Have you ever picked one grocery item over another because of the health claims on the label? You may have been duped. That's because terms like fat free or all natural are often slapped on a food item that may not be healthy at all.
Frustrated? You're not alone. Nearly 59% of consumers have a hard time understanding nutrition labels, according to a Nielsen survey.
Here's our list of the 16 most common—and most misleading phrases—manufacturers use on food, with advice on how to look past the hype to make smarter supermarket choices.
Don't be fooled, all natural doesn't mean all that much. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't define it, although food makers won't get in trouble as long as so-labeled food doesn't contain added colors, artificial flavors, or "synthetic substances." That means there's room for interpretation.
So a food labeled natural may contain preservatives or be injected with sodium, in the case of raw chicken. "Some natural products will have high fructose corn syrup and companies will argue that since it comes from corn, it's healthy," says Stephan Gardner, director of litigation at the Center of Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "Well, that isn't true."
When shopping for healthy bread and crackers, look for the words whole grain or 100% whole wheat. It's not enough if it says multigrain or made with whole grain.
Whole grains, (which include popcorn, brown rice, and oatmeal), have more fiber and other nutrients than those that have been refined, a process that strips away the healthiest portions of the grain.
And don't go by color alone: Some darker breads or crackers have caramel coloring and are no healthier than highly refined white breads. For a list of ingredient to keep on your radar, check out The Whole Grain Council's helpful chart.
If you're concerned about calories and carbs (maybe because you have diabetes or are trying to prevent it), you may toss no sugar added products in your grocery cart.
But foods, including fruit, milk, cereals, and vegetables naturally contain sugar. So although these products may not have added sugar they still may contain natural sugars. And no sugar added products still may contain added ingredients like maltodextrin, a carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates—which can be simple sugars or more complex starches—raise blood sugar, and no sugar added doesn't mean a product is calorie- or carbohydrate-free.
Sugar free doesn't mean a product has fewer calories than the regular version; it may have more. (Although food makers are supposed to tell you if a product isn't low-cal). Sugar-free products have less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving, but they still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources.
These products often contain sugar alcohols, which are lower in calories (roughly 2 calories per gram, compared to 4 per gram for sugar), but compare labels to see if the sugar-free version is any better than the regular version. (Common sugar alcohols are mannitol, xylitol, or sorbitol).
Caution: Sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea so don't consume a lot in one sitting.
Trans fat is bad for your heart, and the ideal intake is zero. But products that say no trans fat can actually contain less than 0.5 grams per serving.
"If a product says 0 trans fat on it, it isn't actually at zero," says Gardner. "If the consumer were to have two servings, then you would get a good amount added to your diet."
Check for words on the ingredient list such as hydrogenated oils and shortening, which mean trans fat is still present. There are some products that are more likely to contain trans fat than others.
Companies can use words like immunity blend or supports the immune system if a product contains certain vitamins, but such words are sometimes used to give an aura of health to a product that may or may not deserve it.
In general, companies must walk a fine line here. If they make medical claims, it can trigger intense scrutiny from the FDA and the federal trade commission.
In 2008, the company that makes the vitamin product Airborne agreed to settle a $23.3 million class-action lawsuit. The product's label said it could "boost the immune system" and was marketed as a way to prevent colds without sufficient evidence that it worked.
Although a food label may say free range chicken, don't assume your bird was scampering around outside Farmer Brown's barn.
Although the US Department of Agriculture does define the words free range, there are no requirements for the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access.
"What it's supposed to mean is that they are out running in a field," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, nutrition expert and author of Read It, Before You Eat It. "But what it really means is they just have exposure to the outdoors."
This is a notoriously misleading label. When the dangers of saturated and trans fat became clear, the market was flooded with products that touted their fat-free status. The problem? They sometimes contained nearly as many calories as full-fat versions.
"Just because it says it's fat-free, doesn't mean you get a free ride," says Taub-Dix. "Packages could say it's fat free, but be loaded with sugar, and sugar-free products could be loaded with fat."
Check the label for calorie content, and compare it to the full-fat version.
A food label may say a product, such as olive oil, is light, but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor rather than the ingredients.
"The flavor might be lighter, but you aren't saving one calorie," says Taub-Dix. "The wording on light products can be confusing for consumers, but it is important to read the nutritional facts."
To be considered a light product, the fat content has to be 50% less than the amount found in comparable products.
