Food Entrepreneur - October 12, 2021 - 3

FOOD ENTREPRENEUR®
COMMENTARY
Stop marketing
products as
'GUILT-FREE'
A seemingly innocent descriptor
harbors harmful implications
BY MONICA WATROUS
T
he term " guilt-free " often is included on packages
of food and beverages formulated with low or no
sugar, fat, carbohydrates or calories. The seemingly
innocent descriptor creates unnecessary confusion and
negativity around certain foods and ingredients.
" The prominent positioning of terms like 'guiltfree'
or 'natural' or 'clean' contributes to a collective
cultural shift toward a disordered mindset around
food, " said Cara Harbstreet, registered dietitian and
owner of Street Smart Nutrition, Kansas City. " What
may not begin as a problematic association with these
marketing terms can quickly develop into a hesitancy
or fear of eating foods that are categorized as unnatural,
unhealthy or 'dirty.' Without explicitly saying as
such, these marketing terms imply that other foods are
inferior in quality and/or safety, and that simply is not
the case. "
Appearing in cookbooks, blogs and magazines, the
term " guilt-free " typically refers to recipes or recommendations
for snacks, desserts or comfort food - suggesting
such eating occasions are akin to sin.
A study conducted several years ago by researchers
at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand analyzed
whether consumers associated chocolate cake
with " celebration " or " guilt " and the effects of such
perceptions. The researchers found those who associated
chocolate cake with guilt reported unhealthier
eating habits and lower levels of perceived control over
healthy eating.
" Guilt-free " and
similar claims prey
on consumers' insecurities
and feed into
toxic diet culture,
a system of beliefs
and expectations
celebrating thinness
above physical
and mental health.
A self-described
" non-diet dietitian, "
Ms. Harbstreet advocates
intuitive eating,
Monica Watrous is the managing
editor of Food Business News.
Email mwatrous@sosland.com.
October 12, 2021
Food choices are not a measure
of one's virtue.
©LEKA - STOCK.ADOBE.COM
stripping away " good " or " bad " associations with food.
" I encourage my clients to consider what their true
food preferences are when shopping, as well as their
budget and lifestyle preferences, " she said. " Additionally,
we work to look past the flashy front-of-pack labeling
and focus on the ingredient list, nutrition facts label
and allergen claims to determine if a particular food is
better for them than another. "
Alyssa Pike, registered dietitian and senior
manager of nutrition communications at the International
Food Information Council, in a blog post earlier
this year discussed how pervasive messaging around
what to eat - or what not to eat - may lead to anxiety
around food. She cited a survey this past June examining
consumer perspectives on food ingredients. Nearly
half of consumers surveyed identified as " clean " eaters,
though definitions of clean eating varied among the
respondents.
" Given our social and media environment, it makes
sense that we would think certain foods are good and
others are bad, " she said. " We hear so many rules,
beliefs and ideas about food from family members,
strangers on the internet or celebrities, it can be a lot
to take in, and often what we have heard is not based in
science or the nuance that nutritious eating requires.
For some, the desire to be healthy, coupled with disordered
food beliefs and other life challenges, can lead to
an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy. "
Food choices are not a measure of one's virtue.
Cravings do not indicate weakness. Ordering a salad
rather than a burger does not confer moral superiority.
There are numerous ways to highlight a product's
potential health benefits, identifying measurable attributes
consumers may care about, such as high-fiber,
low-sugar or gluten-free. Guilt is not an ingredient.
Please leave it out of food marketing. ▪
Food Business News
29

Food Entrepreneur - October 12, 2021

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