The 10 Biggest Food Label Lies

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By: , – Jessica Girdwain, Woman's Day
6/17/2013 12:00 PM   :  22 comments   :  12,294 Views

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Pick up an innocent box of granola bars or a bottle of iced tea and you're hit with health claims—from less fat to made with real sugar. In fact, a USDA study showed that 43% of products introduced in 2010 splashed nutrition ads on their packaging. But despite their promises, you could be eating more fat, calories, salt and sugar than you think. Get the facts on the most deceptive claims so they never mislead you again. 

1. "Cholesterol-Free"

What you think it meansHeart-healthy!

What it really means: Cholesterol's only in animal products, but the cholesterol-free stamp is frequently used on plant-based foods that would never contain it. Plus, plenty of junk food is naturally cholesterol-free (think Red Vines and Fritos), which doesn’t make it heart-healthy. "Besides, research shows that dietary cholesterol doesn't affect blood cholesterol levels the way we thought it did decades ago," says Darya Pino Rose, PhD, author of Foodist.

Instead: Eat fewer highly processed carbs and sugar, "two major culprits of heart disease," says Dr. Rose.
 
2. A Green Label

What you think it means: Go. As in, "go ahead; it's OK to eat me."

What it really means: Nothing. "Green is a found-in-nature color, so we associate it with health" even when we shouldn't, says Lisa DeFazio, a registered dietitian in Los Angeles. One study in the journal Health Communication found that consumers are more likely to think a candy bar with a green label is healthier than those with white or red labels—even if they have identical calorie counts.

Instead: Ignore the front of the packaging and check out the nutrition facts on the back or side. Red flags: The ingredients list includes partially hydrogenated coconut oil, palm oil, shortening or vegetable fat and/or high fructose corn syrup. 
 
3. "Reduced Sodium"

What you think it means: The food is low in sodium.

What it really means: The food contains less sodium than the original product. Other versions of the phrase sound the same but mean different things: low in sodium or less sodium (at least 25% less than the original), light in sodium (50% less than the original) and low sodium (140 mg or less of sodium per serving).

Instead: Consider any food with 20% or more of your daily value (DV) for sodium a high-sodium food. Choose ones that provide 5% or less of your DV for sodium per serving—and watch your portions.

Click here for more food label information from Woman's Day.

 
More from Woman's Day:
 Do you read food labels when shopping? What tricks have you noticed?  


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Comments

  • 22
    I am pretty good at reading nutritional information, but I have been known to fall for the "no cholesterol" statement, so this point is the most informative to me!
    - 6/19/2013   10:54:45 AM
  • 21
    Good to be reminded how deceptive labels can be. I'm trying to be better about checking the info on the back of items. - 6/18/2013   11:02:55 PM
  • DELLMEL
    20
    Great info. I don't read labels all the time. So now I know I need to really get on it. - 6/18/2013   1:47:04 PM
  • 19
    I found this information very helpful, as reading labels can be so confusing and frustrating! Iit's almost as if you need a degree to wade through all the info! - 6/18/2013   11:57:09 AM
  • 18
    This article is REALLY helpful, but it kind of drags me down when articles have a negative spin. Like, instead of saying "avoid avoid avoid!", have an article that encourages a positive. This article has examples in each section of the healthy alternative to these label lies. Maybe make the article about the positive alternatives, and put the lies as a side note. I personally react better to positive articles, because this just made me feel guilty, even though I am informed now. And I know there are plenty of positive articles, but I read this one first things in the morning because it was on the spark start page. - 6/18/2013   11:53:44 AM
  • OCEANMISTCALI
    17
    thanks for posting the information abut misleading food labels. this will be a huge help to me. - 6/18/2013   9:17:01 AM
  • 16
    I think this article is slightly misleading. Several pieces of advice are really not lies at all. Saying a package is reduced sodium isn't a lie. The sodium was reduced- from the original. A better approach would be to use the article to share approaches food manufactures use to try to make the product seem healthier than it really is.