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat or rye and it can wreak havoc on the health of those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Gluten-free products are becoming easier to find, which is great for those with gluten intolerance. For everyone else though, there's no advantage to buying them. In fact, gluten-free whole grains may have less fiber than the regular version.
"Unless you have metabolic problems, gluten-free products don't help you lose weight and are not necessarily good for you," says Taub-Dix. "But because it's a buzz word, it's put on packages."
Products that claim to be made with real fruit may not contain very much at all, or none of the type pictured on the box.
While companies must list the amount of nutrients they contain, such as fat and cholesterol, they do not have to disclose the percentage of ingredients, such as fruits and whole grain, according to CSPI.
In 2012, a California woman filed a class-action lawsuit over Fruit Roll-Ups, which contain "pears from concentrate" and no strawberries (in the case of the strawberry flavor).
Although the FDA has definitions for terms like reduced sugar, no added sugar, and sugar free, companies sometimes come up with marketing lingo that is, well, just made up.
One of those terms is lightly sweetened, which isn't defined by the FDA.
"Whether Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size is "lightly sweetened" should be determined by federal rules, not the marketing executives of a manufacturer," according to a CSPI report from 2010.
Cholesterol free doesn't mean, literally, no cholesterol. Cholesterol-free products must contain less than 2 mg per serving while low-cholesterol products contain 20 mg or less per serving. Foods that say reduced or less cholesterol need to have at least 25% less than comparable products.
Cholesterol is made by the liver, so only animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and butter can contain it. If a plant-based product (such as corn oil) touts its cholesterol-free status, there's no benefit compared to other vegetable oils, which also don't contain it.
(The American Heart Association recommends people consume less than 300 mg of cholesterol daily.)
While organic was once a bit like the term all natural—open to interpretation—that's no longer true. If a product has a USDA label that says organic, 95% or more of the ingredients must have been grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (among other standards).
A label that says made with organic ingredients must have a minimum of 70% all ingredients that meet the standard.
Keep in mid that organic is not synonymous with healthy. In fact, it may be anything but. Organic food can still be packed in fat, calories, and sugar. "Companies like to add magnetic words on products to make you think it's healthy," says Taub-Dix.
Two percent milk sounds great—it's such a low number! What most people don't realize is that whole milk contains only 3.25% fat.
So 2% milk contain less fat than regular milk, but not that much. It isn't technically considered low fat; only 1% milk and fat free (also called skim milk, which has less than 0.5% fat) meet that standard.
Two percent milk may say reduced fat however, because it has at least 25% less fat than regular milk. But the American Heart Association and other health experts recommend that adults choose 1% or fat free over other types of milk.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids come in three main types: Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA) and a type called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which doesn't have the proven benefit for the heart as EPA and DHA.
Some foods are higher in ALA, such as flax seeds, than EPA and DHA. Eggs may contain omega-3 if chickens are fed flax seed or fish oil, but are not considered to have a heart health benefit because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content.
"If you are looking for a good helping of omega-3, stick to fish and seaweed products," says Gardner. "Products will sprinkle flax on their food just to slap the omega-3 label on the front."
Food manufacturers can be tricky with serving sizes. To make a product look low in fat or calories, they may list information based on a tiny, unrealistic serving size.
And FDA recommendations on serving size, the Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) index, tend to be outdated, based on eating habits of decades past. For example, the RACC for ice cream is a half-cup, or one scoop—a lot less than what most people now eat in one sitting. For example, a pint of ice cream would be considered to have four half-cup servings, a buzz kill for those of us who could eat the whole thing in one sitting.
If you are a two-or-more scoop kind of person, double, triple, or quadruple the label's calorie and fat information as needed.
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Though not an end-all test, a quick way to read the percent daily values is to use the 5/20 rule. This says that if the %DV is less than 5% there is a low amount of this nutrient, while if the %DV is greater than 20% there is a high amount of this nutrient.What ingredients should you avoid on food labels? ›
- Trans-Fat. ...
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils. ...
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) ...
- Artificial Sweeteners such as Aspartame, Sucralose, and Saccharin. ...
- Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate. ...
- Sodium Nitrites and Sodium Nitrates. ...
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
It depends on the food matrix and the nutrient, but in general NIST's measurements are accurate to within 2% to 5% for nutrient elements (such as sodium, calcium and potassium), macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates), amino acids and fatty acids.What is an example of a false food claim? ›
Wildly exaggerated claims (puffery) can be misleading
For example, a restaurant claims they have the 'best steaks on earth'.
