Food labels are supposed to be a place that we look for nutrition information when we are choosing what to eat, and for the health conscious they are what allow us to monitor what we are eating and to avoid eating anything that will damage our attempts at a healthy diet. However while that’s the idea, it’s also unfortunately something that food manufacturers can somewhat take advantage of by using them essentially as a market platform and by bragging about the special and super-healthy ingredients in their products.
Of course this leads sometimes to food companies essentially lying, or at least stretching the truth, in order to get punters to buy their items. By either bending the truth, or just exaggerating, it’s possible for food companies to make their items seem much more nutritious and to sell a lot more as a result. The savvy customer needs to be aware of these strategies and needs to recognize the more common food label lies. Here are some for you to watch out for.
‘With Added Vitamin C!’
This isn’t a lie, but it is right away somewhat misleading. That’s because it’s often the case that although vitamin C, calcium, or whatever else has been added, it’s actually not highly bioavailable and a lot of it won’t be of any use to the body instead just simply passing through. And to make matters worse, sometimes that vitamin C, or calcium or whatever is only added in the first place because it was previously removed by the processes that the food went through. For instance you will often see that cereal has added minerals – this is actually because many of the minerals are lost from the ingredients when the cereal is manufactured, resulting in it being too un-nutritious for it to be legally sold. Thus the companies then add in more calcium and magnesium and whatever else – but our body can’t really use it. Although it says on the packaging ‘with added calcium’ then, it actually has less useful calcium than it started with.
‘100% Natural Products’
This is a difficult claim for anything to make because the definition of natural is so slippery to begin with. What constitutes something as being natural? If it means that it has been subject to no man made processes then 9/10 times this just isn’t true. I mean look at bread – it doesn’t grow from the ground like that, so what’s a ‘natural sandwich’??
If you drink diet Pepsi or Coke in an attempt to get less sugar, then you are taking good strides. However what they don’t tell you is that these products use sugar replacements and sweeteners which come with problems of their own – apart from anything else drinking diet Pepsi will cause your body to use up all of your blood sugar because it will mistake the sweetener for a sugar high. That then leaves your system craving even more sugar and isn’t great if you’re diabetic. Meanwhile it can also damage your teeth quite badly so ‘low sugar’ really doesn’t mean ‘healthy’.
Recently Cheerios had to change their marketing campaign after claiming they could reduce cholesterol. This was because the FDA pointed out that in that case they were claiming to prevent or treat disease and would have to go through some rigorous testing. They now state that Cheerios ‘may help’ to lower cholesterol.
‘Made With… ‘
‘Made with whole grain’ or ‘made with real fruits’ is a bit of a loose term yet again – as there’s a very thin line between having something in your food and it being made with it. For instance just because you drop a strawberry into an ice cream doesn’t mean it’s made with strawberries.
‘0% Trans Fats’
There is a specific case of Doritos getting away with a very tricky lie. Basically the crisps advertise themselves as having 0% trans fats which is actually untrue. The reason they get away with it is that the FDA allows manufacturers to say their products are free of something as long as they contain under 0.5 grams of that substance. But because you should eat no more than 2 grams of trans fats a day, which makes it very easy to OD on these cholesterol causing fats without knowing you’d eaten any.
‘One of Your Five a Day’
Almost everything claims to be ‘one of your five a day’ and that includes even spaghetti hoops. There’s a lot wrong with this claim however, such as the fact that actually we are supposed to eat more than five portions of fruit and veg a day (more like 7-9), and the fact that fruit and vegetables contain fiber – which the juice drinks and spaghetti hoops of the world don’t. So don’t think that anything is really a good substitute for real fruit.
Even the names of your foods can be misleading – such as Mission Garden Spinach Wraps which actually don’t contain any spinach, or some brands of tuna paste that actually have more cod in them than tuna – and don’t get me started on some of the processed meats found in burgers and sausages.
In all these cases you should know you have a friend – the list of ingredients on the back. By law these must include the ingredients in order of what’s there in the highest quantities. Ignore the hyperbole and the preposterous claims on the front, and instead turn the product over and cast a critical eye over the ingredients.