It must be challenging to read labels.
Food manufacturers use misleading tactics to get consumers to buy unhealthy, highly processed products.
Food labeling regulations can be confusing for consumers.
This article will explain how to read labels on food so you can distinguish between junk foods and healthy foods.
Be aware of the claims on the front.
The best tip is to ignore the claims made on the front packaging.
Front labels make health claims to entice you to purchase products.
Research shows that consumers are likelier to buy a product with health claims on the front label than if it doesn’t.
These labels are frequently used dishonestly by manufacturers. Health claims are often misleading or even false.
Many breakfast cereals, such as whole-grain Cocoa Puddings, are high in sugar. These products, despite what their labels may suggest, are not healthy.
It is easier for consumers to select healthy products after carefully reading the ingredient list.
Examine the ingredients list.
Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, from highest to least amount.
The manufacturer will use the majority of the first ingredient.
The first three ingredients are the most important and will make up most of your food.
You can be sure that the product will be unhealthy if the first ingredient is refined grain or sugar.
Choose items with whole foods as the first three ingredients.
A long list of ingredients (more than 2 to 3 lines) indicates that the product has been highly processed.
Beware of serving sizes.
The nutrition label will tell you how many calories and nutrients there are in the standard serving of a product.
These serving sizes are often much smaller than the food consumed in a single sitting.
One serving can be, for example, half of a soda can, a quarter cookie, half of a chocolate bar, or one biscuit.
Manufacturers trick consumers into believing that their food contains fewer calories and sugar.
Most people must learn this serving size system and assume that the whole container is one serving. In reality, it can be two, three, or more portions.
You can find the nutritional value by multiplying the serving size on the package by the number you ate.
The False Claims
The health claims on food packaging are meant to grab your attention and convince you that the product is healthy.
What are the most common claims, and what do they mean?
- Light. Light products are processed to reduce calories or fat. Some products have been watered-down. If unsure, check to see if something else has been substituted — such as sugar.
- Multigrain While this sounds healthy, it simply means that the product contains multiple types of grains. This is most likely refined grain – unless it’s marked whole grain.
- Natural. This does not mean the product is genuine. This means the manufacturer initially used a natural product like rice or apples.
- Organic. The label tells us very little about the healthiness of a product. Organic sugar, for example, is still sugar.
- No sugar added. Sugar is naturally present in some products. Just because they have no added sugar does not mean they are healthy. Sugar substitutes that are unhealthy may have also been added.
- Reduced-calorie. Products with a lower-calorie content must have one-third fewer calories than their original products. Low-calorie versions of some brands may contain the same calories as their actual products.
- Low fat. This label indicates that the fat content has been reduced by adding sugar. Read the list of ingredients and be very careful.
- Low carb. Recent studies have linked low-carb diets to better health. Low-carb foods are still junk food, just like processed low-fat foods.
- This product contains whole grains. It may only have a small amount of whole grains. If whole grains do not appear in the first three ingredients, then the amount of whole grains is minimal.
- Fortified or enriched This refers to a product enriched with nutrients. Vitamin D, for example, is added to milk. Fortification does not make something healthy.
- Gluten-free. Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. The product contains no wheat, barley, rye, or spelled. Most gluten-free products are highly processed and loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats.
- Fruit-flavored. A natural flavor, like strawberry yogurt, calls many processed foods. The product may not even contain fruit, but only chemicals designed to taste like it.
- Zero Trans Fat. This phrase is “less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving.” If serving sizes are misleadingly low, the product could still contain trans fat.
Despite these warnings, many healthy foods are natural, organic, and whole grain. Even though a food label may make specific claims, it doesn’t mean the product is healthy.
Sugar by Other Names
Sugar is known by many names, some of which you might need to recognize.
The food manufacturers take advantage of this by adding different types of sugar to conceal the amount.
This allows them to list the healthier ingredient first and mention sugar later. Even though a product is loaded with sugar, it may not appear in the first three ingredient lists.
Watch out for these names in the ingredient list to avoid accidentally eating a lot of sugar:
- Sugar types: Brown sugar (beet), Cane sugar (caster), Coconut sugar (date sugar), Golden sugar(inverted sugar), Muscovado Sugar, Organic Raw Sugar, Raspberryadura, Evaporated Cane Juice, and Confectioner’s Sweetener.
- Types: Carob syrup, Golden Syrup, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Agave Nectar, Malt syrups, Maple syrups, Oat syrups, Rice Bran syrups, and Rice Syrup.
- Other added Sugars: Barley Malt, Molasses, Cane Juice Crystals, Lactose Sweetener, Corn Sweetener, Crystalline Fructose Dextran, Malt Powder, Ethyl-Maltol, Fruit juice Concentrate, Galactose Glucose Disaccharides Maltodextrin and Maltose.
There are many other names for sugar, but these two are the most popular.
Add sugar to the list of ingredients if you find any or all of these at the top or a mixture.