We believe it is important to be informed and aware when making healthy food choices, after all it is the foundation for fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Fitmark athlete Michael Wittig shares with us some of the oft-times deceptive food labeling practices that may be good for marketing, yet not so good for your health, be aware…
I have personal training clients from all walks of life. Some know they need serious help with nutrition while others are already making strong efforts. But sometimes even the healthiest of us are fooled by the big print on food labels claiming to be a ‘healthier’ option. Knowing that not all companies have our best interest in mind it’s a good practice to not only read food labels, but try to understand what they really mean. Some of the food items claiming to be ‘low calorie’ or ‘all-natural’ could be potentially working against your health and fitness goals. While food labels nowadays have countless claims, I’m going to share seven of the most commonly confused phrases printed on food labels. Hopefully this will arm you with a little more knowledge to help you select food that is best for your goals and lifestyle.
When you see products that proclaim ‘Reduced Fat’ you have to ask yourself, “Compared to what?”. Reduced fats means it should have 25% less fat than the regular product. But remember the regular product might be super high in fat so even a reduced version may have a high fat content. Reduced, or even low fat or fat-free, foods can still be loaded in sugar and high in calories. Don’t be fooled by products that claim to have less or no fat. Look at the labels and watch for actual fat content, total calories, sugars, preservatives, and other unhealthy components.
Light or Lite
This title can be devious. A ‘light’ food should have one-third less calories, or 50% less fat, or 50% less sodium that similar products. The deception happens when brands refer to ‘light’ meaning the colors of the food or flavor. Just because it has less of something like fat or sodium does not go hand-in-hand with healthy. While it may be less sodium it might be high fat and sugar. Always check all the ingredients on the label as well as the total calories, fat, sodium, and sugar content.
No Sugar Added
The wording on this one can easily be overlooked. While sugar may not be added to the product it might already contain a lot in the first place. This is especially important for diabetics to know. Many foods such as fruits, juice, vegetables, and dairy naturally contain sugar and some in high amounts. Items that claim ‘low sugar’ may still be loaded with carbohydrates, calories, and artificial sweeteners. Also, watch for sugar alcohols half of which count as carbohydrates.
This sounds like it would be really healthy right? Sorry to say this statement is not defined or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The USDA does not classify ‘all natural’ any differently than simply ‘natural’. Manufacturers are just not able to add colors, flavors, or synthetic substances. Natural products still might contain preservatives, extra sodium injections, or high fructose corn syrup (hey, it comes from corn lol). These foods are not inspected and producers are not required to have special certifications. In many cases the claim “natural” is meaningless.
It’s probably best to avoid foods with the label ‘multi-grain’ and look for ‘whole grain’ or better yet ‘100% whole grain’. Multi-grain just means it has more than one type of grain and may not have very much of the good kind. The color of bread products can even be deceiving as sometimes the producers use caramel coloring to make it look healthier. Also watch out for the terms ‘made with whole grain’, seven-grain, or stone-ground. These products may only contain a small amount of actual whole grain and more of the refined type stripped of nutrients and fiber.
Foods that are classified as ‘low calorie’ should contain one-third less calories than the original version of the product. The problem here is two-fold. Firstly, the original product may be really high in calories so even one-third less still contains a lot of calories. Secondly, the serving size might be reduced to make it low calorie. Then you may end up eating the same amount of calories or even more than the regular version.
This last point goes for everything above and many other claims not mentioned in this article. If a serving size is really small, compared to normal portions, of course it’s going to have less calories, fat, or sodium. Compare serving sizes with other brands and similar products. The bottom line is to carefully read labels and ingredients and don’t take a catch phrase as fact. Knowing this I encourage you to be critical when shopping and expect deception. There are lots of healthy options available, but you do have to be informed and make an effort to find them.
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