Healthy Eating: Five deceptively deceitful labels

Is it really healthy? Or is it just a marketing ploy? Find out what “lightly sweetened”, “natural”, “multigrain” and a few more labels really mean.

February 14, 2013 15:47
3 minute read.
Whole grain

Healthy Eating: Five deceptively deceitful labels. (photo credit: Wikicommons)


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As more and more food companies hop aboard the “healthy” train, we are seeing an increasing number of advertisements that speak to a product’s nutritional content. However, perceptive marketers have taken it one step further, slapping labels across everything from canned soups, to bread, to even cookies and candy claiming that the product contains added vitamins, real whole grains or is “natural.” Unfortunately, many food labels can be very misleading, leading people to think they are choosing healthy foods when they are not.

Here's a list of five of the most common and most misleading “catch words” slapped across some of our favorite foods:

Excellent source of Vitamin C

If you walk down any food aisle of a supermarket you’ll probably notice that many food products have labels claiming that they are high in Vitamin C. Now what could be wrong with that? After all this vitamin is without doubt chock full of health benefits.

However, if you eat a decent amount of fruit and vegetables each day, you are more than likely getting more than enough Vitamin C. One orange supplies more than 100 percent, with berries offering more than two-thirds of your daily intake and one red pepper offers a whopping 150% of the recommended daily amount. So you really don’t need to be tempted by sugary snack products such as Fruit Roll Up, which advertise that they contain 50% of your daily intake of this skin beneficial vitamin.

Multigrain or Whole wheat

Fiber is all the rage right now, with many of us trying to cram our diets with as much of this nutrient as possible – after all it has been linked with weight loss and many disease-fighting benefits. But what does multigrain or whole wheat really mean? How much of the product is really whole grain?

Unfortunately many products labeled "multigrain" and "whole wheat" are typically made with refined grains (white flour), and so you're not reaping the full nutritional benefit of the whole grain. To make sure your bread is really full of whole grains, check out (or ask about) the nutritional information to make sure that the first ingredient is “whole grain” or “whole-wheat flour.” Also, check out where bleached or "unbleached enriched wheat flour" lies on the list, as this will indicate how much refined flour is really in your food.

Labeled as “Natural”

With organic products growing in popularity, more and more people are scouting the grocery store aisles for organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese and even cookies. But where does natural fit in the mix?

First things first, natural does not mean organic – in fact this unregulated term can be slapped across product that is loaded with artificial ingredients, chemicals and preservatives. So make sure to read the labels carefully to find out if the product is really hormone and pesticide free and that you are not just falling for this advertising trap.

“Only” Lightly Sweetened

“Lightly” generally means a little or less of – however, just like the term “natural” there is no regulation of the label “lightly sweetened”, and so it is completely up to the discretion of the manufacturer to determine what they consider “lightly sweetened” to mean. And for some cereal manufactures this can mean 14 grams of sugar per serving, not just a teaspoon.

Marked as Gluten Free

In the past two years we have heard more and more about going “Gluten-free”. A diet once reserved to those who suffer from celiac disease, many people are flocking to this eating regime as a way to reduce symptoms from gluten sensitivity. And with the market size growing, it’s no wonder that we are seeing Gluten free products pop up everywhere. But how many of these products are truly gluten-free?

According to Pam King, director of operations and development at the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, not all gluten-free products are free of rye or barley gluten, which may be just as problematic.

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