Some of the more common types of false and misleading labeling include but are not limited to: Falsely labeling products that contain artificial ingredients as “natural” or having “no artificial ingredients” Misrepresenting the quality or quantity of ingredients in a product.How much rice should you eat a day to lose weight? ›
Women wanting to lose weight should eat about 37 g of rice per portion.Which type of fat is the healthiest to consume? ›
(16) So while saturated fat may not be as harmful as once thought, evidence clearly shows that unsaturated fat remains the healthiest type of fat.What does a daily value of 10% mean? ›
What does a daily value of 10 percent mean? one serving provides 10 percent of the daily amount for a particular nutrient.What ingredients should you stay away from? ›
- TRANS FATS. Trans fat has been a popular nutrition buzzword for the past 15 years or so. ...
- SODIUM NITRITE. ...
- MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE (MSG) ...
- ARTIFICIAL FOOD COLORING. ...
- HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. ...
- ASPARTAME. ...
- BHA & BHT.
Eating too much sodium, sugars or saturated fat can increase your risk of chronic disease.
- The foods you eat can have a major effect on your weight. ...
- French Fries and Potato Chips. ...
- Sugary Drinks. ...
- White Bread. ...
- Candy Bars. ...
- Most Fruit Juices. ...
- Pastries, Cookies and Cakes. ...
- Some Types of Alcohol (Especially Beer)
For consumers, food labels are extremely important for communication relating to our health, however research shows that consumers don't really trust the health claims that that manufacturers make on their food products.Do the calories count if you have diarrhea? ›
When you have diarrhea, important nutrients such as calories, protein, vitamins, water, sodium and potassium are lost. This loss can be serious if you are already ill or trying to recover from an illness. Your provider must know the cause of diarrhea to treat it correctly. Try the following solutions for two days.Are Mcdonalds calories accurate? ›
All the restaurants and their trade association say that most calorie counts are as accurate as possible and tested extensively to make sure. They conceded that there are variations, mostly due to portion size and individual restaurant preparation, and that the menus warn actual calories may vary.What are 5 things you should actually look for when reading a food label? ›
- Serving size. Check to see how many servings the package contains. ...
- Fiber. Eat at least 5-10 grams of viscous fiber each day. ...
- Protein. ...
- Calories. ...
- Carbohydrates. ...
- Total fat. ...
- Saturated fat. ...
- Trans fat.
How can one identify a misleading label? Research shows that adding health claims to front labels makes people believe a product is healthier than the same product that doesn't list health claims — thus affecting consumer choices. Manufacturers are often dishonest in the way they use these labels.How do you avoid misleading food labels? ›
Read the label to identify highly processed foods, Zell advises. “If the ingredient list contains items you wouldn't usually find in your cupboards or if you feel like you need a biochemistry degree to pronounce the ingredient list, the product's most likely highly processed,” she says.Why is the all natural label misleading? ›
Many commenters asked for natural to be synonymous with organic, non-GMO, and no additives or artificial colors. Others wanted the usage of natural removed altogether, saying it had no relation to health and was therefore misleading.Why is it misleading when a product is Labelled as 100% natural? ›
Many consumers assume a “natural” label claim means the animals live outdoors. Yet it has nothing to do with how animals are raised and simply means the meat contains no artificial ingredients or added colors, and that it was minimally processed.Why is food labeling a problem? ›
Consistent Inconsistencies. Current food labels may seem to possess a wealth of information, but they're often challenging to read even if you know what you're looking for. Additionally, studies have shown that even accurate food labels don't work —they lead to no significant dietary changes.
Whole grains like brown rice are healthier than processed grains. They contain more fiber, which helps you to feel full faster and keeps your digestive system running well. In fact, federal dietary guidelines recommend eating at least 3 ounces of whole grains a day.Is oatmeal good for weight loss? ›
Studies show that oats and oatmeal have many health benefits. These include weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease.Is Tuna good for weight loss? ›
If you are looking to lose weight, canned tuna is a good option because it is low in calories yet high in protein. Diets that are high in protein have been associated with benefits for weight loss, including increased feelings of fullness and reduced cravings ( 7 , 8 ).What minerals are not stored in the body? ›
Water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins, such as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate) must dissolve in water before they can be absorbed by the body, and therefore cannot be stored. Any water-soluble vitamins unused by the body is primarily lost through urine.How much water should you drink a day? ›
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men. About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women.Which nutrient is considered the most important for human life? ›
Water is probably the most important essential nutrient that a person needs. A person can only survive a few days without consuming water. Even slight dehydration can cause headaches and impaired physical and mental functioning. The human body is made up of mostly water, and every cell requires water to function.How many calories is considered high for a single serving of food? ›
Calories may come from carbohydrates, protein or fat. Foods that are 400 calories or more per serving are considered high in calories. Foods that are 100 calories or more per serving is moderate, and 40 calories or fewer per serving is low.What is recommended calories an average person eats a day? ›
An ideal daily intake of calories varies depending on age, metabolism and levels of physical activity, among other things. Generally, the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men.Which foods have hidden toxins? ›
- Cherry Pits. 1/12. The hard stone in the center of cherries is full of prussic acid, also known as cyanide, which is poisonous. ...
