Recently I was excited to see one of my favourite brands of iced coffee had come out in a “no added sugar” version.

I love iced coffee and am doing my best to limit sugars. I was thinking the product would contain only a tiny amount of sugar.

Being a health-conscious consumer, I bought the no added sugar version, assuming I was making a healthier choice. I was surprised when I read the nutrition information.

For a no added sugar version, 40g of sugar in the bottle seemed quite a bit. Compared to the “added sugar” version which contained 50g of sugar, it seemed a little odd. Despite there being no added sugar, “natural sweeteners 957 and 960” were added. The regular version was just milk, sugar and coffee. Only 10g more but at least I understood what was in it!

I’d fallen for the old bait and switch.

Honest and straightforward, the company didn’t lie — they didn’t add any sugar. The other ingredients can contain as much sugar as they can squeeze in but based on facts, this claim is true.

No sugar was added to this product.

Sometimes our brains take short cuts and might assume that “no added sugar” equals “no sugar” or “sugar-free”. This is not the case but it does not stop us from falling prey to this bait and switch.

Another bait and switch is the addition of other agents that are not sugar. That sweet taste you are experiencing? That’s not sugar, that’s the “natural sweeteners” added.

While these sweeteners are considered safe and are not able to be absorbed by the body, their level of sweetness is so high that it masks all other flavours and increases the cravings for other sweet foods that do contain sugar.

Additionally, in the context of advertising, “natural” means that it’s a chemical found in nature. Again our mind conjures up the idea of plants being gently squeezed to release their “natural sweeteners” when in reality industrial solvents and crushers are frequently used to extract these elements.

Certainly it’s one step better than an “artificial flavour” but don’t fall for the trap that natural means that chemicals were not involved.

As an aside, I recommend coffee without sugar. Due to its lactose content, milk is sweet enough to remove any bitterness of the coffee.

Another common trick in the advertising game is to manipulate the numbers to make things look better than they seem.

In the case of an Ice Break™ drink it is in the size of the bottle. Every Ice Break™ comes in a 500ml bottle. The nutritional information only gives information for half the bottle, as they have decided that a “serving size” is 250ml.

This way they can essentially make the bottle look like it has half the amount of sugar as you are only “supposed to drink half”. Everyone pours out half and puts the remainder in the fridge for later, right?

It’s important to learn to read these labels. Check for serving sizes and compare them to the actual volume. In this case it’s pretty straightforward — you just need to double the numbers.

They have also highlighted that one serve of an Ice Breaks™ contain more than 51 percent of the “required daily intake” of calcium, an important element for bone strength.

What they have neglected to mention is that one “serve” of an Ice Break™ also supplies 10 percent of the day’s required energy — 20 percent if you drink more then the serving suggestion — and
10 percent of the suggested daily sugar intake. Salt is pretty good with only 10 percent of the daily recommendation.

The drink contains no fibre which helps avoid constipation and helps reduce cholesterol.

Why have they only highlighted the good things and downplayed the bad?

By all means, enjoy your food, enjoy a drink, heck, even enjoy an Ice Break™. Having done the research, I am going to ditch the “no added sugar” version and go for the one with a little more sugar and no flavour enhancers.

This is not to disparage a single product. I wanted to highlight particular advertising ploys commonly used that exploit thought short cuts that might lead our minds down a path that are not based in fact.

To learn more about thought short cuts and how advertisers expoit our minds, I recommend the book Influence by Robert Cialdini.

I encourage you to examine advertising, in particular health claims, and feel confident in your ability to verify if what they are saying and what you are thinking match.

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