When it comes to buying food, you might find that the nutritional label is often confusing and difficult to understand. This is why it is important to understand what each label says versus what it actually means and make sure you understand the nutritional value so that you can make healthy food choices. Here are a few popular nutritional label myths, explained.
Top 8 Food Label Tricks
“Low” Must Mean Healthy, Right?
Not necessarily. According to Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, “Products that are low in one thing could be high in another, creating a food that’s not all that low in calories.” When manufacturers lower the fat in a food, many times the sugar content increases, adding calories back in. In this case, it’s not uncommon to see a 10 or 20 calorie difference per serving, which likely won’t add up to much in the long run. Also when certain ingredients are removed, chemicals may be added to mimic the texture of that food. So “low” may not always be the best.
Trusting the Words Zero and Free
A big trick in the food industry is using the words “zero” and “free.” According to the labeling laws, food companies are allowed to put “free or zero” on anything containing less than 0.5 grams per serving. While this seems like nothing, if a particular food has 0.4g of trans fat in a serving and you eat 10 servings, you’ve consumed 4 grams, not zero. This is also found in products labeled “sugar-free or calorie-free,” if you only have the portion size specified it should be fine, but if you are eating more than the recommended serving you are getting the calories.
Daily Values are Accurate
Keep in mind that the Daily Values (DV) found on food labels are based upon consuming an average diet of 2,000 calories per day.” Since many people are eating more or less than this value, some of your calculations should change, such as for total fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates. For example, a product might contain 2,000 milligrams of sodium, but 90 percent of health experts agree that you should significantly reduce your recommended sodium to reduce high blood pressure.
All Fats are Bad
Wrong! The goal when looking at food labels is to choose foods higher in unsaturated fat, lower in saturated fat, and with no trans fat.” Avocados, nuts and olive oil fall into the mono- and polyunsaturated fat category and are nutrient rich in other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Since they are more calorically dense than most fruits and vegetables, portion control is key. One-fifth of a medium avocado, 1/4 cup of nuts, and a couple teaspoons of olive oil are reasonable portions that can fit into most diet plans regularly.
While usually this may seem like the best choice for the health conscious individual, it can be very misleading. The term “natural” should mean free of all additives and chemicals right? Unfortunately this is not the case. The FDA does not regulate these products leaving a loop-hole for many companies to have artificial ingredients yet label their products with “all-natural.” The USDA has somewhat of a regulation of the term “natural” when it comes to meat. They allow the term for minimally processed meats but still allow companies to label meats with added hormones and antibiotics as natural.
High in Fiber
If it signs high in fiber, it must be high in fiber right? Not exactly! Here’s the trick, most companies will try to boost the fiber content to seem healthier, but in order to do so, they just add maltodextrin and polydextrose. Yes they will increase the fiber content, but they don’t provide the same health benefits as naturally-occurring fiber found in many fruits, grains, and vegetables. Also these added fiber sources have been shown to cause abdominal discomfort.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup is Worse than Sugar
The idea that high-fructose corn syrup is any more harmful to your health than sugar is “one of those urban myths that sounds right but is basically wrong,” according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition and health advocacy group.High-fructose corn syrup was created to mimic sucrose (table sugar), so its composition is almost identical. In terms of calories, sucrose is quite dense. It’s also interesting to note that studies compared the effects of HFCS with other sweeteners, and found that HFCS and sucrose have very similar effects on blood levels of insulin, glucose, triglycerides and satiety hormones. In short, it seems to be no worse—but also no better—than sucrose, or table sugar.
Rich Source of Omega-3s
Omega fatty acids are healthy for you especially due to their cardiovascular benefits. They also help to reduce inflammation and fight off free radical damage. But according to studies, the best form of omega-3s comes from fish. Most foods like mayonnaise and milk have versions labeled “added Omega-3s” but these are usually the ones coming from alpha-linoleic acid such as that found in flaxseed and canola oil. Yes they are also healthy, but the amount added to these products are way too low to provide any health benefit. It’s just a way to increase the price tag of a product.
In the end, as long as you know how to read nutrition labels and the red flags to look out for, you can enjoy a healthier balanced diet, free of toxic ingredients and chemicals. Though it may be difficult to avoid everything, knowing the 8 tricks listed will help on your journey towards a much healthier lifestyle