Food Deception: How Companies Use Packaging to Trick Your Brain

With so many health trends to keep up with nowadays, companies are trying their damnedest to make sure that the products they put out fit the image of health & wellness. And, even though there are some companies making a conscious effort to create healthier options along the way, many of these products are simply the same thing in a different package.

The problem is, because of the trust factor that many food companies have built over the years, we like to believe that the products that we purchase are as healthy as they SEEM to be. Yet, if you did a little deeper, you might find that the “Newly Packaged” product is the same ol’ thing in a different wrapper.

How Companies Create Packages that FEEL Healthy

If you notice above, the first sentence I wrote says “…companies are trying their damnedest to make sure that the products they put out FIT THE IMAGE of health & wellness”. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, big food companies don’t necessarily have our best interest in mind.

Yes, there are plenty of companies that talk the talk and walk the walk. However, when it comes to the products that we’ve known for a long time, companies know that if they can get you to BELIEVE a product is healthier, that we’ll be more likely to buy it.

To help you understand this point a little better, there are 3 ways a company can change a package to make it FEEL healthier. Here’s a look at the list…

#1) The Package Color

There are certain colors that can be used to stimulate your feeling of hunger. For instance, red, yellow, and orange are all colors that wake up are appetite hormones (the top 3 cracker brands, by sales, in the US are Cheez-it, with a red package and yellow accent, Goldfish, which is orange with yellow accents, and Ritz, red package, again, with yellow accents).

There are also colors that make a product feel healthier overall. For instance, green and white both portray a sense of healthiness. 

#2) Use of Words

 As you well know, there are a bunch of words that have come about in the last couple of decades that portray the feeling of health. Words such as sugar free, fat free, all natural, gluten free, and whole grain are just a few.

#3) Overall package design

This one seems obvious, but it’s worth pointing out. If you go down the supermarket isle looking for crackers, it’s likely that all of your options will be in the same size box. That’s more than coincidence. As humans, we like things are that relatable and convenient. A rectangular box is both relatable (we expect to see crackers in a rectangular box) and convenient (a box is easy to tear open and dig into).

What You Should Look at Instead

So, hopefully you’re starting to see that the cookies you bought in that nice, fall colored package may not be the best option for your goals. At the same time, I’m not trying to turn you into the package Nazi either.

However, there is one place that you can check on your packages to make sure you’re not being doped by the powers that be…and that’s the ingredients list.

I bet you’re surprised. You probably expected me to tell you to look at the nutrients panel instead. Well, there’s a method to my madness, so hear me out.

You see, the nutrient panel is simply a breakdown of the contents of the package. If a product has 150 calories per serving, with 8g of fat and 3g of sugar, on the surface, this may seem like a decent enough option. The problem is, you don’t know what the CONTENTS of the package are at that point.

Let me give you an example…

Say you went to buy a new car. You looked at the features list and saw that it had power everything, with a GPS, heated seats, heated steering wheel and also came with your very own driver, all for a measly $15,000. Sounds great, right? Until you buy it and find out that the car is made out of plastic, the wheels are made of out paper, and the driver is actually a teenage boy.

How to Read the Ingredients List

Now, I understand that was a weird analogy. But looking at the nutrient list of a product without knowing what the product is made of should be equally as weird to you.

So here are a few simple rules you can follow to make the ingredient list less intimidating. If you follow these 3 rules, you will suddenly become a product picking master!

#1) Choose products with 3-5 ingredients or less

Especially when it comes to items that you eat on a regular basis, your best option is to find products that fit this rule. Basically, you’re trying to find products that are as whole as possible. The less ingredients, the better.

Of course, the master of these is any whole food. For instance: chicken, apples, broccoli, beef, almonds. Those all have one ingredient.

#2) Avoid these ingredients at all cost…

If you see a product with these ingredients in them, you might want to look for something different:


High fructose corn syrup

Hydrogenated oil


Acesulfame Potassium



Artificial colors

Nitrates or nitrites

These are all sweeteners that are likely not going to move you closer toward your goal.

#3) If you see a word you don’t understand, don’t buy it

Finally, if there are words in the ingredients that you can’t pronounce, it’s probably best that you stay away. Again, keep it simple.

Like I mentioned, it doesn’t require being a nutritionist or dietician to know what to look for in your products. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to better health and fitness mastery!

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