Food Labeling: Are We Being Tricked?

by Matt on January 12, 2011

Yesterday, I came across this on the that I really agree with and I want to share it with you guys.

Many folks read food labels to gain better insight on the foods they choose. However, with so many claims plastered on labels, things can get really confusing. Even worse, food companies use these claims to push certain products and make you think they’re healthier than they really are. We’ve rounded up the top 10 food label boobie traps.

#1: Natural
The term is not very well defined by the FDA. The definition is so loosey-goosey that a ginger ale company was caught using the term on their label even though it contained . So when you see the term “natural” on the label, just ignore it.

#2: Cholesterol-Free
All foods that come from a plant like fruits, veggies, grains, nuts and seeds are free of cholesterol. So when a food label on a package of nuts or raisins touts that their product is “cholesterol-free” don’t fall for it — all other brands of nuts, raisins and any other foods derived from plants are also cholesterol-free.

#3: Trans-Fat Free
Trans-fat free is defined as a food that contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. But be aware that trace amounts of trans fat can be hidden in these foods. The giveaway: look for words like “partially-hydrogenated” on the ingredient list. And don’t overlook the rest of the nutrition information — even if gummy bears are touted as “trans-fat free,” it doesn’t mean they’re a healthy choice.

#4: Organic
A food labeled organic (or certified organic) means they were grown without conventional pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. Organic foods cost a pretty penny, but aren’t always worth it. Be strategic about splurging your hard-earned cash on organic products — these can help you out.

#5: Sugars: Added Verses Natural
Some folks read the amount of sugars on a label and assume the sugar was added. This isn’t always the case. Take yogurt for example: It contains a natural sugar called lactose found in all dairy products. Look at the ingredient list to decipher if the sugar is natural or added to the product.

#6: Omega-3 Fats
Not all omega-3s are created equal. Those from (called ALA) don’t have all the benefits (like helping with heart health) when compared with the omega-3’s derived from fatty fish like salmon and tuna (called DHA and EPA). Knowing are in the food is the important part.

#7: Fiber
Just like omega-3 fats, . Some fiber is added to food products and may not be as healthy as fiber that’s naturally-occurring. Foods like yogurt, crackers, bread, beverages and even sugar substitutes are now sporting these man-made fibers. Scan the ingredient list for words that indicate fiber was added like inulin, pectin, cellulose, polydextrose and oligosaccharides is important.

#8: Reduced-Fat
In some cases, reduced-fat may mean more sugar was added to replace some of the flavor. This holds true for peanut butter and that’s why it made our list of . Sometimes a small portion of the real deal is better than any modified version.

#9: Serving Size
The most common mistake around: Thinking the calories on the label are for the ENTIRE product. Always read the serving size and how many servings per package or container.

#10: Added Vitamins and Minerals
Just because a product has 100 percent of the daily value for vitamins and minerals doesn’t mean it should be in your shopping cart. Many sugary cereals add loads of vitamins and minerals to their product and then use it as a selling point. There are tons of other ways to get in your vitamins and minerals without choosing a product loaded with sugar and/or fat.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition.

I loved this .

After reading it, I started asking myself a lot of questions about the food industry. I already knew that they will put absolutely anything on a label in order to sell it…

But is a paycheck really worth the health of other individuals?

When it comes to the food industry, everything is about money. Companies want to sell the cheapest product at the highest possible price and volume, no matter the consequences are on an individuals health. That is all they care about.

To do this, they make you think you are eating something “healthy.”

Have you ever bought something based on the label? Did it have the words “natural” or “low fat” or “high fiber” in it?

Most likely, you were tricked into thinking that an unnatural food product is good for you.

This is the main reason I eat by my food philosophy. The next time you are buying something at the grocery store, ask yourself this question:

Is this real food?

Thoughts? Input?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

January 12, 2011 at 8:09 AM

Great guide on the misleading labels1
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January 12, 2011 at 8:10 AM

Oops. 1 = !
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January 12, 2011 at 8:44 AM

Thank you for this post. I always go back and forth around sugar content – my body cannot handle a lot of sugar and so I’m always conscious about how much is added to the food I buy.
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January 12, 2011 at 8:55 AM

I agree! It’s important to make smart choices and not go by what the front of a box might tell you. Things like “reduced sugar” or “reduced sodium” can be misleading as well, as it just means that it was reduced from the original version (not necessarily being any lower than another product.)

Great post! :D
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January 12, 2011 at 9:26 AM

I am totally with you on the food label “mysteries”. I just read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan two days ago and I am definitely rethinking my food purchases.
The idea of people adding things to my food to get me to buy it turns me off.
Thanks for sharing the article!


January 12, 2011 at 9:30 AM

This article shares great information. I have read similar articles, so I never really rely on a label 100%. In fact, the only foods I really feel like I can count on are the foods that come straight from the ground. I try to read ingredient labels carefully. I just wish there was more recourse against companies that mislead consumers.
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Jamie in ArkansasNo Gravatar January 12, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Only buy foods without labels (fruits, veggies, lean meats, grains) and you don’t have to worry about being tricked!!! :) If God made it, you should eat it!


MattNo Gravatar January 12, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Are you OK with me using your comment on my post today?


Jamie in ArkansasNo Gravatar January 12, 2011 at 11:59 AM

SURE! Anything to promote healthy living and clean eating! :)


January 12, 2011 at 10:40 AM

I don’t remember who said it- I think it was Michael Pollan- but he said to avoid buying foods that make health claims on the label. If you’re not sure if it’s good for you, it’s probably not!

Great post!
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January 12, 2011 at 10:40 AM

So true and sad all at the same time. I’ve tried to educate myself on all the truths and lies of food industry marketing scams but when I see how it affects people like my mom who takes them at their word that’s when it hurts.


January 12, 2011 at 11:06 AM

I used to be tricked by the labels when I was younger and uneducated but now is a different story. I think it’s great you know this now when you’re young! I’ve taught my husband…….now it’s on to the 8 yr old. :)
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January 12, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Unless you’re trying to lose weight or have a dietary restriction, nutrition labels are bull. I read the ingredients first- that’s all I need to know. It’s good to be aware of calories and fat and fiber, but they in no way define the nutrition of a food, especially with all the additives in today’s food industry!
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Jamie in ArkansasNo Gravatar January 12, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Oh, yeah…one more thing! I think the smart rule (if you HAVE to buy something with a label) is to make sure it has no more than 5 ingredients and you can pronounce them all!!!!


January 12, 2011 at 12:09 PM

When I was on Weight Watchers, I was all about low-fat and low calorie items. Because they were low points!

Once I reached a weight I was comfortable with, I started eating clean and I love how it has helped me with my energy and just feeling great overall. :-D Plus the fake stuff tastes like crap. Haha
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January 13, 2011 at 12:47 AM

#3 is crazy!! I learned that in my nutrition class last semester and was pretty pissed! ugh…
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January 16, 2011 at 3:02 PM

I really try to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Less labels, less chance for misleading claims. Great reminder! Thanks for sharing!
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