Yesterday, I had a chance to watch the Today show and I was very excited to see a special dedicated to interpreting food labels. These days, it is increasingly more difficult to cut through marketing claims to truly understand what it is you may or may not want to put in your body. We are often bombarded with claims such as “no added sugar”, “fat-free”, “no-trans-fat”, “free-range”, etc. So, what do all of these claims really mean and are they really healthy?
Below are a few of the food labels that were “demystified” on the Today show:
- “No Trans Fat” = No “artery-clogging” trans fat! However, other harmful fats, such as saturated fats, may be lurking within your food.
- “Fat-Free” = No fat. Even though the food doesn’t have fat, it can still be high in calories/cholesterol.
- “No Sugar” = No added white table sugar, also known as sucrose. The food still may have lots of calories and other sugars, such as sugar alcohols (e.g., sorbitol), fruit sugar (fructose), etc.
- “No High-Fructose Syrup”= No high-fructose syrup. However, other sugars can still be found in the food.
Meat and Poultry
- “Free Range” = The animal has free access to the outdoors. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the chickens are outdoors in a large, open barnyard. They may just have a small door open in which the chickens have access to it; yet they never actually go through it.
- “All Natural” = It comes from nature. This does not mean it is “organic.” There is very little regulation on the term “natural,” so pretty much anything goes…Additionally, not all things derived from nature are healthy (e.g., arsenic).
Grains and Fiber
- “100% Whole Wheat” = Look for this in the first ingredient; this is a significant source of fiber
- “Contains Whole Grains” = It contains whole grains. However, it doesn’t mean it is a good source of whole grains; it could just have some grains in the food.
- “Whole Grain Source” = Should have at least 3 grams of fiber. Remember not all fibers are created equal.
- “Contains Real Fruit” = It has fruit but how much? This claim does not mean a significant amount of fruit; it could be a mere drop. The best source of fruit is actual whole fruit.
As a certified health coach, I recommend trying to avoid the foods that are in packages as much as possible; these foods are often found in the center aisles of the grocery store. In other words, try to eat fresh foods on the parameter of the grocery store that do not require packages and labels that must be accompanied with demystifying tips. For example, a tomato is a tomato. Enough said.
If/when you do buy packaged food, focus your attention on the back of the package where you can read the ingredients (the most important!) as well as the nutrition facts label. This information will give you a better understanding of what is in the package vs. the misleading marketing language on the front of the package.
A General rule: the louder the health claims the less likely the food is healthy! Let the food speak for itself.
What types of claims/labels confuse you? Are there any that stand out more than others? Share your comments/questions below…