BY Alyse Levine MS, RD

Deceiving Food Label Claims

There are a plethora of health claims on food labels these days, though many of them don’t actually mean that the food product is healthy! It is hard to not fall for some, if not all, of them. This bite goes through a few of the most common claims out there and why you should NOT automatically assume that a food containing the claim is healthy.

  • All-natural. This is supposed to mean that a product contains no artificial ingredients and is minimally processed, but that’s not always the case. Any products with the “all-natural” label that don’t contain meat or poultry are not regulated by the FDA! Therefore, just about any non-meat product on the market can claim to be “all natural” – this includes chips, candy, cookies, etc.
  • Good source of vitamins. Any product, regardless of its sugar, salt, and fat content, can carry a vitamin claim if it contains a certain amount of fortification – even as little as 10% of your daily needs. Don’t mistake fortified for nutritious. Products that are fortified are usually missing hundreds of other health-promoting nutrients found naturally in unprocessed wholesome foods.
  • Gluten-free. Just because something is labeled gluten-free, don’t assume that it is healthier than those made with gluten. In fact, gluten containing products are sometimes healthier! For example, a potato bread or rice cracker that is gluten free may contain no fiber and basically be a refined carbohydrate – while whole wheat bread, which contains gluten, would be much more nutrient dense. However, if you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy or intolerance, you are always better off going with the gluten-free alternative!
  • Made with whole grains. These products are assumed to be high in fiber and healthy, however, this is not always the case. If a product states it is made with whole grains, it does not mean that all or even the majority of the grains come from whole grains. In fact, out of a 30 gram serving of grains, maybe only 5 grams are whole grain! This is not much…if you look at the fiber content of a product like this there will usually not be more than ~1 gram of fiber/serving.
  • Made with fruit. Sometimes fruit snacks advertise being made with fruit but if you look at the ingredient list there is more sugar than fruit in the product…same with “made with vegetables” chips…there is usually only a minuscule amount of vegetables in the product.
  • Cholesterol free. Any product that touts it is cholesterol free when it does not contain any animal products is only using the label as a marketing ploy. Cholesterol is only found in animal products – so you will never find it in plant based foods. A refined, highly processed cracker may be cholesterol free but not healthy!
  • Low fat.  These products are not always better than their full fat counterparts – they usually just add in extra sugar to maintain taste – for example, this is the case with reduced fat peanut butter. In the same vain, sugar free products just add in extra fat to maintain taste.

So, what should you focus on when reading labels? INGREDIENT LISTS! The fewer the ingredients the better and make sure that you can pronounce and understand what each ingredient is! This is your best defense to choosing wholesome, healthy foods.