Friday, October 11, 2013

Food Labels

This is an article I found on Eating Well that I had to share. 

1. Be Wary of Nutrient Callouts

That tabbed banner of nutrition information emblazoned on the front of various products (cereals, granola bars, pasta) is called Facts Up Front and is food-industry-created. You’ll see numbers for saturated fat, sodium, sugar and calories, as well as two "nutrients to encourage." For example: Lucky Charms cereal can tout its calcium and vitamin D levels, even though a 3/4-cup serving has 10 grams of sugar and marshmallows is the second ingredient. In addition, nutrient-content callouts, such as "low fat" or "cholesterol free," sometimes appear on unhealthy foods. Sure, Jujubes are a fat-free food, but they also have 18 grams of sugar per serving.

2. Read the Fine Print

In a 2010 report, "Food Labeling Chaos," the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that many ingredient lists are intentionally unclear. "They are often printed in small, condensed type, and many manufacturers use all capital letters that studies show are more difficult to read than [a combination of] upper and lower case letters… some companies print the list in various colors of ink against poorly-contrasting backgrounds or insert the ingredient list in a fold or other area where it will not be visible unless the consumer makes an extra effort to reveal the list."

3. Misleading Healthy Claims

Phrases such as "Helps Support Immunity!", "Helps protect healthy joints!" that describe how a food component may affect the structure or function of the body can be vague or misleading. A 2010 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that nutrition marketing, such as health claims on the front of a box, is commonly used on products high in saturated fat, sodium and/or sugar, and more often in kids’ products. Stick to the Nutrition Facts Panel to determine how healthy a food is.

4. Don’t Believe High-Fiber Fibs

Sixty-six percent of consumers look for the phrase "high fiber," according to Technomic, a food-industry consulting firm. Yet the product might be "high fiber" because it contains isolated fibers in the form of purified powders, such as maltodextrin. These fibers don’t have the same beneficial health effects as intact fibers from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Other faux names: oat fiber, wheat fiber and oat hull fiber.

7. Look for Whole Grains

The phrase "Made with Whole Grains" doesn’t guarantee the product is made predominantly of whole grains. In fact, only a miniscule amount may be there. Look for the word "whole" (whole wheat whole grain, whole + name of grain) listed first in the ingredient list. Similarly, the Whole Grain Stamp—which appears on products that contain at least 8 g whole grains per serving—doesn’t guarantee the healthiest choice. A recent study in Public Health Nutrition found some grain products marked with the stamp higher in sugar and calories than grain products without the stamp. The best way to identify the healthiest grain product? Look for at least 1 g fiber for every 10 g total carbohydrates.

6. Don’t Judge a Product by Its Name

To get around FDA labeling regulations (which don’t cover product names), companies create wholesome monikers for their unhealthy foods and beverages. Vitamin Water, for example, is basically sugar water (31-32 g sugar per bottle) with some vitamins thrown in. Other health-evoking product names include think Thin nutrition bars, SmartFood popcorn and Snackwell’s snacks.

7. Wee Serving Sizes

Tiny serving sizes make unhealthy substances (fat, sugar) look less bad. Example: a 15-ounce can of organic soup labeled "healthy" contains "about two" servings; each serving has 480 mg of sodium. The FDA says that a food can’t be called "healthy" if it contains more than 480 mg per serving. But most people eat the whole can (960 mg). A better way: a February 2013 study found that for products containing two servings that are customarily consumed at a single eating occasion, displaying two columns (one for the entire package and one for a split of the package) on the label helps consumers make healthier choices.
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