Don’t Fall for Misleading Product Labels
Don’t Fall for Misleading Product Labels
by Julie Adams, MS, RD, LDN
April Fool’s Day has come and gone, but don’t let misleading health claims fool you into buying certain packaged foods. The Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates some claims but not others. Studies have shown that shoppers place a lot of trust in food labels, so let’s clear up the confusion.
Be aware of clever phrases that trick you into thinking a food is better for you.
“Natural” or “All Natural” does not equate to a lack of artificial ingredients. In fact, there’s no official definition for these terms. Added sugars, sodium and refined carbohydrates all qualify as “natural,” yet overconsumption of these ingredients is clearly tied to multiple chronic health conditions. Instead, try to choose unprocessed, whole foods in their original state. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seafood do not require ingredient lists because they are truly “natural.” Also bear in mind that there are many wholesome packaged foods, such as canned beans, bagged whole grains, as well as frozen fruits and vegetables, that deserve a spot in your freezer or pantry. A quick glance at the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list will tell you if the package in your hand has excessive added sugar, sodium/salt or refined grains.
Grains are packed with dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, so if the product is “multigrain” it’s better, right? Not necessarily. The term “multigrain” simply means there are more than one type of grain in the product…and they could be refined. To tell if a bread, pasta, cracker, cereal of other product is a good source of whole grains, look for the word “whole.” Products with the words “whole wheat” or “whole grain” are the real deal. You can also check out the carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio to see if you have a good source of whole grains. Simply divide the total carbohydrate grams by the dietary fiber grams. If the result is less than 10 grams, it’s a good source of fiber. Most products with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving are a safe bet.
We can be assured that foods with the green and white USDA Organic label have been produced without certain pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. However, certified organic doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Organic junk food is still junk food. Eating a bag of organic cheese puffs, cookies or gummy bears won’t protect you from added sugars and saturated fats, even if the sugar and fat has organic origins. Organic doesn’t mean “more nutritious.”
It’s an Excellent Source of…!
This label means a serving provides at least 20% of the daily value of the particular nutrient. Like certified organic, check the rest of the ingredients to confirm the food’s nutrition status. For instance, yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, but may also contain excessive amounts of added sugar. The recommended daily limit of added sugar is 25 grams. Many flavored yogurts come close to this amount in a single serving.
People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity rely on this label to confirm the product has less than 20 part per million gluten (but they should still check the ingredient listing). For the rest of us, there is no evidence that gluten-free products are healthier. Many gluten-free products lack important vitamins and minerals, and may actually contain higher concentrations of added sugars and salt. Adding to the confusion, manufacturers are adding this claim to foods that are naturally gluten-free, like bottled water.
This claim says the food is comparatively lower in something unwanted – usually fat, cholesterol, sugar, sodium or calories. On balance, this doesn’t ensure the product is a healthy choice. Reduced fat foods are often loaded with added sugar to improve the flavor sacrificed by cutting fat. Translation: insulin spikes that can lead to weight gain.
The Bottom Line
Package claims are designed to influence purchase decisions. They are not a trustworthy source of a product’s overall healthfulness. Take the time to read the ingredient label and Nutrition Facts panel. Compare your options and purchase products with wholesome ingredients, lower in added sugars and saturated fat and higher in dietary fiber.
Interested in more tips to improve your food choices? Contact our office today at 224-407-4400 or at www.compgihealth.com to meet with one of our trained registered dietitians!
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