Do the health claims on the packages of grocery store food influence which product you’ll buy? If so, you’re not alone. Studies on consumer buying habits show that people are more likely to purchase those products with health claims even though the claims can be very misleading. What are some of the most misleading claims and what do
some of these claims actually mean?
The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledges that it is difficult to define a “natural” food product mainly because this word is plastered on packaging of food that does not remotely resemble a food that naturally comes from the earth like fruits and vegetables. In general, you can expect that the use of the term “natural” means that the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. These categories leave much room for interpretation. For instance, products that contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be labeled “natural” because actual corn was used to create it, even though the product is far from being a vegetable and having any nutritional value.
Here’s another eye opener: chicken with the label “no artificial or added hormones” is nothing special and not worth overpaying because the FDA prohibits the use of hormones in all chicken.
The medical community has trained us to watch our cholesterol so food manufacturers throw “cholesterol-free” on packages of nuts, oatmeal, and potato chips. The truth is that this label is pointless because cholesterol only comes from animal products.
With diabetes on the rise, “no sugar added” or “sugar free” may get your attention. But foods, including fruit, milk, cereals and vegetables contain natural forms of sugar. Even products with no added sugars raise your blood sugar levels if they contain simple or complex carbohydrates. Metabolically, carbohydrates quickly turn into sugar especially the processed foods. So, low carbohydrate or sugar free packaged foods definitely do not equate as healthy options. Often artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols replace the processed sugar. Be cautious with these replacements. Both of these sweeteners can contribute to gastrointestinal issues in the form of gas, diarrhea and bloating. I always suggest that my clients avoid artificial sweeteners because our bodies do not recognize how to metabolize these compounds.
ZERO TRANS FATS/FAT FREE
So, we all know that avoiding trans fats will protect us from an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and more. But, did you know that trans fats may be hiding in your foods even if the packaging claims “zero trans fats”? The FDA allows labels to list trans fats as zero if the serving size contains less than 0.5 grams. Since standard serving sizes are small, these trans fats can add up. For example, the nutrition label on Ritz Crackers states that a serving size contains zero trans fats, but the ingredient list includes partially hydrogenated cotton seed oil. I had to do some calculations to figure out exactly how many crackers are in a serving and found that it is just less than two. Do you really eat two crackers when you open the box? The FDA has banned trans fats, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2018. The food industry responded to the dangers of trans fats by filling grocery store shelves with fat free items. Rather than losing weight by eating fat free packaged food, people found that their weight increased. The problem – these items are typically loaded with sugars that your body stores as fat. So, read the ingredient list on foods rather than just the nutrition label to know what’s hiding inside.
Buyer beware! The intent of food claims is to help companies sell the product not to act as a guide on healthy eating. To avoid the food industry tactics, eat real foods – fruit, vegetables, nuts, pastured meats, wild fish – and watch your health improve!