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Top 5: Misleading Nutrition Labels

Recently, US News published a very interesting article about things that the food industry doesn’t want you to know.  I was SO glad to see someone expose the industry on all of the commonly deceptive tactics that they employ.  ESPECIALLY when it comes to false advertising.

Aside from food companies’ obviously transparent claims, such as Coca Cola’s ad campaign that assimilates Coke as ‘sunscreen for your insides‘, there are tons of things that the food industry stealthily does to dupe the consumer into believing that their products are good for you, when in reality they aren’t.   The worst offense, in my mind, is labeling products so that they appear healthier than they are by distracting the customer away from the more unhealthy ingredients.  Some of my favorite misleading labels include:

0 Trans Fats: Trans fats are industrially created by partially hydrogenating plant oils; making them more saturated, with a higher melting point and longer shelf-life.

  • Why the Label Is Used: Trans fats have gotten a bad wrap and have been banned in some cities.  As a result, product companies are trying to disassociate themselves with this kind of fat.
  • My Beef with the Label: First off, if these fats are industrially created, then there is no reason that a product should have them in the first place.  Second, just because a food has 0 Trans Fats doesn’t mean the food is non-fat or low-fat; and if the product does contain fat, it may contain saturated fat, which is still a very unhealthy fat.

Contains Whole Grains: Flour made with whole grains is much better for you than processed or bleached flour.  You get more fiber and benefits from the whole grain variety.

  • Why the Label Is Used: Many cereal, bread and baked good product companies have been publicizing their use of whole grains in their products to make their products seem more healthful than those that use processed flour.
  • My Beef with the Label: Unfortunately, once again, having whole grains doesn’t mean it is healthy.  The product may contain a lot of sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and fat.

Low-Fat: Many foods that aren’t naturally low in fat, especially baked goods (e.g., cookies, cakes, brownies, muffins), have lower fat options.

  • Why the Label Is Used: These products are popular with dieters because they appear to be more healthful than their higher fat counterparts.  Further, lower fat is often associated with lower calories.
  • My Beef with the Label: Low-fat versions of higher fat foods often contain GOBS of sugar and are very high in simple and refined carbohydrates.  So, in reality, the products are often not any better for you…in essence, you are substituting one bad ingredient for another bad ingredient.

Sugar-Free: Much like those foods that are low in fat, naturally sugary foods have seen an influx of ‘sugar-free’ options.  Often, these are good options for diabetics or individuals who have blood sugar problems.

  • Why the Label Is Used: Sugar, like fat, adds a lot of calories to a product.  As a result, this label appeals to dieters who are looking to reduce their caloric intake, further expanding a product company’s market share.
  • My Beef with the Label: Dietetic options are often made with artificial sweeteners.  Many artificial sweeteners (E.g., splenda, nutrasweet, aspartame, etc.) are highly controversial and in many studies have been linked to cancer.  If it isn’t natural, stay away from it!

No Sugar Added: A food is allowed to boast this on the label if no sugar or sugar-containing ingredient (for example, fruit juices, applesauce, or dried fruit) is added during processing or packing.

  • Why the Label Is Used: The point is to promote the product as being lower calorie than a product that may have added sugar in it.  This appeals to those individuals who don’t necessarily like the ‘sugar-free’ option, but don’t want any additional sugar in their products.
  • My Beef with the Label: If a product is already pretty sweet (E.g., fruit juices), there is no reason to add sugar, so why do you need to advertise it?  Further, some products that claim ‘no sugar added’ may still use other sweeteners, either artificial or natural. These may include: turbinado, honey, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup or lactose. All of which have calories, contribute to weight gain and contain carbohydrates.

As always, the best thing you can do is to learn how to read ingredient lists and nutrition labels.  This will ensure that you really know what is inside the product.

Have you come across any misleading labels that you would like to warn us about?

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Posted in Brett's Blog, Nutrition Tagged with: , ,