DON’T GET (APRIL) FOOLED!

In previous FamilyFit articles you learned the importance of reading nutrition labels. You know that reading the number of servings is important. And you know that the first ingredient in the label is the one that is the highest percentage (i.e. “water” in a juice drink). But did you know that many foods are marketed as “healthy” or “natural” or “organic” when they aren’t? When it isn’t illegal, many food manufacturers will walk the line between truth and fiction. We aim to arm you with the truth!


POTENTIALLY CONFUSING FOOD LABELS

Food labeling is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The nutrition information is very specific and we’re most familiar with the nutrition labels. The other aspect that the FDA regulates is the information classified as a “claim.” In a nutshell, false claims are not permitted.


When it isn’t illegal, many food manufacturers will walk the line between truth and fiction.
HERE ARE THE FOODS THAT YOU SHOULD KEEP AN EYE ON WHEN AT THE GROCERY STORE.
  • Natural foods. A food can be labeled as natural if it does not have synthetic ingredients, even though it may have been through a very unnatural process. For example, natural food could contain preservatives or, as in the case of raw chicken, be injected with sodium.
  • Multigrain or made “with” whole grain. If a product is “multigrain” that could just mean that it has multiple grains (of a much lesser percent). “Made with whole grain” only means that whole grains are included, and the rest could be bits and parts of grain. Look for whole grain or 100% whole wheat.
  • No sugar added. While sugar may not have been added, a juice could still contain ingredients like maltodextrin. If there is an ingredient that you can’t pronounce, you may want to choose another product.
  • Sugar-free. Like “no sugar added”, the “sugar-free” claim does not necessarily mean that there aren’t any bad things in the food product. A common substitution for sugar is a sugar alcohol like mannitol, xylitol or sorbitol.
  • No trans-fat. A no trans-fat product may contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. If you have multiple servings of that product, you could be getting several grams of trans-fat.
  • Free range. If you buy free range chicken, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your chicken was free to roam about and peck where it wanted. It most likely means that the chicken was only “exposed” to the outdoors. The chicken could have gone out for a stroll on a Thursday, for example.
  • Fat free. This is a big one. It might be called fat free, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have lots of other unnatural ingredients and calories. Once again, watch the serving size information and avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  • Gluten-free. This is a trendy trend for trendsetters, but is really only needed for people who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. If you don’t suffer from a specific medical condition, gluten-free should make no difference to your health.
  • Made with real fruit. The product may have fruit in it, but the fruit on the package photo may not be the one in the product. A 2012 lawsuit was filed (successfully) against Fruit Roll-Ups for their strawberry flavored roll-ups which contained no strawberries.
  • Cholesterol free. This does not mean zero cholesterol, but means the product contains less than 2 mg per serving.
  • Organic. This means that 95% or more of the ingredients must have been grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In some cases organic does not matter. For example, if a fruit has a peel that you will not eat, then organic does not matter in terms of health benefits.
  • Two-percent milk. This sounds like low-fat, but it is only a tiny bit less fat than “whole” milk which is 3.25 % fat. Non-fat is a much better choice.
  • One scoop. And how big is a scoop? Technically, a scoop is ½ cup. If you’re scooping out ice cream, your scoops could be double that size, meaning double the calories.


If you’re over a certain age, make sure you bring your reading glasses when you grocery shop, because you’ll need them to read all the nutrition label fine print.

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