A Hopefully Helpful Rant on Food Marketing
I will always choose Cool Ranch Doritos over veggie chips.
The most frustrating place in modern society is not the airport.
It’s the grocery store.
What should be this wonderful collection of colorful nutrients has been converted into a mall for packaged, processed food.
The issue with processed foods is that compared to whole foods, they are calorically dense while nutritionally poor.
In moderation, like most things, they are fine. But it’s just too damn easy to eat too much of them.
A bag of Doritos is not nearly as filling as a serving of Greek yogurt and a cup of blueberries… yet they are roughly the same number of calories.
And yet, everyone is familiar with the overwhelming obesity statistics.
Over 40% of the U.S. is obese. For many, the situation worsened over the pandemic. And the diseases associated with obesity keep killing us.
Walking into a grocery store, something most people do every week, is the equivalent of walking into a gauntlet of caloric temptation and hoping for the best.
The floor space is two-thirds processed food.
The end caps are little islands made of corn syrup.
And even if you make it through, with nothing but vegetables and lean protein in your cart, you still have to wait in line next to 100 treats perfectly placed to appear right as your willpower dwindles.
Grocery shopping has become that much more challenging because of marketing.
There are two things I am legitimately qualified to do. One is marketing. The other is nutrition coaching. Today we explore the intersection of these two fields.
But first a side note. The timing of this post after Thanksgiving, was not intentional and is in no way meant to bash this holiday. I hope everyone had a wonderful meal. Back to my rant.
Marketing can be boiled down to decisions about the product, promotion, place and price. What are you selling, how is it advertised, where is it sold, and for how much?
As a marketer myself I have long felt frustrated that my profession has played such a significant role in causing and compounding the obesity epidemic. And it’s getting worse.
Now, in addition to having thousands of processed treats to choose from, we have to contend with “health-washing”.
Keto cereal, paleo cookies, gluten-free crackers… These descriptions are designed to trick us into thinking something is healthy when it’s not better than its non-keto, gluten-full alternative.
Here’s the dealio.
This is not about bashing processed food. Again, in moderation, it’s all fine.
It’s about calling bullshit on food marketing that pushes processed-food above all else, and then on top of it, tries to convince us that veggie chips are better than Doritos.
Let’s do a side by side of the nutrition facts.
Cool Ranch Doritos
Serving Size: 28 grams
Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 18 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Serving Size: 28 grams
Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 16 grams
Protein: <1 grams
The Doritos have 1 more gram of fat and 2 more grams of carbohydrates than the veggie chips. A very minor difference.
The veggie chips advertise 30% less fat than the leading potato chips.
Lays potato chips have 10 grams of fat. But they have less carbs than the veggie chips and total calories per serving size is 152.
So again… unless you are a bodybuilder trying to get below 10% body fat… you probably do not need to worry about 3 extra grams of fat.
My point is that all of these foods are more or less equivalent.
Choosing the veggie chips is not going to make a difference in your life.
What will make a difference is prioritizing whole foods (vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, etc.) and learning about portion sizes.
Which leads me to the other thing that drives me nuts about food marketing.
I think it’s fundamentally unethical to package something to look like a single serving when in fact the package is 1.5 or 2 or even 3 servings.
In Europe, nutrition facts are often presented two ways on a package. One set shows the values per 100 grams of the product (confusing…) but the other set shows the facts for the entire container (helpful).
If I had my way, all packaging in grocery stores would be turned around so you had to browse by nutrition labels. I’m sure no one will elect me President of The Grocery Store.
Surviving the gauntlet of temptation
I am a huge fan of single serving food because it helps me control portion sizes, especially when I eat processed food… which I do.
Last week, I was busy and my quick lunch was a Built Bar for protein and a snack bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for carbs and fat.
I know I am contributing to unnecessary waste by doing this and at least one reader (Davey… I feel your 👀) is going to give me a lecture on my environmental footprint.
I accept I need to work on this area, but this is the system that has helped me keep my consumption of processed food in check.
And that’s the thing. We all need a system because the cards are stacked against us.
Many processed foods, especially ones with high fructose corn syrup, trigger physical addiction.
The grocery store was built to tempt you every step of the way.
Marketers are trying their hardest to fool you.
But if you create your own system, you can thrive.
What works for me it to:
Prioritize whole foods most of the time.
Read nutrition labels so I make informed choices.
Respect serving sizes.
This weekend is my favorite time to reflect on the year, hash out plans for next year, and generally think about how I want to live.
✨ I wish you have a restful and inspiring weekend.
🤗 Thank you for reading!
💬 Let me know if you have questions. I love unpacking this stuff.