Decoding Food Labels

Today I saw a commerical that was so decieving, I felt the need to blog about nutrition labels. So many foods are starting to target markets that are concerned with health and weight management, so it's no surprise that advertiser are twisting the way things are worded or presented in order to make their product appear less bad for you.

For example, the current Country Crock Buttery Spread commercial features active kids and warns that active children often don't get enough calcium. But, fortunatly for you, Country Crock now has added calcium so you can rest easy. One serving contains a whooping 100mg of calcium!

Wait a second. 100mg is only 10% of my daily calcium requirement. I can get more than twice that amount in a glass of skim milk, minus the all the fat calories. The advertisers at Country Crock are evil geniouses. They're warning viewers that their children are not in fact as healthy as they appear, but thank goodness for Country Crock Buttery Spread, because when you eat it you'll get the calcium you need. It fails to mention that this "buttery spread" is mostly fat calories. Advertising has becoming so misleading, I think manufacurers could add some protein to a Snickers bar and call it an energy bar.

Wait, that's already happened.

Seriously though, we Americans are busy with so many other things, the last thing we want to do is scrutinize every food advertisement or decode every food label at the grocery store. Here's a little cheat sheet to help you decide if what you're looking at is really good for you, or if it's junk food marketing itself as healthy.

The word REDUCED is very misleading. Reduced fat peanut butter does not mean that it is low fat. "Reduced" or "Lower" is only allowed to be used on food labels if that food contains at least 25 percent less than the given reference food. So reduced sodium pretzels may have less sodium that the regular full-salt variety, but can still contain more salt than may be good for you and your diet.

Fat-Free doesn't actually mean free of fat. The FDA guidelines say that in order for a food to be marketed at a fat-free food, it must contain less than .5 grams of fat per serving. Eating three serving of fat free yogurt may yield you up to three grams of fat!

The Sugar-Free guidelines are much the same. FDA guidelines for this label are less than .5 grams of sugar per serving. A food additive for baking may say it's "sugar-free", but given enough serving, the small stuff can add up!

Be wary of the number ZERO.  Any food will contain calories, given enough of it.  The FDA guideline for a labeling something as a"calorie-free" food is less than 5 calories per serving.
Let's look at cooking sprays, for example.  The nutrition label on the back of Pam Cooking Spray tells the reader that there are NO CALORIES in one serving.  Looking at the ingredient list, however, reveals that the first ingredient is canola oil (ingredients are listed in order of amount, from largest to smallest).  The reason that Pam can market itself as a zero calorie food  is because of their suggested serving size.  A serving of Pam is a 1/3 second spray.  I know that I can't cook my veggies without at least a one second spray, so I'm probably getting at least 4 serving each time I cook with Pam.  Spray butter is another way to tack on undercover calories to your diet, so be wary of the label's suggested serving size, and always look at the first ingredient listed.  If it's any kind of oil, make sure you are only using one serving at a time.

A good rule of thumb when looking at the ingredient list of any food, is to only purchase and consume edibles with five ingredients or less.  The more ingredients a food contains, the more likely you are consuming extra calories, extra chemicals, additives and non nutritive fillers.

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