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.

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

  • I'm more confused now! - 5/23/2016 1:32:20 PM
    Best strategy is to opt for unprocessed foods at all times! - 5/23/2016 9:18:33 AM
  • Also check the ingredients for High Frutous Corn Syrup. You'll find that many "whole wheat" breads in the supermarket contain HFCS. - 5/23/2016 7:05:57 AM
  • It is hard enough for people to find foods to fit there diet and there families needs and wants without companies trying to fool us. Here is a crazy ideal!! Make the food healthier and u wont have to lie about whats really in it!!
    - 5/23/2016 5:51:55 AM
  • Many, oh soooo many years ago I had a home economic teacher inform our class "Most of what you need to eat is in the outside ales of the store. The inside ailes of the store is mostly processed foods (this was over 40 yrs ago, it's MUCH WORSE NOW !) and to this day I think of her wise words ! Fruits, fresh veggies (though if they are frozen and nothing else added) meats, farm fresh (dairy , eggs ) that should be soooo much better again then the stuff that's processed. Read, Read, READ the labels CAREFULLY ! I used to shop almost only the inside of the store,,,it's NO WONDER I ended up at almost 300 lbs ! - 5/23/2016 2:51:14 AM
  • interesting & informative, the take away, the choices are either a bunch more regulations or I must fully accept the responsibility for my own food health. I elect the latter but admit to needing more education, like this article, and more motivation.

    The older I get the more obvious my need to take responsibility (yes, I'm more cynical of the food complex) and less inclined to change my habits of ease developed over a lifetime. - 12/20/2015 5:50:19 PM
  • Notice there is no "% Daily Value" listed for sugar on nutrition labels.

    The WHO's "ideal" recommendation is that no more than %5 of total energy intake come from free sugars.

    Sugar has about 4 calories per gram, or 16 calories per teaspoon. Under the 5 percent WHO guideline, a person who takes in 2000 calories a day would limit sugar to 25 grams. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 35 grams of sugar, which is 10 grams over the allowance.

    No one would by their products if the nutrition label said one serving had 120% of the daily allowable recommendation. - 12/10/2015 8:29:09 AM
    The front of the box is advertising and the purpose of advertising is not to inform you or make you a wiser consumer, it's to sell you the product. Nothing more.

    If you want to know about a product the LAST place you look for accurate information is the front. of the box. - 3/26/2015 9:32:37 AM
  • 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

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