Don’t Be Fooled- Debunking Common Food Label Claims
If you have gone to a grocery store recently, you probably noticed that food label claims are everywhere. Claims such as “Fat free” and “All natural” seem to be popping up left and right. But are these claims actually healthy or is it all just hype? Well you may have been fooled but not to worry, you are not alone. According to a Nielson survey, nearly 59% of consumers have a hard time understanding what nutrition labels actually mean. Today we are going to discuss the 16 most common, and most misleading phrases manufacturers use on their food products.
1. All Natural
Sure it sounds nice, but unfortunately all natural doesn’t mean much at all. For starters, the FDA does not define what this term actually means. As long as the food does not contain added colors, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances, food makers can claim that their product is all natural. These guidelines unfortunately leave a lot of room for interpretation by the food manufacturers. Because of this a food labelled as all natural may still contain preservatives such as sodium or even high fructose corn syrup.
If you are shopping for healthier bread options, your best bet is to stick to labels that state ” whole grain” or “100% whole wheat”. Unfortunately multigrain or made with whole grain just won’t cut it. Whole grains have more fiber and other nutrients in them than those that have not been refined or processed. Just remember, the more a food has been processed or refined, the more nutrients that have ultimately been stripped away.
4. No Sugar Added
No sugar added does NOT mean that there is not any sugar present. Foods such as fruit, milk, cereals, and vegetables all naturally contain sugar. Claiming that no sugar was added simply means that only the natural sugars are present. This does not mean, however, that carbohydrate-like ingredients were not added in such as maltodextrin.
5. Sugar Free
Sugar free doesn’t mean that a product has fewer calories than the regular, in fact it may have more. To claim “sugar free” on a label the product must contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. These servings still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources though. Often times, these products will contain sugar alcohols instead.
6. Zero Trans Fat
Trans fats are bad for you. There is no way around it. When a label claims “no trans fat” it can actually contain 0.5 grams in a serving. This can get sketchy if you start having more than 1 serving size per day. Check the ingredient list for words such as hydrogenated oils and shortening. These will indicate that trans fats are still present.
7. Immunity Boosters
Manufacturers will often claim their product will “support your immune system”. Unfortunately, all this means is that their product contains certain vitamins. You know what else contains vitamins? Fruits and vegetables.
8. Free Range
Just because a food label says free range doesn’t actually mean your bird was roaming freely on the farm. When it comes to free range there are no requirements set forth on the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access. It is supposed to mean that they are running out in a field but what it really means is that they just have exposure to outdoors.
9. Fat Free
This is probably the most notoriously misleading food label. Typically if a product says fat free, you can count on there being a lot of added sugars to make up in flavor.
To be considered a light product, the fat content has to be 50% less than the amount found in comparable products. This does not necessarily mean that the product is light on calories.
11. Gluten Free
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat and rye. With gluten-free being all the rage right now, you will find these products popping up more and more. But unless you have celiac disease, don’t bother. Gluten free products often times contain less fiber than the regular version and are not necessarily good for you.
12. Made With Real Fruit
Products that claim to be made with real fruit may not actually contain much at all. While companies are required to list the amount of nutrients they contain such as fat and carbohydrates, they do not have to disclose the percentage of a given ingredient. So just because there is a picture of a strawberry on the cover, doesn’t actually mean that there are strawberries in there.
13. Lightly Sweetened
This term is made up and is not defined by the FDA. Marketing trick at its finest.
14. Cholesterol Free
Cholesterol free doesn’t actually mean no cholesterol. In fact, cholesterol free means that it contains less than 2 mg per serving. Low-cholesterol means it contains less than 20 mg per serving.
If a product is labeled as organic, 95% or more of the ingredients must have been grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. A label that says made with organic ingredients must have a minimum of 70% of the ingredients meeting that standard. Organic does NOT mean healthy. Organic foods can still contain a ton of fat, calories, and sugar.
16. Omega- 3 Fatty Acids
Let me give you a little history of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. There are three main types: EPA, DHA, and ALA. ALA does not have the proven benefits for the heart that EPA and DHA have. The ratio of these three fatty acids make all the difference and often times they are not presented in the proper ratio that our body needs. Your best bet is to stick to fish and seaweed products if you are looking for a good helping of Omega-3.
Next time you are in the grocery store, be sure you read the nutrition label before you get fooled again! Also check the serving size and make sure that the product claiming to be low in fat or calories doesn’t have a unrealistic serving size that is often used to trick consumers. Ultimately knowledge is power. Understanding what ingredients you are putting in your body is going to pay off in the long run. Hopefully now you won’t fall victim to these misleading food label claims ever again.