Skip to content

Top Ten: Health Claims

10 Dodgy Health Claims on Food Packages that people with Type 1 need to know

1. ‘No added sugar’ claims

You might be tempted to impulse buy the product based on the advertising claim.  People with Type1 are a tiny minority of shoppers, so we are not going to get adverts aimed at us. We need to be savvy.  ‘No added sugar’ sounds great until you realise that the cereal or fruit juice or whatever is mostly carbs. So, avoid any food with ‘no added sugar.’ It’s almost certainly carby. Sometimes no added sugar is used on zero sugar carbonated drinks with artificial sweeteners. In general, these should be reserved for treats. But they are not carby. Artificial sweeteners are starting to be seen as unhealthy and not just guilt-free sweetness.  

2. Food with a healthy ingredient highlighted

Take this example of Mayonnaise with Olive Oil by one of the reputable health food manufacturers. It turns out there are equal proportions of olive oil and sunflower oil exactly 40% each. There is not one mention of the sunflower oil, which is ironically promoted on some products! Adding an inferior ‘filler’ is an excellent boost to the financial health of the manufacturer but not necessarily your personal health. Some Blueberry’ health’ bars contain just 4% blueberries. And lots of cheap sugar and carbs. The list goes on. Always check the label if these foods are something you like. They should be avoided for something more suitable.  Or just leave them on the shelf.  

3. UPF (Ultraprocessed Food)

Much of our food is processed. Time was that preserving food by drying, salting, freezing, pickling or jamming, extended the life of a foodstuff that would otherwise be wasted. In days when there was a tenuous food supply and when communities were dependent on the local harvest, this was an important processing step. It saved many lives when calories were in short supply. You might also look upon cooking as a processing step in itself. It is certainly credited with breaking down meat that would otherwise be inedible.

Other processing steps are carried out to either extract oils from things like olives, or modify dairy to prolong the life of milk in products like cheese yoghurt and butter. These processing techniques are generations old and can be useful when fresh food is in short supply.

The latest processing steps are refining, and then adding supplements to food to enhance its palatability and extend its shelf life. The combination of refined grains, sugars and seed oil fats, and then adding colourants and flavour enhancers, plus other ingredients that enable preservation, or blending of ingredients that do not normally go together, is being seen as a step too far. These UPF are increasingly being linked to ill health. It is wise to avoid them.

One way to identify UPF is to use a rating scale of which there are many. A commonly used scale is the NOVA scale. There is an app called openfoodfacts.org that enables you to scan a barcode and identify how healthy your food is.

4. Added vitamins

If you have to add vitamins, why is this? Is it, by any chance, that the food is bereft of nutrition without adding something? A box of chocolate cereal that nearly everyone would say was an unhealthy type of cereal, probably including the manufacturers of it, comes with a massive vitamin D health claim on the box.  It was added vitamin D, not naturally occurring.  It claimed to provide  85% of the recommended allowance of vitamin D. This was confusing because the recommended portion size was 30g, and the 85% claim was for 100g. So a recommended portion would provide just under 30% of a recommended allowance,  not 85%.  Half an hour in the sun will give you several hundred percent of your daily allowance. And through the preferred route for vitamin D synthesis, the skin. Sunlight on the skin is the business end of vitamin D synthesis.  Supplements are a second best. ‘Dead’ foods with supplements added to give them some life are pure Frankenstein. Avoid. 

5. Heart–healthy or Low-Fat

This claim is incredibly still selling food. It is the usual low-fat mantra we are still being force-fed.  Interestingly the diet-heart hypothesis has never been proven after 50 years. Fat has been associated with heart disease, but to date has never been shown to cause it.  But amazingly, the message still gets promoted. Indeed, some national guidelines actively support the lowering of saturated fat for heart health. They mean animal fat, of course. But, review after review is not confirming the hypothesis that animal fat is unhealthy. Some seed oils might be harmful. Never cook with polyunsaturated fats. Type 1’s on a very low carb lifestyle depend on fat for a significant part of their energy. And as far as we know, the right kind of fat is not harmful. Admittedly there are no long term studies to say it isn’t. But then there are no low-fat studies to show that this is safe either. Intuition based on metabolic science of Type 1 would suggest that a high healthy-fat but low carb diet is a good option. 

