Magic Words

~ November 1998 No.57 ~

The goal of every entrepreneur is to sell more of a product. There are many ways to do that. One of the ways that has become almost an art is the use of “magic words” to describe the product. These magic words often have a double meaning or they may in fact be a true description of a product but just don’t seem to make sense.

Unsaturated is one of these magic words. There are many food products on the market that contain unsaturated fats and even poly (meaning many)unsaturated fats. The health researchers tell us that we should be increasing the amounts of unsaturated fats in our diets, so consumers are looking for products that are high in unsaturates. Of course the opposite of unsaturated is saturated and that is where the confusion lies. If something is saturated it is full; if its unsaturated it must be not as full. Butter contains more saturated fats that margarine. So it would seem that butter is bad, and margarine is good. It depends. Yes margarine has more polyunsaturated fats than butter, but they both contain the same amount of calories weight for weight. Too many people eat margarine because they think it is less fattening than butter. It isn’t true. Unsaturated doesn’t mean less fat.

“Contains no cholesterol” is another set of magic words that appears on a wide variety of foods. For some foods this claim makes sense, but for others it is just a way of getting the consumers attention. Cholesterol is a complex molecule produced by animals. It is used in the membrane of cells and is also a starting point for many important hormones. In humans, too much cholesterol in certain forms (low density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol) are a major factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. Plants make compounds that do the same thing as cholesterol in animals, but plants don't produce cholesterol. Therefore any food or food product that is from plant material never did contain cholesterol and never will. Watermelons never contained cholesterol; orange juice never contained cholesterol, carrots contain no cholesterol. Similarly vegetable oils such as olive oil, corn oil, canola oil, and soy oil have never contained cholesterol. To say that a bottle of vegetable oil contains no cholesterol is true, but does not really tell you anything new. However, if a product had been produced using animal fat (lard or butter) and now the producer has decided to use vegetable oil, it is true that the product “now contains no cholesterol” and more importantly it makes sense to say on the package label

The consumer must be aware of the many ways that food manufacturers try to market their products. The consumer is looking for healthy food, but as with everything, it is important that you do some research before you make a purchase. Sometimes the label doesn’t tell the whole story.


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Last modified

July 27 2015