The healthiest food often has the least marketing muscle behind it. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently published a comprehensive report on the subject, a persuasive indictment called “Food Labeling Chaos.”
Here are nine of the most common ways food labels lie, so you can prepare before your next trip to the grocery store.
“Made With Whole Grains”
Unbleached wheat flour is still the main ingredient; whole wheat flour is further down on the list, indicating that the product contains relatively little. One truth — the presence of whole grains — masks another; that whole grains make up an insignificant portion of the food.
Another factor to keep in mind is the presence of potassium bromate, a dough conditioner found in commercial bakery products and some flours, which is a major, but hidden cause of thyroid dysfunction. This ingredient may be used even in whole grain breads. For more information, please review this previous article.
Even if the first ingredient listed isn’t sugar, the product may contain more sugar than anything else. How is it possible? Just add up all the sugars that go by different names, such as sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and white grape juice concentrate.
There are 2.5 official servings in a 20 ounce soda bottles, meaning that 100 calories per “serving” is really 240 calories per bottle.
Everyone knows omega-3 fats are healthy, but that doesn’t mean every product emblazoned with the word is a healthy source of it. The FDA allows certain foods that are rich in two of the omega-3 fats to advertise that they can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, but only if they’re also low in saturated fats or other risk factors. Which is why some unhealthy foods use a bit of marketing misdirection: the packaging has the word “omega-3,” but nothing specifically about heart health.
“Made With Real Fruit”
Usually the only thing approximating fruit is concentrate (sugar). If you want real fruit, buy real fruit. If you want candy, buy candy.
“0 Trans Fat”
Many reformulated foods are basically just as bad, but they scream one truth: “0 trans fats!” to obscure another: “still bad for your heart!”
“Free Range Eggs”
This means chickens must be granted the luxury of exactly five minutes of “access” to the outdoors every day. Those eggs you buy may have been raised ethically, with room enough for hens to roam the yard. But there’s no guarantee in the “free range” label.
The fibers advertised in many foods are mainly “purified powders” called inulin, polydextrose and maltodextrin. These “isolated” unnatural fibers are unlikely to lower blood cholesterol or blood sugar, as other fibers can.
Tastes Like Medicine!
The FDA allows food manufacturers to make certain pre-approved “qualified health claims” about the health benefits of nutrients in food. But marketers have stretched this inch into a long mile. For instance, food makers can’t say that their product “helps reduce the risk of heart disease” without FDA approval, so they say that it “helps maintain a healthy heart.”
That’s why several public health groups, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, have voiced concern about this trend.