- Apple Seeds. 2/12. ...
- Elderberries. 3/12. ...
- Nutmeg. 4/12. ...
- Green Potatoes. 5/12. ...
- Raw Kidney Beans. 6/12. ...
- Rhubarb Leaves. 7/12. ...
- Bitter Almonds. 8/12.
Strawberries and spinach continue to top the annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and veggies that contain the highest levels of pesticides, followed by three greens – kale, collard and mustard – nectarines, apples, grapes, and bell and hot peppers, according to the Environmental Working Group's 2022 Shopper's Guide ...
Oatmeal: All forms of oatmeal—steel cut and old-fashioned, too—are considered processed, but they're all very healthy and great for your diet. What's maybe not so great? The boxes of flavored instant variety. Most of them are loaded with unnecessary salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients.What happens when you stop eating processed foods and sugar? ›
How does cutting out processed food and carbohydrates affect you? When you stop eating processed food and carbs, there will be a sudden drop in the amount of sugar or salt that you were imbibing. This could result in fatigue, irritability and headaches as your body takes time to adjust to the change.What are the healthiest processed foods? ›
- Canned beans. Don't have time to soak, rinse, boil and simmer beans? ...
- Dairy or soy milk. ...
- Greek yogurt. ...
- Packaged salads or precut vegetables. ...
- Cereal. ...
- Frozen or canned fish. ...
- Nuts, seeds and nut butters. ...
- Beans. “Becoming a bean lover can help you lose weight and whittle your middle,” registered dietitian Cynthia Sass told Today. ...
- Swap your beef for salmon. ...
- Yogurt. ...
- Red bell peppers. ...
- Broccoli. ...
- Edamame. ...
- Diluted vinegar.
Apple. Fresh and crunchy apples are packed with healthy flavonoids and fibres that may help burn belly fat. They are particularly rich in pectin fibre that breaks down slowly. The fibres present in apple promote satiety.What fruit stops weight gain? ›
Because 90% of a watermelon's weight is water, it's one of the best fruits to eat if you're trying to lose weight. A 100-gram serving contains only 30 calories. It's also a great source of an amino acid called arginine, which helps burn fat quickly.
By law, according to the USDA, the egg industry “needs to steer clear of words like 'healthy' or 'nutritious. '” For a food to be labeled “healthy” under FDA rules, it has to be low in saturated fat (eggs fail that criteria) and have less than 90mg of cholesterol per serving (even half an egg fails that test).Are all food labels reliable Why? ›
It depends on the food matrix and the nutrient, but in general NIST's measurements are accurate to within 2% to 5% for nutrient elements (such as sodium, calcium and potassium), macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates), amino acids and fatty acids.How much protein should I eat in a day? ›
The recommended dietary allowance to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person who weighs 165 pounds, or 75 kilograms, should consume 60 grams of protein per day.What vitamins do you lose when you have diarrhea? ›
Potassium is an important element for your body. It may be lost in large quantities through diarrhea. If you don't have enough potassium, you may feel weak. When you have diarrhea, eat some foods high in potassium, such as ripe bananas, apricot or peach nectar, potatoes, fish and meat.
For another thing, we do take in lots of calories when we chew food and spit it out. We can get a hefty dose of sugar and fat that clings to the tongue and unwittingly passes into our digestive system. If you chew and spit a box of chocolates you will absorb about a third of it.Do you get diarrhea when you don't eat enough? ›
5. You're having abnormal diarrhea or constipation. When your body slows down to conserve energy—because you're not eating enough—your digestive system can also slow down. Your intestinal lining can become damaged or less effective in this case—meaning that the food you do eat doesn't get digested correctly.How many calories do you burn in an 8 hour shift? ›
Let's say you spend eight hours a day at a desk. You burn about 100 calories each hour. That's 800 calories at the office. If you're on your feet all day, bartending an 8-hour shift for example, you'll burn 1,200 – 1,500.Why is Cheesecake Factory food so high in calories? ›
The portion sizes at The Cheesecake Factory are larger than what one person would typically eat in one meal. Along with this, many of the restaurant chain's dishes are cooked with butter and oil, which are both extremely high in calories.How do fast food workers lose weight? ›
Bring your own food daily:
- boiled eggs.
