Nearly 90% of all food advertisements are for processed foods and alcohol. WHAT THE?! That means that very often, the more marketing dollars behind a food, the more processed it is. These marketing dollars are also spent on nutrition labels–the grocery store billboard you are bombarded with when shopping for food. Below is a list of how nutrition labels can trick us into thinking a food is healthier for us than it really is. These are not the only examples of how food manufacturers get away with using buzzwords to their advantage, but they are the most prevalent.
Of course, there’s a way to avoid worrying about all of this altogether. Eat superfoods! These usually don’t even have labels or try to make healthy claims. The food speaks for itself.
Remember, you are in control of what you eat. Always read your ingredient labels (on the back, not the front of the package) and know what you’re buying. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, your body probably won’t recognize it either, and if it can’t be made in your kitchen, it’s probably not a good idea to eat it.
Nutrition Label Lie 1: “Natural” or “Pure”
The words sound wholesome and even healthful, but these words mean don’t actually have an official definition. It doesn’t guarantee anything healthful, organic, or good for you. Food labeled “natural” can contain genetically modified organisms (“GMO’s”, defintiely not natural!), refined sugar, pesticides, heavy metal toxins, MSG, and lots of other non-natural ingredients. Also note that if you see “natural flavors” listed in the ingredients of a “natural” product, don’t think here’s anything natural about them.
Natural flavors are created in a lab and are supposed to imitate flavors found in nature. Not exactly natural.
Nutrition Label Lie 2: “Zero Trans Fat”
Trans fats are now well acknowledged as anything BUT a superfood. Food marketers know this, so they claim that their products have zero trans fat in them…except sometimes they STILL DO! Typically “zero” means “none”, but according to the FDA, if one serving of a product contains less than 0.5 grams of any nutrient (including trans fat, sugar, or calories), then they can put “0 grams” on the nutrition facts label. Just think about if you eat several servings of that product. Even if a label says there are 0 grams of trans fat, look on the ingredients label for partially hydrogenated oil.
If it’s on there, it has trans fat.
Nutrition Label Lie 3: Serving Size
This isn’t really a “lie”, but many people do no pay attention to that and just eat the whole package! Check the serving size AND how many servings per container to get a real picture of what you are consuming. Granted, this way of eating is not about focusing on calories, but you may want to consider calories and quantity when you happen to consume the not-so-superfoods.
When you can’t control the quality of food, you can try to control the quantity.
Nutrition Label Lie 4: “Lower” Salt, Sodium, Sugar, Fat, etc.
The fact that food manufacturers are reducing certain “bad” nutrients means that they are probably adding worse ingredients as their replacement. If they didn’t, the product probably wouldn’t taste that good! For example, lowering the salt means they probably added sugar or artificial flavors. If they lowered the fat, they probably added…sugar. If they lowered the sugar they probably added…artificial sugar.
Awesome. Thanks guys…for nothing.
Nutrition Label Lie 5: “No MSG”
Monosodium Glutamate, a known neurotoxin (toxic to the brain), is a flavor enhancer that many people try to avoid. Just because there is no MSG listed in the nutrition label does not mean that it is not in the product. This is because there are many derivatives of MSG. Look for the words hydrolyzed, autolyzed, and yeast extract, and this may be MSG.
Nutrition Label Lie 6: “Whole Grain” or “Made with Whole Grains”
As with “natural” there is no official definitely of “whole grain”. Anything that once started as a grain, but was then refined, and made into flour can still be called “whole grain”. In addition, the amount of these “whole grains” isn’t specified, even if it is less than 5% of the ingredients. The same applies to “made with real fruit” and it could possibly contain an insignificant amount of actual fruit.
Nutrition Label Lie 7: “Gluten-free”
This is a popular “health claim” right now since many people are under the misconception that if something is gluten-free, it is better for you. Gluten-free processed foods, like gluten-free pizza and pancakes, are still processed foods. Furthermore, some products labeled gluten free could be produced in a facility that is not dedicated gluten-free so the possibility of cross-contamination is there and the product could contain trace amounts of gluten.
Recap: The majority of your food purchases should come without labels or health claims.
Often health claims are used to distract you from what the product is actually made of. Food marketers are smart, but you are now smarter!
About the Author
Jenny Westerkamp, RD is a holistic-minded registered dietitian and author of the upcoming book, Green Foods for Men. In Chicago, Jenny is the nutritionist for CJK Foods, a prepared meal service featuring organic, local, clean superfood ingredients. Previously, Jenny was a sports nutritionist for SportFuel, Inc. where she consulted one-on-one with professional athletes and active people. She is also the author of You Are What You Retweet: 140 Social Media Rules to Eat By.