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Labels & Fables

Can we just knock off the non-sense and give it to me straight?  Seriously!  Don't sugar-coat it...WHAT are we eating?

 

If there's one thing that any mom can find agitating, it's wading through the clever wording and marketing schemes when all we want to do is grab the {healthy} goods and get out so we can tackle everything else on our lists.  I know I do!  I know you do!  Here are a some common "red flags" that you will soon recognize for what they are: deceptive marketing tactics used to sell you sub-par products.

 

As we've discussed so much here about the toxins and hazards so prevalent in our country’s food supply, I know you’re taking more time to actually read those labels!  No getting around it – YOU CAN’T JUST READ THE PACKAGE, YOU HAVE TO READ THE NUTRITION LABEL!  You won’t believe how much your eyes start to open as you make this a standard practice.  While you’re doing all this label-reading though, it will serve you well to be equipped with some knowledge on labeling practices so corrupt companies to rob you of your money and health by deceiving you with fancy words and bold claims.

 

“Natural” or “All Natural”

This term is not regulated and therefore cannot be trusted.  Seeing this on a package really means nothing.  It is a term companies put on packaging to fool you into believing you’re actually feeding your family a quality “natural” product when theirs may contain any number of “unnaturals” within.  Be sure to read your ingredients list without letting the use of this term, in and of itself, be a determining factor and know that the food can and likely does contain unhealthy ingredients (such as high fructose corn syrup), residues of pesticides, herbicides, other contaminants and potentially GMO’s.

 

Organic vs. 100% Organic

Not everything labeled “organic” is fully organic.  Certified 100% Organic means that all the ingredients in a product have been grown or raised according to the USDA’s organic standards, which are the rules for producing foods labeled organic. Certified Organic requires that 95 to 99 percent of the ingredients follow the rules.  With a ton of "health-food-junk" hitting store shelves, it should also be noted that "organic" does not always mean "healthy."  While the chem-free editions may be better than the alternatives, some foods are still "once-in-a-while" foods or ones you may wish to avoid all together.  Potato chips, meat-free nuggets, and cookies can still pack a ton of sugar and fat that, when consumed regularly, may still compromise your health.

 

“Fruit Juice,” “Juice” or “Juice Drink”

Be picky when it comes to juices.  I’ve seriously seen “juices” that I turned over to find were only 5%, 10% or even 0% juice.  Many of these contain sugars, dyes, flavorings, and more.  You’re best juice picks should be raw (if possible) and NOT from concentrate insofar as you can help it.

 

“Made with Real Fruit/Vegetables”

This is an especially offensive claim where it is often so boldly touted on packed foods aimed for children.  The “fruit” in question may not even be a whole fruit or the fruit flavor the package claims.   Strawberry fruit snacks can be made from pear juice concentrate, dye, flavor additives and contain upwards to half their weight in sugar.  Some foods include vegetable names in the product name/description, even while they have more salt or synthetics than the actual vegetable claimed and contain virtually none of the nutritive properties of the fruits/vegetables you bought the product for.

 

 “Low Fat,” “No Fat,” “Low Sugar,” “Reduced Sodium”

Be very cautious when packages tout these sorts off labels.  Most commercial foods get much of their flavor from sugar, salt and fat.  A removal or reduction in any one of these generally comes with an increase in the others or with the addition of a synthetic replacement(s).

 

“Og Trans Fat”

With greater public awareness of the hazards of trans fats, spinsters were bound to find a loophole to make bigger fools of standard consumers who think their product is healthier than its competitors’ while the product may still be loaded with saturated fats.  FDA regulations require that a product must contain .5g or less per serving to be labeled “trans fat free.”  Companies can get around this by reducing portion sizes so that their product meets the requirement, even where the portion is realistically far less than the average person would consume.

 

“Made with Whole Grains”

Don’t let companies make a fool of you by their use of this phrase.  It does not mean it is truly a whole grain product or that it is truly healthful.  I have even actually seen this phrase rocked across the face of a box of popcorn.  Seriously?  Corn is a grain and in order to pop it, I’m fairly certain that the entirety of the kernel being present and intact is a must.  “Made with whole grain!” they say?  What else could it be?  Never mind the bad fats, bad salts and other additives, or the fact that the corn is likely GMO, if it says “whole grain,” it’s healthy, right?  Wrong!

 

Many breads especially will sport this claim while only a small percentage of the bread contains actual whole wheat flour and the rest is made of bleached flour (often labeled as “enriched flour” or even “enriched wheat flour”); not to mention all the other sugars, preservatives, dough conditioners, colorings (so it looks legit) and other additives.  Because of this, I like to make our own breads.  In a pinch, we look for brands like Ezekiel Bread, Oroweat (Health Nut, Oatnut, etc.) or the simplest, most healthful brands we can obtain.  We’ll talk more on this further on but for now, don’t be fooled by this label!  Note that ingredients must be listed in order of predominance.  In other words, seeing “whole wheat flour” listed first can be a great indicator while seeing it listed much further down indicates it probably has very little in it.

 

Misleading Serving Size

This we touched on a bit above.  Companies reduce the serving size so you don’t perceive that you are taking in as much salt, sugar, fat, or calories as you really are.  The aim is to think that you can fit their product in as part of your eating plan or specialty diet without breaking the bank in one sitting.  Even worse - that their product is packaged perfectly for Jr.'s lunch box!  Portion sizes are often much smaller than people would assume/eat and this problem is only worsened as companies place foods in what seems to be single serve packages (bottles and bags people commonly consume the entirety of in one sitting) but break down the nutritional values in smaller increments.  So, a bottle of soda may actually contain 2-3 servings; same for a bag of chips or a candy bar.

 

Bold Medical Claims Like: “Helps Maintain A Healthy Heart” or ”Supports The Immune System”

While these health claim statements are supposed to be regulated by the FDA, companies still find those loopholes and highlight bold claims on their products to fool you once again.  These claims often have not been proven in association with their product but rather may have previously been linked to one of the ingredients, of which that product may not even contain a significant amount.  Example:  Yogurt ads typically link to studies touting the benefits of probiotics though many yogurts are loaded with sugar and actually possess little-to-no live cultures.  This means its more likely to be feeding gut problems than fixing them.

 

“Fiber”

Many products boast claims about their fiber content as consumers become more aware of our need for it.  However, consumers don’t always understand where the fiber in these products comes from.  A common fiber additives actually comes from wood pulp (yes, as in sawdust).  Other commonly used fiber additives actually come from isolated fibers in the form of purified powders like polydextrose, inulin, and maltodextrin, which do not have the same health benefits of traditional, intact fibers.  For real fiber sources, get lots of fresh fruits, vegetable, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.

 

Like I said, YOU'VE GOT TO READ THE LABELS!  Learn to look past the shiny packages and colorful claims to decide for yourself whether certain foods fit into your health plan.

 

 

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