Don’t Believe the Label…Ever!!!

We are bombarded in the grocery store with products which make wonderful claims of
“New and Improved”, “Whole Grain”, “Organic”, “Healthy”, “All Natural”, “Light” and “Trans-Fat Free”.  We recently watched a video by Jeff Novick, who appeared at a conference sponsored by Vegsource. He used to work for Kraft Foods, but now works at the Pritikin Institute. The topic of his talk was, “Don’t Believe What You Read on the Front Label – EVER!!!”.  During his talk, he used many examples of “health foods” that were terribly mislabeled.  Perhaps this is part of the reason I am extremely cautious of most food I find in a health food store.  It’s not that they don’t carry truly healthy food, but a lot of the food they carry is only “healthy” to the manufacturer’s bottom line.

Why do we need to be concerned about misleading labels and claims? Often times we make food selections based on the manufacturer’s label and find out that we have spent more money for a lesser quality product that we wanted to.  Jeff showed one example of a product that contained only olive oil. Olive oil is 100% fat, yet the front label said, “99% Fat-Free”. How could this be? The manufacturer had added 99 parts of water (which has no fat or calories), so they could make the fat free claim. (In food labeling, any number less than ½ is actually zero!)  In another instance the serving size of the product was so small that it was physically impossible to use the serving size suggested, unless you can find a way to get approximately 2 molecules of oil out of a bottle.

Jeff had a few basic rules that I think are worth repeating and using as a guide. His first rule is: Don’t buy any item that is more than 20% fat. How do you know? Read the Nutrition Label on the back of the container and look at the total calories per serving and multiply by .2.   Then, check to see if the item’s total fat calories are more or less than that number.  If the total fat calories are less than 0.2 times the total calories, it’s a good product to buy, from a “fat” perspective.  As an example, if a serving has 200 calories, it should have no more than 40 calories from fat. (Most labels will give you these numbers, although they can be very hard to find.)

Next, Jeff looked at the sodium (salt) content of each product.  Sodium is over-abundant in almost every packaged food and over consumption of sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Jeff’s second rule is to make sure that the milligrams of sodium do not exceed the total calories per serving. For example, if a serving is 250 calories, the sodium content should not exceed 250 mg. The sodium content of soups, ketchup, salad dressings, pickles, flavored vinegars and packaged entrée items is generally fairly high.  Most people should not consume more than approximately 1300 mg of sodium a day.

Lastly, Jeff recommended keeping an eye on the amount of sugar in each product. Sugar comes in a wide variety of forms and often manufacturers will use many different varieties in any one product.  Why?  Manufacturers have gotten smart and know that if they use 4 or 5 different kinds of sugar, they will be spread throughout the ingredient list. However, if you total them all up by weight, they might be the 1st or 2nd ingredient.  Some of the ways sugar is added to products are through honey, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, fructose, maltose and lactose. If sugar by ANY name appears in the first 3-5 ingredients, avoid the product. Our bodies need sugar to give us energy, but the amount in processed food gives us even more than a little energy boost – it puts on the weight and makes it tough to get it off.

Do what I have learned to do and learn to read labels. Be an educated consumer. Shop smarter and eat healthier. Not only will it save you money, but your waistline will thank you.

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