While walking around the supermarket, I am always tempted to take that trip down the snack aisle. A “quick browse” turns into a slew of justifications for all the crackers and chips I’ve somehow managed to throw into my cart.

We all try and find a way to justify these purchases:

“But it’s reduced fat!”

“Look, it’s whole grain!”

But what does all of that really mean? “Leanwashing” is when companies use advertising, marketing or packaging to exaggerate or mislead the consumer about a product’s health benefits. This becomes a problem when consumers, attempting to be health-conscious, are fooled into buying these not-so-healthy options.

The “Leanwashing Index” is a website run by EnviroMedia Social Marketing. On the site, consumers like us can rate advertisements/marketing techniques based on their accuracy. Users can then search products or advertisements, and see how valid product claims truly are. This website is an excellent resource to use to debunk the following evasive terms:

“All Natural”
This phrase is not even defined by the FDA. Foods can be considered “all-natural” if they don’t have artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Therefore, food labeled “natural” can have preservatives, loads of sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and other not so great stuff.

Photo by Zoe Zaiss

Unless this term has “100%” in front of it; it’s usually not what it claims to be. In fact, a product that contains any amount of whole-grains, even trace amounts, can put this on their packaging.

This is another misleading term in the same category. All this means is that more than one type of grain was used to produce a product.

Just because a product doesn’t contain fats, doesn’t mean it has no calories or less calories than the original versions.

“No Sugar Added”
If you are trying to lose weight, cutting down on sugar sounds like a great place to start. But, in product-speak, all this term means is that no sugar was added. This does not necessarily mean there is no sugars already within in.  Thus, “No Sugar Added” does not mean low in calorie, or carb-free.

Food manufacturers tend to be devious with this one. It may say “light” in advertisements, but the term may referring to flavor, rather than ingredients. This doesn’t mean that you are cutting down on calories. For a product to truly be “light,” the fat content must be 50% less than the original. Make sure to check the nutrition label!

Photo by Zoe Zaiss

These phrases are almost always empty promises. With this knowledge, and the “leadwashing index” site, let’s take a stand against meaningless phrases to be smarter (and healthier!) shoppers.


More good stuff here: