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Health Food or Snack Food? Seeing Beyond Marketing Schemes


Submitted by Mattie Alpaugh

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Have you ever been swayed into buying a product because of its nutrition marketing? Most of us have. Many packaged foods in the grocery store have labels advertising that they are “made with real fruit or vegetables.” Such health claims often disguise snacks as nutritious foods.

First, let us look at why companies promote that their products contain fruits or vegetables.  We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, because they contain vitamins, minerals, and natural fiber. Despite these benefits, few Americans (13%-20%) eat the recommended three to four servings of fruit a day.  And worse, only 11%-18% of Americans eat the recommended five servings of vegetables a day.1,2 Food manufacturers know that many people are trying to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables that they eat, and use this to sell their products.3

The problem with buying processed foods made with fruits and vegetables is that these ingredients are often added to food products in a powdered form. This powder lacks much of the fiber and some of the vitamins and minerals found in whole fruits and vegetables.3 Ingredients that have been heavily processed can be identified by the use of terms such as dehydrated, extract, starch, proprietary blend or other terms that indicated they are not the ingredient in its whole form. These “healthy” snacks are also frequently made with added oils, sugar, and salt. Look for these added terms and ingredients listed on labels, and check the nutrition label for fat, sodium, and sugar content. If any of these amounts are greater than 5% per serving, eat this food sparingly like you would any other snack.

When choosing a healthy snack, read the nutrition label, check the ingredient list, and then decide if the item is the healthy choice you were looking for. Choose whole, fresh foods instead of food products that claim to contain healthy ingredients but are ultimately a snack food.  Take a moment to compare the following snack food to the real thing.


  1. Krebs-Smith SM, Guenther PM, Subar AF, Kirkpatrick SI, Dodd KW. Americans do not meet federal dietary recommendations. The Journal of Nutrition. 2010;140(10):1832-1838. doi:10.3945/jn.110.124826.
  2. Moore LV, Thompson FE. Adults meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendations- United States, 2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. CDC. 2015;64(26):709-713.
  3. 3. Leibman B. Hijacked: how the food industry turns diet advice into profits. Nutrition Action Newsletter. 2014; October:3-7.

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