Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Top 10 Food Label Tricks to Avoid

When I am surfing the Internet, I get these random links to stories that catch my eye.  I came across an interesting link that I thought I'd like to write a post about.  The title of the story is "Top 10 Food Label Tricks to Avoid in 2012."  After my post yesterday about reading Nutrition Facts Labels, I thought this list was intriguing and something that I could embellish with information of my own...

  • As mentioned in my post yesterday, according to the FDA's Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA),  fat content is not required to be listed on the label "if the food contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving and if no claims are made about fat or cholesterol content."
    • The bad thing about this is if you eat multiple foods that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, you could be eating a "measurable" amount of trans fat over the course of the day.
  • Avoid products that have "partially hydrogenated oils" listed as an ingredient.  This usually indicates that the product has some trans fat.
  • Some may mistake this to mean "whole grain" or "whole wheat."  It does not.  This just means that the product is "made from several grains, which may be whole or refined. Labels such as "12 grain" and "made with" whole wheat can be equally deceptive. "
  • "To make sure the food is rich in whole grains, check the ingredients. The first one listed should contain the word "whole.""
  • "The FDA has no strict definition of the term, and many packaged foods claiming to be natural contain added chemicals and other substances."
  • "The USDA, which regulates meat and poultry, has a more precise definition (no artificial ingredients and minimally processed), but it still allows for some additives."
  • "In addition, it's permissible to slap a "natural" label on meat and poultry from animals raised with antibiotics or hormones."
  • "Organic products, which tend to be significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts, can be just as high in salt, sugar or calories, low in fiber and devoid of nutrients."
  • "What's more, they may legally contain non-organic ingredients."
  • "To boost their fiber content, many packaged foods contain added fiber with names such as inulin, maltodextrin and polydextrose."
    • "While these count toward a food's fiber total, they haven't been proven to offer the same health benefits as the naturally-occurring fiber found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains."
    • "Inulin can cause gastrointestinal discomfort."
  • According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "Dietary Guidelines for Americans", "dietary fiber naturally occurs in plants, helps provide a feeling of fullness, and is important in promoting healthy laxation."
    • "These foods are consumed below recommended levels in the typical American diet."
      • Women should consume 25g daily while men should consume 38g daily.
    • "Dietary fiber that occurs naturally in foods may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes."
    • "Children and adults should consume foods naturally high in dietary fiber in order to increase nutrient density, promote healthy lipid profiles and glucose tolerance, and ensure normal gastrointestinal function."
    • They also state that "fiber is sometimes added to foods and it is unclear if added fiber provides the same health benefits as naturally occurring sources."
  • "Human studies of the sweetener high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) have generally shown it to be no worse for our waistlines or our health than table sugar. "
    • "The two have a similar chemical makeup, and both contain about the same number of calories."
  • "Just because a product contains an alternative to HFCS -- whether sugar, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup or agave nectar -- doesn't necessarily make it more healthful. "
  • "All caloric sweeteners, if consumed in excess, can contribute to obesity and related health problems."
  • " It offers no clear health advantages over table salt."
  • "By weight, both contain about the same amount of sodium, which is what poses a health risk."
  • According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, "Virtually all Americans consume more sodium than they need."
    • "The estimated average intake of sodium for all Americans ages 2 years and older is approximately 3,400 mg per day."
      • The recommended daily average intake of sodium for individuals aged 9-50 is 1,500mg per day.
      • The "Upper Tolerable Intake Level" is 2,300mg per day for people aged 14 and older.  
    • According to the American Heart Association, there is approximately 2,300mg of sodium per teaspoon.
      • With this calculation, you should consume only around 1/2 teaspoon of salt per day.
    • "Most sodium comes from salt added during food processing."
      • This is a good reason why you should cook your own rather than purchasing prepared foods.
    • "Some sodium-containing foods are high in sodium, but the problem of excess sodium intake also is due to frequent consumption of foods that contain lower amounts of sodium, such as yeast breads."
  • "A growing number of products imply that they can boost immunity and ward off illness."
  • "There's typically little or no evidence for such claims."
    • "This deception is permitted because of a loophole in labeling rules."
      • "By saying that a food "maintains" or "supports" normal functioning (such as a healthy immune system, blood pressure or cholesterol levels) instead of explicitly stating that it can treat or prevent a condition, manufacturers don't have to provide any proof."
  • "Studies show that fish oil is good for the heart, and many products from mayonnaise to peanut butter have added omega-3 fatty acids, the key ingredient in fish oil."
    • "But these foods typically contain a form of omega-3s known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which comes from plant sources such as flaxseed and canola oil rather than fish."
    • "The health benefits of ALA are not nearly as well documented as those of fish oil."
  • "The amount we get from some products may be too low to provide any benefit."
  • "You're better off getting your omega-3s from fish such as salmon."
  • Manufacturers often list servings sizes on their nutrition labels which do not reflect what a consumer will actually eat.  
    • Consumers will often eat more than what is listed as a serving size.
    • "Especially misleading are snacks and beverages from vending machines or convenience stores that seem to be single servings."
  • Even the FDA recognizes this "problem" and warns consumers to pay attention to the nutrition facts label. 
    • "The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label."
    • "Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. Then ask yourself, "How many servings am I consuming"?"
After reading this article, it has made me think more about reading labels rather than blindly purchasing items.  It is amazing what manufacturers can do to "trick" us into thinking we are eating something that is healthier when in fact we are not.  This is a good example why there is an obesity epidemic and why I need to teach my children from an early age the importance of making healthy food choices.

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