We dietitians will go insane telling you to “READ LABELS”!!! And that is certainly true. Definitely look at every product’s nutrition facts and ingredients labels. Even doing this, however, there are some things on labels that will try to trick you into choosing their product over another. For this, I say, buyer beware. Here are 4 catch phrases and what they really mean.
1. “0 grams trans fat”
This is a new claim that is put on many processed foods to draw you to them. Most people realize that trans fats are one of the worst processed ingredients out there. Most people don’t know where trans fats come from, though. Lobbyists have gotten tricky and the FDA allows a product to claim 0g trans fats if there is up to 0.5 grams in the product. Thus, many companies are using juust enough to make it less than 0.5 gram per serving, or reducing the serving size. Don’t listen to them; instead look on the ingredients label for the word “partially hydrogenated”. Most people need to stay below 2 grams trans fat for the whole day — if you ate 6 products (2 each meal) with ~0.5 g trans fat, you would go over. You probably shouldn’t be eating that many processed foods, though, anyway.
2. “Whole Grain” Or “Made With Whole Grain”
So your doctor/dietitian/etc. told you to eat whole grains. That’s great!! You go to the store and buy something that says “whole grain” somewhere on the label. But what are you really getting? Claims that say “Made With Whole Grains” may just mean that one of the ingredients is a whole grain, and it could be very minimal. What about a product that says “Whole Grain ____ ” on it, like “Whole Grain Bread”? This means that at least 51% of the ingredients by weight are whole grain. Generally they can add white flours in there to cover the other 49%, but that 49% does include moisture, sugar, and other ingredients, so that is better. But what is the gold standard? Look for things that say “100% whole grain” on them. This is made with NO white refined flour, and should be the best option. Again, you have to look at the ingredients label to defeat the problem.
3. Low – Fat
Gummy bears are low fat. What does that tell you? Does being low-fat mean something is good for you? Of course not! It’s just another “claim” trying to get you to buy the product. And of course, they generally fill these products with SUGAR, which is worse than fat in my opinion. So avoid this party line, unless it was something you were going to buy anyway.
4. Reduced Sodium, or Less Sodium
Folks, this is another trick. This simply means that the product has a reduced amount of sodium from the original product. Let’s look at Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for an example. The original product has 890 mg per serving, almost half a day’s worth. The “Less Sodium” variety has 660 mg. Instead look for the words “Low sodium” which means less than 140 mg per serving, “No Salt Added”, “Sodium Free”, etc. Or just read the amount on the label.
So what’s a health nut to do? Read the nutrition facts and ingredients label, ESPECIALLY the ingredients label. Choose foods that DON’T have labels MOST of the time!! Fruits, vegetables, fresh meats — this products usually do not have food labels, which is a good thing! The more processed the food, the worse it usually is for you. If it comes in a box, BUYER BEWARE! We have to start taking charge of our own health before we allow food manufacturers to influence us with marketing schemes. Take charge and tell those manufacturers that you cannot be won over so easily!