Don’t be Fooled by “Health Food” Labels!
Fats, Sugars, Carbs, Salt, and lies!
The marketing of food products is a science within itself!
It used to be about bigger, better and more delicious. But now, due to current health trends, brands are marketing many foods as healthy choices.
We all know we shouldn’t always believe marketing, BUT are we really aware of just how deceptive labels can be?!
“How can we get healthier”? This is a big question in recent years. “Eat healthy food”. If only it was so simple to know that what we buy is actually as healthy as the label says it is!
Calories, fats, sugars and carbs! It’s all a lot to decipher! Then added to this there are so many misleading labelling tricks and traps, that sometimes it just all seems like too much to get our heads around.
I cannot explain all the ins and outs of calories, fats, sugars and carbs in one blog post. I’m assuming you are fairly aware of these, and what is good for your desired diet and own health journey. However, I would like to help you to recognise labelling than may be deceiving you!
Some buzzwords/phrases to be aware of:
- Fat Free / Low Fat
- Light / Lite
- All natural / Natural
- No cholesterol / low cholesterol / cholesterol free
- No sugar added
- Refined sugar free
- Heart Smart
- Whole grains
- Grass fed
- Free range
- Baked not fried
I am not saying that all of these words on labels are necessarily loopholes or false claims, but they are worth looking into further.
Here are some examples of what to look out for and why:
- The word “lite” or “light” is used to describe the texture of food and people are lead to believe this means it’s healthy.
- “Refined sugar free” and “no added sugar” – I highly recommend checking these labels for their sugar content as you will find there is usually a lot of sugar (over 5g) and/or added fructose, dextrose, corn syrup, brown sugar, malt or glucose, which are all sugars. There also may be substantially high levels of artificial sweeteners in these products.
- Similarly, claims such as “all natural ingredients” does not mean a product is healthy – it may be laden with natural sugars.
- The word “Natural” is not a regulated term in the food standards code. Thus, the term does not mean that Mother Nature grew it. These terms are very loosely defined and anyone can use them.
- Words like “Pure” have no regulated meaning, so beware of them.
- “Enriched” – this is an indication of a highly processed food that has nutrients (often synthetic).
- “Baked not fried” may sound healthier, but the product may contain just as much fats and sugars – check the label.
- The claims ‘no cholesterol’, ‘low cholesterol’ or ‘cholesterol free’ on foods derived from plants, like margarine and oil, are meaningless because all plant foods contain virtually no cholesterol. However, some can be high in Omega 6 polyunsaturated fat and trans fats and can contribute to inflammation.
- “Low in Fat” – check the sugar content! Usually the lower fat version of a product has a higher sugar content! Thus, it is better to buy the full fat options!
- Percentages – when a percentage of fat is stated, like “80% fat free” – remember this is the same as 20% fat, which could be the normal amount of fat in a first place. Plus it may have sugars added.
- “Good source of …” – this just means that there is 25% of the RDI for that vitamin or mineral.
- Claims are also often made about a food product that relate to one nutrient or substance within that food. For example the claim on packaging like; “diets high in calcium can reduce the risk of osteoporosis”.
- “wholegrains” – manufacturers use these terms regardless of the quantity of whole grain that the food contains; for example, the product may be made with refined flour and traces of whole grains.
- Claiming to be “Organic” can also be a sham – unless it is certified with the stamp printed on the label then it is just a claim made in order to sell you a product at a more expensive rate!
Avoiding fats, sugars or salt
If you are trying to avoid fat, sugar or salt, be aware that they may be added in many forms and scattered all over the ingredients list. A common example of this is sparkling mineral water, which contains high levels of sodium (approx. 11 times the salt content of tap water!) It will not display this obviously on the label. There are many more examples of this for fat, sugar and salt inclusion.
Manufacturers would argue that not telling the whole truth, hiding ingredients within other ingredients on the label, or making false or misleading claims is okay as long as it’s within the law. Selling products is business after all, and your health concerns and dietary requirements are another story!
This is such a big topic and it’s not possible for me to cover it in its entirety in a blog post. I have highlighted the most common concerns on food labels. It is so important to be aware of these types of trickery, and to be more alert towards food labels in general. Always check the nutrition labels on products you buy. As a general rule; the less ingredients in a product label the better, and the more recognisable the ingredients are, the better. Products laden with claims and buzz words are worth being suspicious of. Remember we may be conscious of our diet and health interests, but marketers will say what they can to sell you anything!
The best way is to stick to whole foods when you can, prepare things yourself from scratch, and preferably stay with certified organic produce 🙂