Imagery has always been a very powerful tool in marketing processed foods. When regulations get in the way of what manufacturers want to say, the use of iconic symbols and imagery has helped them bypass most restrictions in their quest to elevate their products and obscure reality.
One of the most compelling symbols in existence is the sun. Since the dawn of mankind, it has been associated with a life-giving force. In many ways the sun is the very essence of nature. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see this symbol crop up frequently in packaging and advertising for processed foods.
Sun Chips is a prime example of a brand that taps into the power of the sun. Launched in 1991 as a healthier snacking choice, Frito-Lay has continued to build Sun Chips’ better for you, wholesome brand image. Check out this commercial from a couple years ago and see how the magic of advertising works:
Visuals of sunlight, fields of wholesome grain, and picturesque landscapes provide compelling imagery that works subconsciously and lays the foundation for beliefs that Sun Chips are a healthier, more natural snack. In addition to these visual cues, Frito-Lay now bursts “All Natural” on Sun Chips’ packages and also makes several back panel claims:
- No artificial flaovrs
- No preservatives
- No MSG
- 0g trans fat
- 18g of whole grains per 1 oz. serving
But is the Sun Chips story really so sunny? Unfortunately the answer is “no.” Although Sun Chips may be healthier than some of their salty snack brethren, that really isn’t a very hard mountain to climb. With 140 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 120mg of sodium in a 1 ounce serving, snacking regularly on Sun Chips probably will lead to some long-term trouble. And when you consider how few chips there are in a 1 ounce serving (see below), you realize that an average Sun Chips snacking session is likely to have at least two or three times the calories, fat, and sodium.
Besides it’s dubious nutritional profile, there are several ingredients that don’t seem consistent with Sun Chips’s “All Natural” claim:
- Whole corn: If you’ve been reading my “All Natural … Really?” series very long, I’m sure you guessed it—this is GM corn (genetically modified)—hardly all natural in my book.
- Natural Flavor: This sounds like an innocent enough ingredient, but as Eric Schlosser points out in his book Fast Food Nation, “The distinction between artificial and natural flavors can be somewhat arbitrary and absurd based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains…. A natural flavor is not necessarily healthier or purer than an artificial one.” Natural Flavors are also closely guarded secrets of manufacturers and flavor houses. My request for more detail on exactly what is in Sun Chips’ natural flavors has yet to be answered, but rest assured, if it’s revealed, it’s most likely a list of complex chemical compounds that would double or triple the length of the ingredient panel.
- Maltodextrin: In the case of Sun Chips, maltodextrin has been enzymatically derived from GM corn. The result is a bland to slightly sweet additive that is a staple in processed food. To me, maltodextrin is to starch what high fructose corn syrup is to sugar: a highly processed, man-made concoction that bears no resemblance to its raw ingredient forebears. Although it is easily digested by most people, if you’re having gastrointestinal issues, monitor your consumption of maltodextrin since in some cases it has been known to cause extreme GI issues.
- Never eat out of the bag, it’s just too dangerous. If you’re going to indulge, get out a small bowl and control your portion.
- Try replacing a serving or two a week with a serving of cut up veggies. Then each week, replace another of your salty snack servings with veggies until you’ve reduced your addiction to an occasional treat. A piece of fruit like an apple is also a good replacement option.
- Good quality nuts are also a good alternative. But you’ve got to remember, nuts are packed with calories—a little goes a long way. So don’t go binging on the whole bag or jar.
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