As you cruise the aisles of the grocery store, ‘healthy’ food labels beckon you to buy. Savvy advertisers use these same labels in television commercials and print ads to make you think you are getting something that’s good for you and your family. Some claims, like “organic,” “low-fat,” or “sugar-free” have real nutritional value because they are regulated by federal law.
Others are meaningless. Here are some examples:
One lone doctor in the world can endorse a product and this sweeping generalization would apply. It does not mean the product is healthy or, in the case of medicines, will make you well.
2. A good source of fiber
In order to make this claim, a product must have at least 10% of the recommended daily allowance. You would still need to make up the remaining 90%. Good sources of fiber, like fruits and vegetables, have much more. A single apple can give you 20% of the Daily Value. Labels that say “high in fiber” or “good source of fiber” really mean something. Check the percentages for yourself to make certain you are getting what you need.
3. Made with whole grains
Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, the germ, the bran, and more fiber and antioxidants. Unfortunately, if the first ingredient is white flour this claim is meaningless. The amount of ‘whole’ grains used in the product can be minute in comparison. The FDA is not very strict about food makers who make this claim. A product that claims to be ‘multigrain’ only has to have more than one grain and the majority of it can be white flour. Check the ingredients for the word ‘whole’ in front of each grain. Beware of terms like ‘enriched’ or ‘unbleached’ wheat flour that are all just white flour.
People often mistake ‘natural’ for ‘organic.’ While ‘organic’ certification means the product meets certain FDA standards, ‘natural’ is no guarantee you’re getting a product free of dyes, artificial flavors and other synthetic ingredients.
This claim conjures visions of animals frolicking about in open fields, breathing lots of fresh air and living healthy, humane lives. In fact, the only thing legally required to make this claim is that the animal was allowed access to the outdoors. It doesn’t mean the animal ever actually went outside.
There are poultry producers whose chickens and turkeys roam free, but before you believe it, do your research and make sure the ‘free-range’ claim is really true.
Every facility that breeds can be considered a farm, but that doesn’t mean the animal was given good care. Humane treatment and ‘farm-raised’ are hardly synonymous. Again, do the research and find out what kind of farm your food really comes from.
Kids? Really? You mean those underage experts on health and nutrition? This claim doesn’t even mean your kids will like it.
So what’s the bottom line? Read ingredient labels carefully and do your research if you want to buy foods that really are as healthy as the labels claim they are.
Thanks to consumer columnist Mitch Lipka for the information on CBS Moneywatch included in this article.