Don't Get Caught in a Food Label Trap
Research has proven that adding health claims to front labels affects people’s food choices. And, some food label claims are extremely misleading.
Here are few buzz words that might confuse us:
- Light: “Light” products are processed to reduce either calories or fat, and some products are simply watered down. Check carefully as light on fat usually means heavy on sugar.
- Multigrain: This sounds very healthy, but it basically just means that there is more than one type of grain in the product, which is most likely refined grains, unless the product is marked as “whole grain”.
- Made With Whole Grain: There is probably very little whole grain in the product. Check the ingredients list and see where the whole grain is placed. If it is not in the first three ingredients, then the amount is negligible.
- Natural: This doesn’t necessarily mean the product resembles anything natural, but that at some point the manufacturer had a natural product like apples or rice to work with.
- Organic: This label says very little about whether the product is healthy or not, e.g. organic sugar is still sugar.
- No Added Sugar: Some products are naturally high in sugar. The fact that they don’t have added sugar doesn’t mean they’re healthy. They may well be loaded with natural sugars or have unhealthy sugar substitutes added.
- Low Calorie: Low calorie products have to contain 1/3 fewer calories than the same brand’s original product. However, one brand’s low-calorie version may contain similar calories as the original of another product.
- Low Fat: This label almost always means that the fat has been reduced at the cost of adding more sugar.
- Low Carb: Recently, low-carb diets have been linked with improved health. However, processed foods that are labelled “low-carb” tend to be just processed junk foods.
- Fortified or Enriched: Fortified means vitamins or minerals have been added to a food that weren’t originally in the food. For example, adding vitamin D to milk. Enriched means nutrients that were lost during food processing have been added back, e.g. adding back certain vitamins lost in processing wheat to make white flour.
- Gluten Free: Gluten-free does not automatically mean healthy. It simply means that the product doesn’t contain wheat, spelt, rye or barley. Many foods are gluten-free, but are highly processed and loaded with unhealthy fats and sugar.
- Fruit Flavored: Many processed foods refer to a natural flavor like strawberry yogurt, however, it may not contain any actual strawberries, only chemicals designed to taste like them. If the product does contain some natural flavoring from real fruit, and it’s not one of the first three ingredients listed, then it’s negligible.
- Zero Trans Fat: “Zero trans-fat” actually means “less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.” So if serving sizes are misleadingly small, the product can actually contain a lot of trans-fat.
Put simply, choose whole foods whenever possible. However, if you decide to buy packaged foods, it’s important to sort out the junk from the higher quality products. It is also very important to note that whole food doesn’t need an ingredients list, because the whole food is the ingredient. Eat well and feel fantastic.
Biswajit Borah has an MBA in Agribusiness Management from G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology. During his graduation he studied Agriculture with specialization in Tea Husbandry & Technology from Assam Agricultural University. He has been working in the Marketing & Sales Function of Dow Agrosciences in various locations in India. He is passionate about reading, creative writing and loves food. He is an ardent learner, dynamic team player and wishes to build a successful and ambitious career.