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Nutrition Tip of the Week: Reading Misleading Food Labels (Part 1)

Some manufactures claim “light” or “lite” indicates that the food product has 50% less fat than its original product and/or the calories have been reduced by at least 33%. However, be cautious. Some companies go so far as to use this term as a description of the color of the product and the flavor, not the calories or fat.

Nutrition Tip 9-10-21

Misleading Food Labels (Part 1)

Food labels can be very confusing these days making it incredibly hard to parse real nutritional information from misleading marketing hype. For instance, we’ve all seen the boxes of highly sugared children’s cereals touting “Made with whole grains” on the front of the box. Fruity Pebbles being marketed as a “healthy” option? Come on now!

Over the next few weeks, we are going to explore the most common misleading terms that food manufacturers use to dupe us into believing that we are making healthy choices for ourselves and our families. Not only are we misled about the ingredients of the product, but we are also willing to pay much higher prices when we see some of these meaningless words and phrases.

“All Natural” or “Natural”

This is the most common misleading term used in the industry. There is no formal oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on food items labeled “all natural.” Interestingly, there is no definition by the FDA of “all natural.” This means foods labeled as “natural” may still contain preservatives and high fructose corn syrup or be injected with sodium solutions (like raw chicken) to appear plumper and more appealing.

“No Sugar Added”

“No sugar added” is not indicative of a low-sugar food. This term can be confusing because many foods, including fruit and fruit juices, dairy products, and vegetables naturally contain sugar. The problem is that although these products may not have added sugar, they still may contain high amounts of natural sugars. “No sugar added, 100% juice,” for instance, is free of added sugar but is still full of sugar. And “no sugar added” products may contain added ingredients like maltodextrin, a simple carbohydrate. This poses a bigger problem for people with diabetes or anyone trying to control blood sugar. Think about this: one cup of 100% juice with “no sugar added” grape juice has 36 grams of sugar. The same amount of grape soda has 27 grams of sugar. Want your head to spin? Check the sugar content of your favorite fruit juices compared to popular sodas.

 

“Light” or “Lite”

Some manufactures claim “light” or “lite” indicates that the food product has 50% less fat than its original product and/or the calories have been reduced by at least 33%. However, be cautious. This claim is not valid for all foods containing those words. Some companies go so far as to use this term as a description of the color of the product and the flavor, not the calories or fat. Olive oil and other salad dressings, for example, can be described as “light” even if they are not reduced-calorie. You will also notice that products like “light” breads are generally just smaller pieces and often cost more money than their full-size counterparts.

“Multigrain” or “Made with Whole Grains”

When a product says “multigrain,” it means that more than one kind of flour or grain was used to make that product. Multigrain only refers to the number of grains and not the quality of the grain. More often than not, multigrain products contain a variety of refined grains and lack any whole grains.

When shopping for healthy breads, crackers, and cereals, look for the words “whole grain” or “100% whole wheat.” Additionally, “made with whole grains” means that only some of the grains used are whole grains, and they are generally pretty far down the ingredients list—not the main ingredient.

Whole grains have more fiber and other nutrients than those that have been refined, a process that strips away the healthiest portions of the grain.

Color is not a good indicator of whole grains, as caramel color is often added.


If you have a question for Coach Gillian and our Nutrition Coaches that you’d like to see answered in future issues of the Friday Five Newsletter, please fill out the form below.

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