- sliced turkey, grilled chicken breast.
- celery & carrot sticks.
- fresh fruits.
- drink water not the fountain drink at the restaurant.
Are the Calorie Counts on Food Labels Accurate?
Can You Trust The Calorie Counts On Food Labels?
Are Calories on Food Labels Lying to you? | Full Breakdown on ...
Many consumers assume a “natural” label claim means the animals live outdoors. Yet it has nothing to do with how animals are raised and simply means the meat contains no artificial ingredients or added colors, and that it was minimally processed.How can nutrition labels be deceptive? ›
Products are often labeled with what they do not have to imply healthfulness and superiority to competitors. Consumers purchasing a no sugar added juice may be inclined to believe that there is little sugar or calories in the product, when in fact the opposite is true.How can food labels be misleading UK? ›
In the UK this label means the product must have less than 3g of fat per 100g. But when producers take out fat they often pile in sugar. Studies have shown that a 'low fat' label can trick us into eating more. Low sugar: similarly to the 'low fat' label, 'low-sugar' foods can be high in fat and calories.What are 5 things you should actually look for when reading a food label? ›
- Serving size. Check to see how many servings the package contains. ...
- Fiber. Eat at least 5-10 grams of viscous fiber each day. ...
- Protein. ...
- Calories. ...
- Carbohydrates. ...
- Total fat. ...
- Saturated fat. ...
- Trans fat.
The terms “natural,” “all natural,” or “100% natural” do not carry a standard definition from both the FDA and USDA, so food companies tend to use the terms as they deem fit.Why are natural labels misleading? ›
More than 60 percent of Americans buy products labeled "natural," but they may not be buying what they think. According to Consumer Reports, the "natural" labels offer no clear meaning and are misleading consumers -- more than two-thirds of Americans who think it means more than it does.What is false label? ›
(20) Subject to such tolerances as the Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to prescribe under the provisions of this chapter— (A) the term “false labeling” means any labeling which is false or misleading in any particular; (B) the term “false advertisement” means any advertisement which is false or misleading in any ...How do you avoid misleading food labels? ›
Read the label to identify highly processed foods, Zell advises. “If the ingredient list contains items you wouldn't usually find in your cupboards or if you feel like you need a biochemistry degree to pronounce the ingredient list, the product's most likely highly processed,” she says.Is whole grain better than no grain? ›
Whole grains are also a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Compared to enriched white flour, 100% whole wheat flour contains: 96% more vitamin E, 82% more vitamin B6, 80% more selenium, 78% more magnesium, 72% more chromium, 58% more copper, 52% more zinc, and 37% more folate.How many calories should I eat a day? ›
Adult females need anywhere from 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day and adult males need anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day, according to the USDA's latest “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” report released in 2020.Can we trust food labels? ›
For consumers, food labels are extremely important for communication relating to our health, however research shows that consumers don't really trust the health claims that that manufacturers make on their food products.What is Natasha's Law? ›
What Is Natasha's Law? The UK Food Information Amendment, also known as Natasha's Law, came into effect on the 1st of October 2021 and requires food businesses to provide full ingredient lists and allergen labelling on foods prepackaged for direct sale on the premises.Who is exempt from Natasha's Law? ›
Foods exempt from Natashas Law include: Any food packed after being ordered by the consumer. Food packed by one business and supplied to another business (full labelling required) Foods that are distance sold e.g. ordered by phone or on a website.What are the 3 most important things you should read first on a food label? ›
- The Serving Size. The serving size listed in Nutrition Facts is the amount that is often consumed at one sitting. ...
- The Percent Daily Value (%DV) ...
- The Best Profile.
List of ingredients on food labels. All ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight, including added water. Remember: The first ingredient listed is present in the largest amount by weight.What is the unhealthiest type of fat? ›
Trans fats are the worst type of fat for the heart, blood vessels, and rest of the body because they: Raise bad LDL and lower good HDL.