Meaningless but profitable nutrition buzzwords

Nutrition buzzwords have been around since the discovery of nutrients.  They’re used to create a health halo on a food product, for the purpose of sales.  I wrote about popular nutrition buzzwords 6 years ago.  Some of those terms, such as “gluten-free”, “probiotics” and “fiber” are still in use.  But research, publicity and fads have created a new crop of buzzwords.  Here are a few of the most ridiculous new examples:


Yay, who wants dirty food?  No one!  But of course this use of “clean” has nothing to do with cleanliness.  It’s supposed to imply some state of purity, which could be nutritional purity or environmental purity or political correctness.  “Clean” on a food label, diet book or website tagline is meaningless.  But it sure sounds good.  Because, like I said who wants to eat food that’s dirty or impure?  Eating “clean” makes you nutritionally virtuous.


This one has a lot in common with “clean”.  Again, we have the religious overtones of virtuosity.  Who wants to be guilty?  No one!  Guilty of what though?  The implication is that you should feel guilty about eating many foods, an attitude that borders on disordered eating.  So what foods are “guilt-free”?  In many instances, calories = guilt.  You should feel guilty eating calories, so diet soft drinks or highly processed low calorie frozen desserts are “guilt-free”, never mind that both are nutritionally suspect.

“No High Fructose Corn Syrup!”

This one is bordering on ludicrous.  I heard an ad for a salad dressing promoted as oh-so-healthy because it has “no high fructose corn syrup”. Never mind the processed oils and additives. Ready-to-eat cereals are touted for their lack of HFCS, never mind that they loaded up with plain old granulated sugar.

“No GMO!”

The initials “G.M.O.” sound processed-chemically and off-putting, so no surprise, most people think GMOs are something added to food, like preservatives or colors.  The initials stand for Genetically Modified Organism — plants and animals — that have been produced by editing the organism’s genes to confer a desirable characteristic.  It could be resistance to a plant pest or faster growth or the ability to produce a certain molecule, such as insulin which is purified for medicinal use.  Some people are opposed to genetic engineering in food, when genes from unrelated organisms are inserted to confer the desirable trait.  Anti-GMO campaigns are aimed at this particular technology even though no dangerous effects have been identified.  They just don’t like it and demand mandatory labeling of foods containing any residue from a GMO source.  So far there isn’t any such labeling requirement, but that hasn’t stopped food marketers from labeling products as “No GMO” or “GMO-free”.  None of which is actually false, but it’s wildly misleading, especially when the foods in question would never be GMO anyway.  For the record, the only foods that might be GMO are:

  • corn (not sweet corn; rather corn grown for industrial purposes)
  • soy
  • papaya
  • some squash
  • sugar beets (the sugar from those beets is technically GMO, even though it’s highly purified of any trace of beet)
  • canola
  • Certain tomato, potato and apples are GMO, and are clearly labeled when available, but are uncommon.
  • A variety of farmed GMO salmon is now approved for human consumption.

So broccoli or spaghetti or chocolate labeled “No GMO!” is completely misleading.  It’s Fake News, used to create a completely undeserved health halo, implying that those other brands of broccoli or spaghetti or chocolate do have GMO.


How could I have forgotten organic 6 years ago?  It’s possibly the grandaddy of buzzwords.  Back when organic foods were more of a novelty, the word “organic” on a label was supposed to mean no pesticides or chemical fertilizers.  It still means that, but it’s now used to sell so much junk as to become meaningless.  Organic potato chips?  Organic soft drinks?  Organic cookies and sugary breakfast cereals?  Healthier than non-organic versions? Not.  So organic is a buzzword with meaning, except it’s been hijacked to sell junk food.

What nutrition buzzwords will be in use 5 or 6 years from now?

  • Genetically Engineered!  Will new technology make genetically engineered foods fashionable?
  • Grown without (dirty) soil!  Will the health halo of organic give way to food grown hydroponically in climate-controlled conditions?
  • Contains A, B, C and X, Y, Z bacteria!  Will processed foods be pumped up with specific strains of probiotics?
  • Tailored to Type 10 genetic profile vitamin requirements!  Will food products be increasingly personalized to the customer’s genetic profile?
  • Honey-free?  Quinoa-free?  Coconut-free?  Will foods we currently revere suddenly lose favor?  Don’t laugh; it could happen.
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