Friday, February 19, 2010

6 Common, but Misleading Food Label Claims:
A recent New York Times blog post discussed phrases frequently used to tout the health benefits of foods. As a conscious consumer, don't be duped by these non-regulated claims. These terms should make you raise your eyebrows and a take a closer look at the label.

1. "Lightly-sweetened"
Cereal packages often contain the phrase "lightly sweetened" to suggest less sugar. But the FDA doesn't regulate the term, so your "lightly-frosted" wheat-somethings, for instance, are probably loaded with sugar.
2. "A good source of fiber"
Often the fiber in some products that claim they are "a good source of fiber" doesn't come from traditional sources -- such as whole grains, bean, vegetables or fruit -- known to have health benefits. Instead, added "isolated fibers" made from chicory root or purified powders of polydextrose, that haven't been shown to be beneficial, are used.
3. "Strengthens your immune system"
This is the kind of clever word-smithing that gets around FDA rules about health claims and indicates that product will help ward off disease, even if it won't. Other phrases to look out for include "a daily dose of vitamin C" (often seen on frozen vegetables packaging) and "Antioxidants to help support the immune system."
4. "Made with real fruit"
Often fruit is pictured on the packaging and is in such small quantities that its health benefits are negligible. Many products that contain said fruit also are loaded with corn syrup and sugar.
5. "Made with whole grains"
This one is tricky and a doctor friend explained it to me after I asked what type of bread is the healthiest. Many food products can claim that they contain whole grains. This is true even if refined flour is first ingredient and the amount of whole grains (such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, and whole wheat) are minimal.
6. "All natural"
This one seems to be the biggie. The FDA has issued several warning letters to companies making misleading "all natural" claims, but they also never made any formal rules about it. As a result, many products say they are "all natural," but officially speaking, the phrasing on packaging is pretty useless.

The bottom line? Keep your eyes peeled and your "all natural" radar tuned to high when you enter a food store. Want to eliminate some of the need to read food labels? Know where your food comes from. And just remember, a bright berry, berry colored cereal may not be berry good for you.
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