If you find yourself a bit dazed and confused as you walk the supermarket aisles trying to make sense of the food labels, you are not alone!
Marketers can be very tricky, and they are sneaking some healthy sounding lingo, on some not so so-healthy foods, that make the sound like they are actually good for you, and like something you should buy.
Here is a little help on what to look for, and what to completely ignore on those food labels!
This has been the big buzz word of late, with everyone flocking to “gluten free products” as if gluten is the big bad wolf. Humans have been eating and digesting gluten for thousands and thousands of years. The ONLY people that need to be aware of “gluten free” labels, are those who have been actually diagnosed with celiac disease or another known sensitivity to gluten. For everyone else there is ZERO scientific evidence that “gluten-free” products can help you lose weight or provide any other health benefits over products that contain gluten. The word “gluten-free” on the label is not some kind of badge of honor that the particular product is good for your health.
Nonfat, Fat-free, and/or Calorie-free
In the mid-1980’s during the “Fat-Free Food Boom” fat was the enemy and Americans became ‘fat phobic’. To compensate, Americans ate more refined carbohydrates and sugar because when food manufacturers took out the fat, they added lots of sugar. Fat-free frozen yogurt and fat-free muffins and cookies were popular, but they were hardly healthy foods! The other day I saw these words proudly emblazoned on a package of Twizzlers, “A Fat-Free Food,” but I have not heard anyone out there recommending “The Twizzlers Diet,” have you?
Like “gluten-free,” organic is another labeling device very popular with food marketers, who want you to perceive anything labeled as such as having some kind of healthy seal of approval. The FDA does not regulate the use of the term “organic” on food labels. However, the USDA and NOP (National Organic Program) have strict requirements for products that are labeled “organic.” But the main thing about “organic” is not to mistake it for meaning that something claiming to be organic is any better than something not labeled as such. The one exception is produce. If grapes or apples are organic, that means they have not been sprayed with pesticides, which is better for young children who consume a lot of these fruits, but “organic Oreos” (yes, that is a thing) not so much!
Natural or All-Natural
Another label used to mislead as bad as, worse than “organic,” is “natural” or “all natural.” Like “organic,” the FDA does not regulate the use of the word “natural” on food labels, so there’s no clear definition. A food manufacturer can use “natural” on its products without FDA oversight. When a food is labeled “natural”, it is often meant to imply it is healthy. Unassuming consumers are led to believe it is better for them, more nutritious, or hasn’t been exposed to pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics, but, while the FDA has not defined the term, it assumes that “natural” only means that a particular food is free from synthetic or artificial ingredients. So, there can be so-called “all natural” products that are still high in fat and sugar, and are not necessarily so good for you.
The bottom line is, read food labels very carefully, do not be tricked by marketer’s efforts to deceive you, and, if you really want to be sure you are eating healthy – stick with more foods that have no labels at all – like fresh fruits and vegetables!