Mastering Food Marketing

The Functional Medicine  approach to vibrant health focuses deeply on nutrients and gut health… Sadly much of what is packaged and marketed in stores don’t support either of these. To be bold… much of it is … Crapola in pretty packaging.

For most people, food shopping is at the bottom of the barrel for fun. Between the crowds at stores, the time it takes out of our day, and the skyrocketing prices; It’s one of the week’s dreaded chores.  Throw in the marketing madness on the packaged foods and many well-intended shoppers are being ‘punked’ for that expensive bill at the register.

One of our biggest giggles is when we see “Gluten Free” on chicken and “Natural” on bacon sitting in a basket in the middle of the (unrefrigerated) store.  How is the consumer to know what is what and when they can trust these labels?

Perhaps this table will help.  Please pass it on 4 Better Health.

Marketing label What it means Why we’re being ‘punked’ Similar  and confusing

“Natural “


Contains no artificial ingredient or added color and one that is only minimally processed


The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”)

Product may contain antibiotics, hormones, High fructose corn syrup, and other similar chemicals.


The USDA lets the meat and poultry products claim to be “All Natural” when injected with beef or chicken broth, which not only increases the sodium levels but increases the price due to a higher weight.


The term is unregulated and undefined if not on a meat product

“All” Natural = no difference


Whole poultry and cuts that have never been below 26°F.   A product that has been heated or cooked or more than minimally processed cannot be called “fresh” Does not mean recently harvested, “close to the farm,” “from the farmers’ market,” or “from the garden” Minimally processed: processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. Traditional processes including smoking, roasting or drying


(Genetically Modified Organism)

An organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. There is no requirement for GMO labeling of products we consume regularly. Estimated 70-75% of all grocery store products contain at least one genetically modified ingredient (The Center for Food Safety) GMO –free

GMO-Free: No Genetically modified organisms used




 1) At least 1/3 fewer calories per serving than a comparison food; or
2) contains no more than ½ the fat per serving of a comparison food. If a food derives 50% or more of its calories from fat, the reduction must be at least 50% of the fat; or
3) contains at least 50% less sodium per serving than a comparison food; or
4) can refer to texture and/or color, if clearly explained, for example, “light brown sugar.”
Specifics to which “light” is referring to is not clear.

Often higher sugar to increase  flavor and many are left less satisfied eating more

Low fat: 3 or less grams of fat per serving


Reduced fat = ½ the fat of the original version


Less than 0.5gm per serving Sugar is always replaced by an artificial sweetener (or two)


Does not include High Fructose Corn Syrup

“Low Sugar” or “Lightly sweetened,” No federal regulations for this (Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats claims “lightly sweetened,”  but contains 12gm of sugar per serving)

“No Trans fat”







Manufactured by processing liquid vegetable oil to become a solid fat


Many know the health concerns with trans fat

A product can advertise “NO Trans Fat!” but still have Trans Fat in the ingredients if it has less than 0.5gm/serving


Many products claim “0 Trans Fat” but have huge amounts of saturated fat

Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils


On seafood or game meat products that contain less than 10g total fat, 4.5g or less saturated fat, and less than 95mg cholesterol per RACC and per 100g (for meals & main dishes, meets criteria per 100g and per labeled serving). On mixed dishes not measurable with a cup (as defined in 21 CFR 101.12(b)in table 2) that contain less than 8g total fat, 3.5g or less saturated fat and less than 80 mg cholesterol per RACC Most products that label “lean” are already lean “Extra Lean”  On seafood or game meat products that contains less than 5g total fat, less than 2g saturated fat and less than 95mg cholesterol per RACC and per 100g (for meals and main dishes, meets criteria per 100g and per labeled serving).

“Good source of”



10 of USDA recommended allowance for a vitamin or nutrient Many daily recommendations are lower than they should be. Fruit loops may be a yummy treat (and there’s the cool colored milk at the end), but it’s simply not a good source of fiber (or whole grain) “High source of” = 20% of USDA recommended daily allowance


“More,” “Fortified,” “Enriched,” “Added,” “Extra,” or “Plus = 10% or more of the DV per RACC than an appropriate reference food. May only be used for vitamins, minerals, protein, dietary fiber, and potassium.