6. Low calorie

The beauty of a keto lifestyle is that the protein and fat reduce the appetite. People on keto naturally restrict calories. Industrial amounts of calories might be a different issue, but there is no need to reduce calories deliberately. This low-calorie idea is a nod to the ‘eat less move more’ fad. This fad is probably the longest on record, lasting for over 50 years and counting. This fad is so successful that people repeat it over and over!  It’s the yo-yo diet.   ‘Eat less, move more’ is based on energy in a closed energy system. A closed energy system is a physics lab that deals with heat and chemical reactions. It’s closed off to any outside influences so that reactions can be measured precisely.  Astrophysicists are keen on closed energy systems. Forget a small lab. The universe is a closed system (as far as we know, but no one has peeped round the back yet).  But the body is not a closed system. It interacts with its environment, and energy is gained or lost to that environment. And it is adaptable in energy management, which the universe is not. That’s why ‘calories in and calories out’ (CICO), will not work beyond three months, because the body adapts. If you don’t get enough energy, the body will reduce its metabolism to adjust to the amount of energy available to it.  The body adapts to survive.  It is smart. The body is not a physics laboratory. Surely after 50 years, those who should know better can’t keep pretending that the body is a physics laboratory just because it fits what they were taught years ago about how the body works. The body is a biological system, not a closed energy system. Period.  

7. Zero percent fat: zero percent sugar

What on earth is this? Is it food? It crept onto the food section shelves of the supermarket, but why? It is difficult to understand.  It is not for people who need nutrition, that’s for sure. It’s a flavoured ‘substance.’ It has a long shelf life because it is effectively dead. And embalmed with preservatives.  Leave it on the shelf.  

8. Chemical–free

Ninety-two naturally occurring elements make up all of the known universe, including the earth, humans, food, water, trees, duvets, chain saws, t-shirts, and fresh air. The only naturally occurring thing that is chemical-free is a vacuum. This is a  plain silly health claim. Avoid if you are pedantic if only because of the irritating health claim.  Having said that, these products might be a genuine attempt to provide healthy food. It might be worth checking the ingredients.

9. Energy food

You need sugar for energy. The thing that the people who promote this fail to explain is why fat is bad when it has twice as much energy per gram as sugar. And no, sugar is not the preferred fuel of the body. That is for another blog. The statement, ‘ You need sugar for energy’  is tricky to refute without a detailed explanation. By this time people have become bored and tuned out.  But it is generally untrue. At least 95% if you are keto-adapted. If you have a hypo, then refined sugar is mandatory to rescue it. That’s the 5%. If you are carbohydrate adapted, it’s different. Because if you are doing an endurance sport, then you will run out of energy after about an hour and a half as your sugar stores are known as glycogen run out, true. Then you will need sugar to keep going. But if you are doing anything strenuous for less than an hour, you do NOT need to eat sugar for energy. If you are keto-adapted, then you do NOT need sugar for energy at all. You happily burn fat—day after day as required.  The average adult has 20,000 calories of fat ready for use as energy. It is your internal battery. 10 average days of stored energy.  The sugar energy store of glycogen is a puny 2000 calories by comparison. It’s not even enough for a marathon.  And that is the maximum also if you are carb ‘stacked.’ But just because carbers need sugar for long-distance, they should not make that a universal rule. On a different note,  you might need sugar to satisfy a sugar addiction, and that is a serious and very different matter.  

10. One of your five a day

This 1990’s advertising slogan was a very successful attempt by the greengrocers to boost sales. Now, there is nothing wrong with fruit and veg. But 5-a-day has no scientific basis whatsoever. But that is the most common answer people put on surveys of how much fruit and veg they eat. We humans do like to please! But why pick 5?  Pluck any number out of the air that you want. Why not choose one a day if you hate veg. A hundred million if you love them. These numbers are just as scientifically valid as five a day, as there is no evidence for any of them. Plant nutrients and called phytonutrients. They are marketed as a good thing. But they might not all be. Find what works for you. Some people are tricky with some fruits and veg.  Type 1’s need to be smart with fruit and veg. They are a natural pairing and are pleasing to say.  But they are a diverse group, spinach and mangos, for example, have little in common. Type 1’s will be looking mostly at the carbs in fruit and veg. So, Type 1’s will be looking to eat berry fruit and mainly green veg. A cupped handful of berry fruits and a generous amount of green veg. That’s the very low carb way. One a day, five a day, a hundred million a day. Just make it low carb.