Nutrition Articles

The Loopholes of Food Labeling

What Food Manufacturers Don't Want You to Know

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"Whole Grains"
This is one of the most popular marketing claims of late, and the most confusing. Today we see "whole grain" logos on almost all grain products, including sugary breakfast cereals. The reality is that refined white flour—with just a touch of whole wheat added back in—can be listed as “whole grain.” A food manufacturer can use the term "whole grain" no matter how much whole wheat the product contains. What the various "whole grain" terms actually mean may surprise you:
  • "Made with Whole Grains": All it needs is one tiny bit of whole grains to use this claim, which means nothing for your health.
  • "Wheat flour" or "100 percent wheat": Again, this is a ploy that tries to fool consumers. You want to look for "whole wheat flour" or "100 percent whole wheat", not just the word "wheat."
  • "Multigrain": This doesn't explain whether the grains are refined or whole, just that there is more than one type of grain. Multigrain has no proven health benefits, especially if all those grains are refined, and they probably are (unless the ingredients list proves otherwise).
  • "Whole grain": This term is also misleading, because whole grains can contain various blends of grains that are refined. You want to avoid words like enriched and bleached on the ingredients label. You can only trust the term "100 percent whole grain" to be a healthy choice.
  • "X Grams of Whole Grains": Don't let the grams of whole grains in a food confuse you. A food can claim that it's a "Good Source" of whole grains, but that does not mean it's high in fiber (it may have little to none).
When it comes to grain-based foods, you can't trust the words on the face of the package. Double-check and look at the ingredients list every time, looking for keywords like "whole wheat flour" to be first on the list. Additives like sugar and corn syrup shouldn't appear in the top of the ingredients list of a healthy food. If a food is high in whole grains, it'll have protein and fiber to boot. Be aware that manufacturers won't necessarily call their processed flours "refined" on the label. Anything that is listed as corn, rice, wheat, or oat flour IS processed and refined unless it specifically tells you that it is "whole".

"Fat Free"
"Fat-free" food labels may also tempt you to believe these are healthier food selections. Sometimes this can be helpful, like when choosing skim milk over higher fat varieties. But take the time to read labels. When a meat label boasts that it's 95% fat free, it sounds like a healthy choice since only 5 percent of it is fat. But fat contains a lot of calories, so check out the nutrition facts label for the actual number of calories and fat grams per serving.

An example of an unhelpful fat-free claim is a carton of 100% orange juice. Here, a fat-free claim isn’t 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.
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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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