Not required to disclose the percentage of amount (ie: whole grains versus refined grains)

“No Cholesterol”

Fewer than 2 mg of cholesterol per serving Many times things that don’t ever have cholesterol in them (such as sunflower seeds) are promoted as “No Chol!” Cholesterol Free


Has no salt added during processing. To use this term, the product it resembles must normally be processed with salt and the label must note that the food is not a sodium-free food if it does not meet the requirements for “sodium free.” “Low Sodium” = 140 mg or less per serving.


“Very low sodium” = Less than 35 mg or less sodium per serving.

“Sodium-free”  = less than 5g/serving

“Whole Wheat”


 “whole grain”

Whole grain has the entire kernel of grain (from the bran to the endosperm to the germ.) Whereas whole wheat has the bran and germ removed during the refining process and is left containing only the endosperm. The majority of vitamins and fiber are contained in the wheat bran and wheat germ that is shed during the refining process.  Many times ‘punked’ on believing we are getting a whole grain when we are getting only a portion 100% Wheat: Often missing the WHOLE kernel =missing nutrients

“Enriched wheat flour”

Nutrients added in to meet FDA standards


95% organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.

Cannot be produced with any antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, petroleum or sewage-sludge-based fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients.

Cannot use GMO seed.

Higher cost: standards are much stricter than foods our country consumes in much higher quantity. Growers must fill out forms with growing history for the last 3-5 years for certification and go through 3rd party verification, on-site inspections conducted and unannounced inspections after certification. Made with  organic ingredients = 70% organic and none of the ingredients can be produced with sewage-sludge based products or ionizing radiation


100% organic = 100% organic

“Free Range”

Only certifiable “free range” food items are poultry and eggs. Law states that chickens must be “allowed access to the outside” – typically un-caged, inside barns with access to outside There are no specifications to the size of ‘range’.

Huge land for them to roam


Any other meat can’t be certified as ‘free range.’

Free-roaming – same as free range


Cage-Free – typically un-caged, not mandated to have access to outside


“Grass Fed”

Raised primarily on ranges rather than in a feedlot, must be allowed to graze. Not much regulation. Know your company Grain fed

Probably feedlot animal


Fewer than 10gm of fat, 4.5gm of saturated fat, and 95mg of cholesterol per 100gm




This regulation is grandfathered in, which means that meat that has consistently been labeled lean since before 1991 can retain the label even if it doesn’t meet the requirements. 80 % = 20 gm of fat

90% = 10 gm of fat


Remember the whole pink slime saga?

“Farm Raised”

Raised in netted cages in coastal waters:  provide almost one-third of all seafood sold As much as 16 times higher in PCB’s

Antibiotics used

Salmon is often dyed with canthaxanthin to get the pink color they miss from eating pink krill in the wild

Wild: caught in open waters

Maybe caught using dynamiting reefs, high-seas bottom-trawling, and drift nets or more using hand-lines, dive, pots or traps.

“High Fiber”

Contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving Many products boast high fiber content without distinguishing where the fiber is coming from. Traditional sources of intact fibers from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits are known to lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as help with regularity but processed fibers (such as those in Fiber One bars) don’t have the same health benefits (and often have high sugar content).


1) Does not contain a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelled wheat); 2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or 3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food. Also, any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm. Many products that are inherently gluten-free (such as produce, meat, and fish) are now labeled as gluten-free to attract sales while up pricing their products.


Even 19ppm may cause a very sensitive Celiac or gluten sensitive person to react.

“Wheat free” = same regulations yet not always gluten-free as may have gluten grains.

“Dairy Free”

The FDA has not established any regulations regarding the use of Dairy Free on package labels. Without a regulatory definition in place, there can be no assurance that foods labeled as “dairy free” are in fact free from any milk proteins. The consumer must look for all dairy sugars and proteins:

Casein, Whey, milk, butter, yogurt, cheese

“Lactose-Free” = no milk sugars (it does not mean dairy free)



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