Label reading can be challenging. Because consumers are more health-conscious than ever, some supplement and food producers utilize deceptive tactics to persuade consumers to purchase highly processed and unhealthy items.
Regulations governing food labeling are complicated, making it more difficult for consumers to comprehend them. In order to distinguish between erroneously labeled junk food and actually healthy items, this article explains how to read food labels.
Don’t be fooled by the claims on the front
One of the best pieces of advice would be to entirely disregard everything stated on the packaging’s front. Front labels use health claims to entice you to buy their products. In reality, studies suggest that including health claims on front labels leads consumers to assume a product is healthier than a comparable product without such claims, which in turn influences their purchasing decisions.
The way food manufacturers employ these labels is frequently deceptive. They frequently make health claims that are deceptive, and sometimes outright untrue. Numerous morning bowls of cereal with a lot of sugar, including whole-grain Cocoa Puffs, are examples. These goods are not healthy, despite what the label may suggest. Because of this, it might be challenging for customers to select healthy products without carefully reading the ingredients list.
Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, from highest to lowest. This indicates that the maker utilized the first ingredient the most. As a general rule, focus on the first three items since they constitute the majority of your meal. You can infer that a product is unhealthy if the initial list of ingredients includes refined grains, a certain kind of sugar, or hydrogenated oils. Choose items instead that list whole foods as the first three ingredients. Additionally, a list of ingredients that is more than two to three lines long may indicate that the product has undergone extensive processing.
The number of calories and nutrients in a typical portion of the product—often a recommended single serving—are listed on nutrition labels. These portions, nevertheless, are usually significantly smaller than what most individuals eat in a single session. One serving might be, for instance, a single biscuit, a quarter of a cookie, a chocolate bar, or half of a soda can. By doing this, producers want to trick consumers into thinking the item contains fewer calories and sugar.
Inadvertently presuming that the entire container is one serving when, in fact, it may contain two, three, or more servings, many individuals are unaware of this serving size system. You must multiply the serving size listed on the reverse by the total number of servings you ate in order to determine the nutritional value of the food you are consuming.
The Most Misleading Claims
Food packaging often makes health claims in an effort to attract your attention and persuade you that the item is nutritious. Here are some of the most typical assertions along with explanations of what they imply:
To cut calories or fat, light products are treated. Some goods are only diminished. Make sure nothing has been substituted; for example, sugar.
This sounds really nutritious, but it simply indicates that a food has a variety of grains. Unless the product is identified as whole grain, these are probably refined grains.
This does not essentially imply that the product looks natural. It just signifies that the company had previously used a natural source, such as apples or rice.
This label doesn’t say much about how nutritious a product is. For instance, a sugar that is organic is still sugar.
e) No additional sugar
Some goods contain a lot of sugar by nature. The absence of added sugar doesn’t imply that they are healthy. It’s also possible that unwholesome sugar substitutes were used.
The original product of the brand must have third fewer calories than low-calorie products. But the low-calorie version of one brand may have the same number of calories as the original of another brand.
This label typically indicates that more sugar was added in order to lower the fat. Read the ingredients list and exercise extreme caution.
Low-carb diets have recently been associated with better health. Nevertheless, processed low-carb foods are frequently still processed junk foods, just like processed low-fat foods.
i) Produced with entire grains
There may not be much whole grain in the product. If whole grains aren’t listed in the first three items on the ingredient list, the amount is insignificant.
j) Enriched or fortified
This indicates that the product has had some nutrients added to it. Vitamin D, for example, is frequently added to milk. However, just because something is fortified does not imply that it is healthy.
Gluten-free does not imply health. Simply put, the product does not contain wheat, spelled, rye, or barley. Many gluten-free foods are highly processed and high in sugar and unhealthy fats.
Many processed foods, such as strawberry yogurt, have names that refer to natural flavors. However, the product may not contain any fruit at all, but rather chemicals that are designed to taste like fruit.
m) No trans-fat
This phrase translates to “less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving.” As a result, even if serving sizes are deceptively small, the product may still contain trans fat.
Different Names for Sugar
Sugar goes by a lot of names, many of which you might not be familiar with. Food producers take advantage of this by deliberately adding a variety of sugars to their products in order to conceal the actual amount. By doing this, companies are able to place a healthier ingredient at the front and mention sugar later. Sugar is known by many different names, many of which you may not be familiar with. Cane sugar, inverted sugar, corn sweetener, dextran, molasses, malt syrup, maltose, and evaporated cane juice are examples. Therefore, even if a product may contain a lot of sugar, it may not always be listed among the first three ingredients.
There are many more names for sugar, but these are the most common. If you see any of these at the top of the ingredients list — or several different kinds — the product is high in added sugar.
Avoiding processed foods is the best way to avoid being misled by product labels. After all, a list of ingredients isn’t required for whole food. Still, if you decide to buy packaged foods, use the helpful tips in this article to separate junk from higher-quality products.