I can’t be alone in thinking that it can be incredibly difficult to healthily navigate a grocery store these days. I know I’m pretty safe in produce, but as I move into the aisles there are labels claiming all sorts of wonderful benefits: high in fiber! no sugar added! organically grown! no trans fats! – while all of these sound fantastic, it’s not always the full story.
The Huffington Post has done a little digging and come up with the top ten food labeling tricks that companies like to use – and how to call their bluff.
1. No Trans Fats: Legally, “on labels anything less than 0.5 grams of trans fat — a “bad” fat that’s been linked to heart disease and other conditions — can be legally rounded down to zero.” What!? So that means if you have several servings of something (how often do we stick to just one) or multiple foods that have been rounded down, you could easily be consuming a significant amount of these bad fats. The solution? Check ingredient lists and avoid anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils.
2. Multigrain: great, right? Must be synonymous with whole grain? Wrong. It simply means what is says: more than one kind of grain has been used in this products making – which could be whole or refined. What to do? Check the ingredient list: the first ingredient should start with “whole”. And why do we want the whole grain in the first place? Whole grains have been associated with lowered risk for heart disease, diabetes and better digestion.
3. 100% Natural: Because guidelines aren’t as strict regarding the labeling of items as “natural”, you may not actually be consuming something more wholesome. Huffington Post tells us “The FDA has no strict definition of the term, and many packaged foods claiming to be natural contain added chemicals and other substances. The USDA, which regulates meat and poultry, has a moreprecise definition (no artificial ingredients and minimally processed), but it still allows for some additives. In addition, it’s permissible to slap a “natural” label on meat and poultry from animals raised with antibiotics or hormones.” The answer? Check the ingredient list!
4. Organic: Organic products, which tend to be significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts, can be just as high in salt, sugar or calories, low in fiber and devoid of nutrients, depending on what the product is. What’s more, they may legally contain non-organic ingredients. There are some places you should try to choose organic (or look for labels stating pesticide-free), and Dr. Oz recommends them here.
5. High in Fiber: To increase the fiber content in some foods, “many packaged foods contain added fiber with names such as inulin, maltodextrin and polydextrose.” While they do add more fiber to the nutritional information, all fibers are not created equally and you do not get the same fiber health benefits that you would from naturally high-in-fiber foods, like fruits and vegetables.
6. No High Fructose Corn Syrup: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. In order to claim there are no high fructose corn syrups in its ingredients but keep it tasting delicious, food makers will simply add some other form of sweetener. The Huffington Post reminds us that “just because a product contains an alternative to HFCS — whether sugar, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup or agave nectar — doesn’t necessarily make it more healthful. All caloric sweeteners, if consumed in excess, can contribute to obesity and related health problems.”
7. Contains Sea Salt: while sea salt can contain traces of magnesium and copper, nutrients not found in table salt, in the general type added to packaged foods, these amounts are too small to pack any real benefit. And by weight, both contain about the same amount of sodium, which is what poses a health risk – so just because something contains sea salt doesn’t give the green light to indulge, the sodium still should be consumed in moderation.
8. Supports a Healthy Immune System: the Huffington Post tells us “by saying that a food “maintains” or “supports” normal functioning (such as a healthy immune system, blood pressure or cholesterol levels) instead of explicitly stating that it can treat or prevent a condition, manufacturers don’t have to provide any proof. As a result, any claims that use this type of sneaky language are best ignored.”
9. Excellent Source of Omega-3’s: Many studies have proven that fish oil is good for the heart, and consuming omega-3 fatty acids is a key term to look for to get these good oils. But it turns out you can also get omega-3’s from plant sources like flaxseed and canola oil (alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)), which is good but the health benefits are not nearly as well-documented as the omega-3s from fish oils. Thus many products containing the ALA form of omega-3’s, from mayonnaise to peanut butter, claim to be a fantastic source of these healthy fats, when you’d really be much better off getting your fish oils from fish, like salmon.
10. Serving Size: Always check the serving size, because companies love to make them quite small, resulting in a nutrition label boasting less calories, fat, sodium and sugar – when in reality you will be consuming multiples of these amounts. The Huffington Post reminds us that “snack-size” packages are especially misleading because they “seem to be single servings. Often the fine print reveals that they contain two or three servings, making them even less healthful than they appear.”
Thanks to Robert J. Davis, Ph.D. for doing the digging here. To see the full article, click here!