Beware: Meaningless Food Labels

Beware: Meaningless Food Labels
By Angela Silva |

As a health conscious people, checking food labels is commonplace when we go to the grocery store. We are bombarded with terms such as “organic,” “all-natural,” “trans-fat free,” and have an idea of what to look for on the label– calories, calories from fat, carbohydrates, sugar, sodium, and the list goes on.

We want to think that we know what foods are healthy and what foods are not, but the food industry is making it trickier than ever to discern the good from the bad.

For example, Greek yogurt is a very popular health food right now. Its package claims that it’s all natural, nonfat, and includes real fruit. For most people, those are reasons enough to believe it’s a healthy option.

What most people don’t realize is that the ingredients list tells a different story.  Sure, you may skim the ingredients list for terms such as “sugar,” “high fructose corn syrup,” and the other common terms for sugar, and delightfully choose the product when you discover none of those terms. But what you don’t notice is the term “evaporated cane juice” listed on that label.

Evaporated cane juice is nothing more than sugar. If you check the label, you’ll notice there’s 19 grams of it in that Greek yogurt. Many companies have been facing lawsuits for their deceiving ingredients lists. So how can you tell if what you think is healthy is indeed healthy? Here is a list of common food labels and their actual meanings.

  • Organic: These are products that are free of antibiotics, preservatives, growth hormones, and trans fat. These are regulated by the USDA and must have the USDA ORGANIC seal on the packaging.  There are 3 levels of organic, including “100% Organic,”  “organic,” meaning it contains at least 95% organic ingredients, and “made with organic ingredients,” which means it must contain a minimum of 70% organic ingredients.
  • Natural Food: Natural usually means minimally processed, however there is not a legal meaning for this term. The USDA and FDA guidelines say it must not have anything artificial or synthetic, including flavors or colors.
  • Trans fat free: These products must have less than 1% of total fat or no more than 0.5g of trans fat per serving.
  • Cholesterol free: These products must have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat.
  • Low calorie: These products must have no more than 40 calories per serving.

Unregulated terms: In addition to the above terms, there are a lot of terms that are just completely unregulated. These terms include “Free Range,” “Hormone Free,” and “Sustainably Harvested.”

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