In trying to be health conscious, we tend to believe that we are safe if we just pay attention to food labels. Unfortunately that is not true. Why? Because food labels are misleading and prompt us to purchase items that we think are good for us but really aren’t. Listed below are ten common labeling tricks to be aware of as we head into the New Year!
No Trans Fat – If a product has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, a.k.a. “the bad fat,” it can legally be rounded down to zero, so be careful of how much trans fat-free food you consume. In order to avoid it, steer clear of anything containing partially hydrogenated oils.
Multigrain – The word “multigrain” is not synonymous with “whole grain” and “whole wheat.” Multigrain simply means the food is made from several grains, which may be whole or refined. To make sure the food is rich in whole grains, check the ingredients. The first one listed should contain the word “whole.”
All-Natural – When you see the word “natural” on a label, you assume that a food contains no artificial ingredients and is therefore more wholesome. If only that were true! Unfortunately the FDA has no strict definition of the term, so many packaged foods that claim to be “natural” have added chemicals and other substances.
Organic – There is no proven evidence that “organic” produce is any more healthful than the conventional kind, yet we certainly pay a premium for it. Organic food can be just as high in salt, sugar or calories, low in fiber, and missing key nutrients.
High in Fiber – The best kind of fiber comes from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Packaged foods that want to boost their fiber content often add ingredients like inulin, maltodextrin, and polydextrose. These ingredients do contribute to the total “fiber count,” but haven’t been proven to offer the same health benefits as the sources mentioned above.
No High-Fructose Corn Syrup – This term sounds “bad” for you, but high-fructose corn syrup is actually no worse than common table sugar. Both have a similar chemical makeup and both contain about the same number of calories.
Contains Sea Salt – The name “Sea Salt” sounds a whole lot healthier than regular salt, but in fact is not. By weight, both contain about the same amount of sodium that poses a health risk.
Supports a Healthy Immune System – We often see products on the shelf that “boost immunity” or “ward off illness.” Unfortunately there is little or no evidence for such claims. This deception is permitted because of a loophole in labeling rules; by saying that a food “maintains” or “supports” normal bodily functions (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. So beware of the “sneaky” language!
Excellent Source of Omega-3′s – The best way to get your omega-3’s is through fish like salmon. Omega-3’s are good for your heart, and although many products like mayonnaise and peanut butter contain them, they only contain a form of omega 3’s known as ALA. These omega-3’s come from plant sources like flaxseed and canola oil rather than fish.
Serving Size – Beware of unrealistic serving sizes! We often consume more than the amount on the label, so we wind up getting more calories, saturated and trans fat, and sodium than the label indicates.
A word to the wise – don’t trust everything you read! Be a smart shopper and scrutinize the label. I once read somewhere that if a product has more than five ingredients, it is not necessarily your healthiest option. The problem then becomes trying to find that healthy alternative!