Be a smart consumer! Investigating nutrition labels and package claims
Do you ever find yourself attracted by those flashy advertisements on labels? “Low fat!” “Excellent source of fiber!” “Natural!”, “Gluten-free!” “Keto Approved!” are just a few examples. There is a reason these statements catch your eye—they’re intended to make you want to buy the product. Next time you find yourself interested in a new while you browse the grocery store aisles, take a few further steps to help yourself make a more informed decision.
Understand what these terms ACTUALLY mean
Some label claims are regulated by the FDA. There are three types of claims that can be made on labels: health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims. Specific standards have to be met by a food to qualify for each different claims. For example, ‘sugar free’ must have less than 0.5 grams of sugar and have no ingredients that are sugar. ‘Reduced fat’ must have at least 25% less fat than the regular product. Some terms such as ‘natural’ have a broader definition. This about this: lead is natural, but do you want it in your food? Absolutely not! So you can see that ‘natural’ doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to your health. Make sure you think critically about any claim you see on a label!
Compare your chosen food with the flashy claim to the original and you might find….
…that there’s really not much of a difference. Sometimes, the original might even be the better option!! In the example of reduced fat, a serving of regular half and half has 3 or 4 grams of fat. The low-fat half and half has 1.5 grams, along with additional stabilizers and ingredients that make the low-fat version taste creamier. Not that much of a reduction for something that doesn’t have a very high amount of fat to begin with! Do yourself a favor and compare foods to see if the label claim is really all it’s cracked up to be.
Don’t forget about the nutrition label and ingredients
Those claims on the front of the box only tell part of the story. Before making a decision about a packaged food, look at the nutrition facts label and the ingredients. A ‘high fiber’ bread might have 6 grams of fiber on the label, but when you turn the loaf around, there is corn syrup in the ingredients! Yikes! Don’t assume that one label claim gives the entire food a passing grade, read those ingredients and double check the nutrition label.
Sometimes…just use your noggin!
I’ve seen ‘gluten free’ stamped on chicken and beef. Chicken and beef have one ingredient, chicken or beef! The fact that it is gluten free is nothing to brag about. The same could apply to cheese labeled ‘keto friendly’. Cheese is, in fact, low carb and could fit in a keto lifestyle, but just because you see cheddar labeled ‘keto friendly’ and its pal swiss has no label, does not mean the cheddar is any friendlier for your keto plan. So, before you assume a food is important for your own specific dietary needs, just take a second to think about it.
Put it all together by doing your research and reading labels, NOT just the front of the package. When in doubt, shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and keeping out of the inner aisles is a great start to avoid some of those misleading packages.