoid this? Even though it might say “0 grams trans fat” on the front and in the nutrition information, the ingredients list will always tell the real tale. It will always say “partially hydrogenated [insert vegetable, soybean, whatever] oil” inside that list. Keep an eye out for it.

In short, these two issues have one thing in common – you must be conscious! Know what you’re buying, know what you’re bringing home to your family, and know what you are supporting. If you’re okay with what you’re purchasing, then by all means — enjoy! But if you’re the least bit bothered, use this information and give your dollar to someone else. Believe me, I do. (And I’m still mad I had to give up Ritz crackers. I loved Ritz!)