Food labels are there to help us get an idea of what we’re eating, right? So why is there so much information on there that is ambiguous, confusing or misleading? Today we’re going to look at the top 10 food label traps:
There’s no standard for describing something as “natural”. It gives the impression that the product has been formed of things that have just fallen off a tree, but it’s just a marketing word and can be used for a variety of reasons (e.g. “natural yogurt” just means unflavoured – you could use the same logic with plain potato chips!)
Organic is a helpful label to use when dealing with fresh – it gives you a distinction between an apple that’s been covered in pesticides and one that hasn’t. But when it comes to processed “organic” snacks, it’s fairly meaningless – all it means is that 70% of the ingredients are organic and the health benefits are neglible!
3) Whole grain bread
Again, whole grains are a good thing to have, and a great source of nutrtion. “100% whole grain” means that there is nothing but vitamin-packed whole grains in your bread (as defined by the USDA). But any bread which uses some whole grains can use the “whole grain” label, even if it’s not the main ingredient (the main ingredient will usually be white flour). Look out for 100% whole grain only.
4) Reduced sodium
This one’s fairly straightforward – it’s reduced sodium. That doesn’t mean it’s low in sodium, there’s just less than there is in a similar product. It can still be packed full of salt and be technically “reduced”.
On the other hand, you’d think this one would be bullet-proof. Gluten-free should mean there’s no gluten at all, right? (Essential for sufferers of celiac disease). But firstly, it’s not regulated and products can often contain rye and barley gluten, even if the wheat gluten has been taken out. Secondly, it’s almost impossible to make something truly gluten-free if it’s made in the same factory as wheat-based products. Needs further investigation!
6) Added vitamins
It might be true that your cereal has had vitamins added to it, but the sad fact is that vitamins aren’t as potent once they’ve been removed from their source and added to something else. Always go for whole foods if you want your vitamins to be effective!
7) Cholesterol free
Lots of things are labeled “cholesterol free” but they’re products you’d never expect to contain cholesterol in the first place, like potato chips. Cholesterol is only found in animal products, so saying that chips are cholesterol free are like saying they’re meat-free!
8) 0% trans fat
A simple maths trick here – when it comes to trans fat, anything less than 0.5g/serving can be rounded down to 0%. So your snack can still contain trans fat, even though the label says it doesn’t!
9) Packed with antioxidants
In a similar way to the added vitamins, out of context antioxidants just don’t have the same health benefits as biting into a pomegranate or chowing down some blueberries. By the time they’ve been packed into a fruit bar they’re not as good. Go back to the source where you can.
10) Calories per serving
And now, the most commonly misleading food label – calories per serving. The calories on the side of a chocolate bar will give you the nutrition for what the food industry deems a serving – sometimes that’s just two squares of chocolate! Always look at the calories for 100g and then work it out by the weight of the bar. Or just have tiny portions of everything…
Until next time,
Peace, love and vitamin C!
Jennifer Pretty began her career as the director of artist development for a well-known Canadian music label. Branching out on her own, she then started her own PR business “Pretty Media Management” planning and hosting various charity, entertainment and fashion events. As a dance and fitness class enthusiast Jennifer is a firm believer in the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. She also loves to cook, travel, spend time with family and friends and most importantly living life to the fullest!