Nutrition Articles

The Loopholes of Food Labeling

What Food Manufacturers Don't Want You to Know

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When you're shopping in the grocery store, you may notice that food packages are always labeled with the latest buzz words. When the new food guide pyramid touted the importance of whole grains for example, suddenly words and logos for "whole grains" plastered the fronts of cereal boxes, crackers, breads and even cookies! Now with the media's attention on the harmful effects of trans fats, many food manufacturers are trying to draw your attention to the fact that their product is free of trans fats. No matter what the fad is—low-carb, fat-free, organic, or heart-healthy—manufacturers will try to lure you into buying their product. But, while food manufacturers can't lie to you about the nutrition and ingredients of their products, they can easily mislead you into thinking something is healthier than it really is.

Reading and understanding a nutrition label doesn’t require a degree in nutrition, but it does require that you look beyond the fancy claims on the front of the box. If you know how to read between the lines of the marketing spin, you too can know how to make the most nutritious choices without having to read the fine print.

By law, food labels must be truthful. But manufactures can pick and choose which facts to highlight and spin. As a consumer, your best option is to disregard the claims on the front of the package because, while they may be true, it may not tell you the whole story.

Here's a list of the most popular food package claims used by food manufacturers—and what they really mean for you and your health.

"Natural"
The word "natural" is not regulated by the FDA and therefore is very misleading. Sure "natural" brings to mind thoughts of fresh, minimally processed and healthy food, but it means nothing about a food's nutritional content, ingredients, safety, or health effects. Almost all packaged foods today are processed in some way. Natural potato chips may use real potatoes (instead of flakes), for example, but like regular potato chips, they are still a high-fat food choice with little nutritional content. Natural candy may be sweetened with cane juice (instead of white sugar), but it can still contribute to weight gain when eaten in excess.

"Made with Real Fruit" or "Contains Real Fruit Juice"
You see “made with real fruit” frequently on fruit snacks, fruity cookies and cereals, and fruit drinks. Since there is no law that requires how much real fruit has to be included in a food that uses this claim, the sugary treat could contain just one grape or one drop of orange juice to be accurate. However, a quick look at the ingredients list will show you what you need to know. When high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar are listed as the first ingredients, you know that the “real fruit” content of the product isn't significant. This is sugary junk food that is trying to masquerade as healthy—but now you know better!
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About The Author

Tanya Jolliffe Tanya Jolliffe
Tanya earned a bachelor's degree in dietetics and nutrition and has more than 20 years of experience in nutrition counseling and education. She is a member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. See all of Tanya's articles.

Member Comments

  • Just because something is "natural" or "organic" doesn't necessarily mean it's good. Arsenic is totally natural and organic, for example. So are cobras. - 9/3/2014 1:18:01 PM
  • I disagree with the statement that healthy foods shouldn't contain sugar. I bake most of our breads from scratch - I even grind wheat berries for some of the flour - and you cannot make a yeasted bread without sweetener. I normally use honey or molasses, but there's nothing wrong with using sugar.

    Articles like this remind me how few people actually read the nutrition facts and ingredients labels on the food they're consuming, and that's both tragic and foolish. It seems to me that a lot of people take better care of their cars than they do of their bodies. - 4/30/2014 1:28:26 PM
  • That was an eye opener - 1/10/2014 11:31:52 AM
  • I wish they would just tell us the truth! - 10/18/2013 7:23:45 AM
  • The packaging that kills me are the ones that only one serving (personal pizza, etc), but then the nutritional info shows 2+ servings. Almost got me yesterday! - 6/4/2013 1:15:57 PM
  • It didn't say "in one sitting." It said "over time." You don't buy a box of cookies, eat one serving, and throw the rest away, do you? - 3/16/2013 2:32:44 PM
  • No offense, but who eats that many cookies in one sitting? - 2/3/2013 8:18:06 PM
  • let's not forget those labelsare based on 2000 calories or more in a day so if your limit is 1200 to 1600 you got to do the math for that also
    the lady mary - 1/18/2013 5:51:51 PM
  • Oh, and the author missed the latest mislabeling fads.

    Organic as in Organic potato chips made with organic potatoes (OK) deep-fried (Not stated but Yikes) in organic canola oil (really? almost all canola is GM and therefore NOT organic) with Organic Sea-salt (What is THAT?)

    Gluten-free plastered on fruit products, corn products, vegetable products. Hello? If it's not made from wheat, barley, rye, or some oats, it's gluten free. Period! You don't have to tell me. - 9/7/2011 2:16:08 PM
  • I love "Made with Natural Cane Sugar" because there is no such thing. Cane sugar is a highly processed food additive much along the same lines as HFCS and agave "nectar" aka powdered honey (which it is neither nectar or honey). The only only only natural sweetener in raw honey. Everything else is highly processed. - 9/7/2011 2:08:09 PM
  • "An example of an unhelpful fat-free claim is a carton of 100% orange juice. Here, a fat-free claim isnít helpful labeling, even though it is truthful. Oranges are naturally fat-free, so 100% orange juice always has and always will be fat-free, regardless of whether it is highlighted on the label or not. "
    Why didn't the article tell us about how much sugar is in juice? Not to mention how much fructose. Things to avoid if you're trying to be fructose free are, honey, fruit juices and dried fruit, all are very high in sugar/fructose, and FRUCTOSE MAKES YOU FAT. Do the research yourselves, people. Eat only whole frutit.....Still waiting for SparkPeople to put the relevant sugar content of every recipe on the 1st page of the recipe's nutritional list.
    I'm fructose free and have lost 9.8 kilos by giving it up.
    Note, if the sugar grams per 100 gtrams is more than 8 grams, don't buy the product, as that is way too much, especially if you take into account all the other stuff we put into our mouths every day. Aim for no more that 10 grams of sugar a day & you will lose weight, I promise.
    Sylv from Oz
    Spreading the Love - 6/4/2011 6:18:24 PM
  • My food lable question is always the same...Is the serving size based on the pre cooked or cooked measure??? Like with pasta??? - 3/5/2011 6:42:22 PM
  • This makes me want to be a kitchen goddess and make my own bread, and use only unprocessed ingredients!! HEehee. I love the information here, and it's great to find new ways to try to improve the health of what I choose to consume.

    I try to purchase and eat simple ingredients. I don't think I'll have the time to be that kitchen goddess that I envision, but I can be the working version of her, hold her inside me to help guide me, just as SparkPeople does!!

    Jocelyn - 12/27/2010 2:22:24 PM
  • Fat free has fooled me many times!! So has whole grains!! Thank you for the article!! - 12/2/2010 4:55:16 PM
  • Also, if a product says 30% (or whatever) less fat, the FDA defines this a being only 30% less grams than the original product. Why is this bad? Well those Milky Ways with "less fat" or mearly smaller than the original product, no ingredients are altered. - 9/8/2009 12:47:28 AM

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