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Even 'Healthy' Pre-Packaged Food Is Generally Bad for You

Food that made health claims turned out to be only marginally better for you than conventional packaged foods. In fact, the study said, the differences were so tiny they probably have no significant impact on your health.

by Alex Swerdloff
Aug 10 2016, 9:00pm

In the grocery store, alongside the more obvious "junk food," you might see tons of packaged snacks with claims of being "healthy" or "all-natural," leading you to believe that these choices are better for you, but a new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that those health-related claims are often a load of crap.

In the cross-sectional survey of pre-packaged foods from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia, and the UK, over 2,000 foods were randomly sampled. The food included stuff that is routinely available in supermarkets, neighborhood groceries, and discount outlets. The nutritional information of each type of food—some of which claimed to be "healthy" or "good for you"—was assessed. Food that made health claims turned out to be only marginally better for you than conventional packaged foods. In fact, the study said, the differences were so tiny they probably have no significant impact on your health.

How insignificant were the health benefits? Ridiculously so—other than the claims for lower sodium, which were significant.

READ MORE: Debunking the Myth That Healthy Food Is Super Expensive

For example, the pre-packaged foods that claimed to be good for you had, on average, only 29 fewer calories per serving than other packaged foods. Sugar differences were also minuscule; the "healthy" food only had three fewer grams of sugar than the comparable food.

Are you thinking, well, the good-for-you stuff must have less fat? Nope. Two grams less saturated fat on average. Fiber? Nope. Only .8 grams more. According to the researchers, small differences like these have questionable impact on health.

The only marker that showed significant differences in the so-called healthy food was sodium, with the food claiming health benefits having 842 milligrams less. The US dietary guidelines recommend that you eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

As veteran nutrition expert and NYU professor Marion Nestle puts it, the study proves that "Health claims on food packages are not about health; they are about marketing."