When did junk food become healthy?

You’ve probably gone into the grocery store and seen all the health labels posted on prepackaged food. There’s yogurt that improves immunity and digestion, heart healthy cereal and even pomegranate juice that claims to do everything from lowering cholesterol to alleviating erectile dysfunction. Could we see a decline in health problems with all this apparently healthy food on the market? The problem is that most of these food labels are misleading or downright false.

Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at Cleveland Clinic, states that most of these claims are “completely unsubstantiated.” However, American law states that food is allowed to have an affect on the “structure and function” of the body as long as it doesn’t actually claim to treat disease. However, there is a fine line between treating disease and affecting the body’s structure and function, and food marketers take full advantage of that.

If it is junk how can it be all that healthy. Graphic by Haylie Wise.
If it is junk how can it be all that healthy, no matter what the label reads. Graphic by Haylie Wise.

Using loopholes and vague wording, the food industry can put all sorts of health claims on their products with little scientific evidence to back it up. It’s an old marketing technique. A food company can say, “Vitamin C strengthens the immune system. Our product has Vitamin C.” They never actually said their product strengthens the immune system, we just infer that it does because of the wording. They don’t get in trouble because they never technically said anything false.

It doesn’t help that the FDA is a little lax in their regulations. For instance, there are rules against using “sugar free” or “no sugar added,” but it doesn’t specify what constitutes “low sugar” or “lightly sweetened.” That’s why we see so many cereals labeled “lightly sweetened” to give the illusion that there is less sugar when in reality there probably isn’t.

Why are the food industries trying so hard to trick us? People are going to continue to eat junk food regardless of if they know it has nutritional value of a cardboard box. Humans are hard-wired to like sweet, salty and fatty foods. In nature, these things are scarce and provide plenty of calories that give us energy needed to survive. So naturally, we evolved to pig out on these things when we came across them. Things like vegetables were more abundant and didn’t provide as many calories, so we didn’t develop much of a taste for them.

Nowadays, food manufacturers take advantage of that and are able to chemically produce these tastes that we love so much. These health labels takes some of the guilt off of bypassing the broccoli at the supermarket to get to the sugary cereal and sodium-filled T.V. dinners. It makes us think we can have our cake and eat it too, literally.

However, with all these false labelings coming to light, it’s becoming more clear that the dream of having food that tastes good and is good for you may never be realized (unless you’re the type of person who genuinely likes vegetables, in which case I envy you).