Health & Food

Watching Your Weight? Don’t Be Confused (or Fooled!) by These Labels….

I recently read an article that talked about a University of South Carolina study, which showed those who are trying to lose weight ( a whole lot of people at this time of year!)are more likely to be deceived by food labels.   Apparently the most commonly misunderstood labels include “gluten-free”, “trans-fat-free”, “no high fructose corn syrup”, “whole grain”, “low-fat”, and “organic”.But I work in a supermarket and I can tell you right now there are a few other labels that can be just as confusing.  Please continue reading to see what these labels really mean.  And if you want more help, order your “Personal Food Label Guide” at the end of my blog post (the guide was written by yours truly!).Food Label Guide 3

Source: iStock Photos

Trying to lose weight? Trying to be healthier this year? Keep in mind the true meaning of the following food labels (nutrition and nutrient claims);

Whole Grain:  Sure, the food may have whole grains, but it may not be a significant amount.  In other words, there is probably a bread or pasta on the shelf with more whole grains, and that is the one that has the “100% Whole Grain” claim.  You want more whole grains for more fiber, B-vitamins, and other nutrients.Food Label Guide 5

Source: iStock Photo

Multigrain: This is my favorite.  The “multigrain” claim sounds so healthy, doesn’t it?? Every once in a while you will find bread, cereal, pasta, etc. that claims to be “multigrain” that is actually made with multiple whole grains, but most often it’s just made with several grains that are refined.  Or, sometimes you will see; refined wheat…a few other ingredients…. and oats.  Great.  One whole grain (the oats) and it’s the least prevalent grain.  Not as healthy as you thought, right?! Does this mean don’t buy it?  Not at all, just be aware you may not be getting what you think.

Gluten-Free:  Do you believe there are still people out there who think that “gluten-free” means healthy, or low-fat?  Believe it.  And, it’s not true.  In fact, many gluten-free foods have more fat and more sugar than their gluten-filled originals.   Read the nutrition facts carefully.  Period.Food Label Guide 6

This is a gluten-free cookie cake (DELICIOUS!).  It had 10 grams more sugar than the non-gluten free version on the shelf.

This is a gluten-free cookie cake (DELICIOUS!).  It had 10 grams more sugar than the non-gluten free version on the shelf.

No High Fructose Corn Syrup:  Mmmm k.  So what?!  If you are trying to avoid HFCS because you think it’s highly processed and detrimental to your health for some reason, that’s fine (although I don’t really think it’s as bad as some people think, but that’s for another blog post) but don’t be fooled into thinking it will cause weight gain any more than the other “added sugars”.  Most foods with the claim “no HFCS” still have other sugars like sucrose, molasses, honey, evaporated cane juice, etc, which are almost exactly the same as HFCS.  In other words, the company is just swapping one added sugar for another.  You want to limit all types of sugars if you are trying to lose, or maintain a healthy weight.Food Label Guide 7

This is a label for bread. Food Label Guide 8
This is the ingredient list for the bread pictured above.  Let’s count the sources of sugar;
Sugar, Honey, Molasses
So, it may not have HFCS, but it still has 3 sources of added sugar!  Granted, they constitute 2% or less of the total ingredients, but so would the HFCS if it were in this bread…..

Trans Fat-Free:   Trans-fat free just means the product contains half a gram or less trans fat per serving.  Eat more than one serving and you could possibly have close to a full gram of trans fat!  That’s a full gram too much.  Instead of looking for “trans-fat-free” look at the ingredient list and make sure there are no “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils.

Low Fat:   Doesn’t mean low calorie. It doesn’t mean low-sugar. And doesn’t mean low sodium.  Remember, food companies have to make up for that fat taste somewhere, and it’s typically with more salt, sugar, or something else.  It’s fine to eat low-fat foods, but be aware it doesn’t mean you can eat the whole bag!

Organic: It doesn’t always mean healthy. Period.  Have you seen “organic candy bars”? They were made with organic ingredients, not less sugar, or less fat, or whole grains, or whatever else you associate with “healthy” (learn more about what “organic” means by purchasing my book, or viewing the USDA website).Food Label Guide 9

Source: iStock Photo

Looking for “organic” and “natural” foods?  Look in your produce aisle for the best options.  Then you will know you are making a delicious and healthy choice!

Natural:  No one is actually monitoring the use of this term.  Did you know that?  And, there is no actual definition for this term either, which is why so many companies use it on their labels.  The FDA has said that the term “natural” can be used in foods that are “minimally processed, with no artificial colors or additives”….but, no one is actually making sure companies are using this term in the correct way.  Not only that, but even if food really is labeled “natural” correctly, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy!  I mean….see the “Organic” segment above.

Click on the PayPal link below to purchase your “Personal Food Label Guide”! You can get it sent to you as a PDF file, and save it on your SmartPhone desktop as an “app”.  This guide can be especially helpful for dietitians, as I refer to it quite often.