Thursday, June 2, 2011

5 Sneaky "Healthy" Labeling Tricks - Don't Fall For Them

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I run into people that truly feel they are eating something healthy because the packaging or marketing says it is "healthy". Just the other day, one of my co-workers told me he had a healthy breakfast; he felt all proud of himself. I asked him what he had. He proudly stated, "A Nature Valley granola bar!". It did not take long for me to take the wind out of his sails. I asked him to get the packaging and together we went over why his breakfast choice was not a good choice at all. 

America trusts big food companies way too much when it comes to labeling and marketing. We need to read the ingredient label first and then make our own decision on just how healthy the product really is. 

The FDA and manufacturers have once again been in the spotlight this week.  Manufacturers are stating that the FDA is hindering their amendments, as well as their lucrative businesses.  The FDA, however, is supposed to have our backs when it comes to products that are healthy and good for us.

There is much work to be done when it comes to deceptive labeling and educating people on what exactly they are taking in.  Claims such as “fat free," “trans fat free," and “helps to improve immunity,” are now coming under closer scrutiny than ever before.  Here the top 5 Sneakiest label claims of all time.

Claim #1: Made With 100% Whole Grain
One big claim in whole wheat or whole grain products is that the product is made with whole grains.  The whole grain part, which contains wheat germ and high levels of fiber, typically are processed away, leaving us only with bleached wheat flour.  A product needs to have 20% whole grains in order for us to get the healthy benefits from whole grain ingredients.  Most whole grain products fall short of this mark, ranging anywhere between 5-10%.  Flip the product over and be sure that the first ingredient is whole grain flour or some form of whole grains. This way you can be sure that you are getting the associated health benefits.

Claim #2: Made With 100% Real Fruit
Most people have heard the phrase 5-2-1-0, which was coined during these years of rising youth obesity.  The 5 in 5-2-1-0, stands for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which is great if you are using canned, frozen, or fresh fruit.  Products that claim they are made from 100% real fruit need to be examined a little closer.  Not only do some of these products contain little or no fruit or fruit juice in them, but they are made with artificial fruit flavors.  Some products have emerged on the market making the same such claim, but use fruit puree.  You are getting more real fruit added, but you are also adding more sugar and eliminating the good part of the fruit, which is what you get the healthy benefits from.

Claim #3: Trans-Fat Free
Some products claim that they are "Trans-Fat Free."  In order for a product to be trans-fat free, you would believe that they contain 0 grams right?  Not really!  A product needs to contain 0.5 grams or less of trans-fats to be considered trans-fat free.  One of the biggest misleaders in food labeling is how many products claim they are trans-fat free, but contain high levels of saturated fats, which naturally contain trans fat.   Saturated fat can come in two different forms, natural and artificial.  The natural kind are usually found in lean meats and some low-fat dairy products which should not overly concern us, but the artificial, which can comprise a good majority of people's diets, can contain high levels of trans fats.

Claim #4: Front Of Package Claims
There has been much debate lately on front-of-the-package labeling.  On the front of boxes, manufacturers are allowed to make health claims about their product, which most of the time is fine if they used enough of the nutrient to support that claim.  The products may not contain enough of that specific nutrient per serving to live up to the claim.  This is true for some kid’s cereals, and the FDA is hearing about it now.  Most of the cereal claims it is healthy, but can contain more added sugar and other artificial fillers that make the product both unhealthy and, in some cases, higher in calories.

Claim #5: No Added MSG
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is an additive that makes food taste better, and occurs naturally in some foods.  MSG can also lead to other health risks that most people do not know about.  Foods that are said to have “no added MSG,” or “No MSG,” can be labeled such because the manufacturer did not add any additional MSG to the product.  Instead they added some form of hydrolyzed protein which contains MSG.   For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “hydrolyzed,” this means that proteins are either treated with acid, or are treated with enzymes, which will contain some salts of free amino acids including glutamate, which is a main ingredient in MSG.

The FDA is starting the slow process of tightening their restrictions on such deceptive claims in the food industry.  Manufacturers, in turn, are fighting tooth and nail at eliminating these restrictions, claiming they are hindering their First Amendment rights to Free Speech.  Whatever happens in the battle, our health is of vital importance.  Learning to correctly read a label, or the FDA mandating the labels be easier for us to read, will hopefully lead us to make better choices on what exactly goes into our mouth.  So next time you are shopping, stick with whole food choices, such as meat, chicken, and fresh fruit in order to avoid some of the deceptive labeling in the food industry.

Sources: Kevin DiDonato MS, CSCS, CES - Prograde Nutrition

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