    - 6/18/2013   9:10:52 AM
  • BANNERMAN
    15
    Thanks for sharing al the good information. - 6/18/2013   1:41:07 AM
  • 14
    Im trying to eat healthier too , I use the method of the fewer ingredients the healthier it is for you , and try to eat as many one ingredient foods as possible , like fruits , veggies , meat , popcorn , rice , quinoa , beans , bulgur , eggs , herbs , nuts ,honey , milk . Its not always easy but I do think it is better , don't get me wrong I love a good processed meal from time to time also! - 6/17/2013   11:52:10 PM
  • JUNEBUG1956
    13
    Labels can be and are so deceiving. It's up to me to check it all out! It's my health and body! Spark has made me so aware through tracking! Incredible! - 6/17/2013   11:46:08 PM
  • 12
    Im trying to eat healthier too , I use the method of the fewer ingredients the healthier it is for you , and try to eat as many one ingredient foods as possible , cause once it altered or processed it probably isn't as healthy anymore anyway. - 6/17/2013   11:43:51 PM
  • 11
    I saw a watermelon with a "Naturally Gluten-free food" sticker on it. Well, no kidding. The gluten-free craze is truly out of control when you see that. I have also seen a similar label on steak.

    And organic sea-salt. Um, no. No it isn't.

    In the Woman's Day article, they continue to carry water Big Sugar and slam HFCS. Sugar is sugar. Reduce its use. There is no evidence that HFCS is any worse for you than processed sugar cane or processed sugar beets. - 6/17/2013   11:12:32 PM
  • 10
    I remember looking at Eagle Brand Condensed milk and noticing that the "Fat Free" actually contained MORE calories and MORE sugar than the plain Eagle Brand condensed. Sure - no "fat" but they added gobs more sugar to compensate the mouth feel, and thus pimped up the calories and the sugar grams. Grrr. - 6/17/2013   10:48:05 PM
  • 4ME2LOSELBS
    9
    I am now reading labels due to my food tracking on SparkPeople. Keep in mind, nutritional values (package sizes and serving sizes) change frequently!
    Confirm your previously saved nutritional value details on a regular basis. - 6/17/2013   9:41:32 PM
  • 8
    Who actually assumes a product is healthy just because the label on the package is green? I can't imagine anyone picking up a pack of those green-filled double-stuff oreos they sell at Christmas and thinking oreos are suddenly healthy because the seasonal label is green. I might be the only one, but I think there's just no excuse for the I-thought-it-was-healthy-cuz-of-the
    -green-label thing. - 6/17/2013   8:58:13 PM
  • 7
    Another lie you'll see on labels is "0 Trans Fat!" Well, if you read the ingredients and it has partially hydrogenated anything, it has trans fats. I have even seen "healthy" spreads, like Smart Balance, bearing the false claim of 0 trans fats. What they should really say is "Less than 1/2 gram of trans fat, so we don't have to tell you!"
    And I agree on the MSG comment. MSG is awful, ask a doctor, it causes holes in your brain after extended consumption. Biggest harbinger of MSG? Salad dressings, like ranch, and cream-of-anything soups. My kids are mad at me, but I'll only buy them ranch without that stuff now & it's not easy to find. - 6/17/2013   6:46:55 PM
  • 6
    Thank you for the information. Since I have been on SP, I am so much more mindful of labels on products.
    Susan - 6/17/2013   6:38:22 PM
  • 5
    I find this article kind of insulting. If you don't read the nutrition facts, and you don't educate yourself about what phrases like "reduced sodium" mean, shame on you. People should take a little ownership of their health decisions. Maunfacturers are going to continue coming up with new ways to convince us to buy their products. The willfully ignorant remain so at their own peril. - 6/17/2013   5:09:32 PM
  • 4
    I read labels all the time & my family gets upset with me because I take too long to grocery shop! - 6/17/2013   4:43:35 PM
  • 3
    The one that really bugs me is "No added sugar" whereby they mean, we filled it up with artificial sweeteners that we don't mention except in the ingredients label. I also hate the artificial sweeteners are showing up in stuff now, with no warning on the front of the package. I can't stand the taste of the stuff, never mind the (still somewhat debated) health effects, so the stealth introduction of it into foods really annoys me! - 6/17/2013   1:49:34 PM
  • 2
    I always read labels. I have to, since I get migraines from MSG. You will be surprised how many foods contain it. Even fat free refried beans... which otherwise would be healthy. I also do not buy anything containing corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, "natural" (not!) or artificial flavors and colors. - 6/17/2013   1:46:24 PM
  • 1
    I read ALL the labels on the products before buying. I am conscious of the sodium factor and fat ones esp. I sometimes will buy something with a higher fat content if it has less sodium. I wish the stores around me would carry the lower sodium products. I have occasionally purchased many with none but not always easy to find in rural VT. So many people don't even care, and with my journey on SP I am always conscious now of anything that goes into my mouth! Thank you for the article.
    Kat - 6/17/2013   12:14:05 PM

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