There are basically two parts of food labels you need to review to be educated about the product you are buying: One is the Nutrition Facts label and the other is the Ingredients panel. This article focuses on the ingredient panel. The FDA monitors and enforces label laws so there are, in fact, rules to what is required, what is allowed, what order certain things are in, and the accuracy of facts. Manufacturers are not allowed to lie about a food product or falsify information. They can, however, say something which is true, but misleading. This is why many consumers don’t think they can believe what is on a label. You can figure out what you need to know; you just have to know where to look!


The Ingredient Panel

Let me give you a few examples of some very common and misleading terms found on food labels and how to find the facts:

1) On a jar of peanut butter they can say on the label “Cholesterol Free!” This is true because cholesterol is only found in animal products! That means fat in peanut butter (of any brand) does not contain cholesterol. Does this mean peanut butter is heart healthy? Well, it’s still quite high in fat; usually fat comprises over 75% of the calories in a serving. So the consumer who’s looking for something “healthy” may choose one brand of peanut butter over another because one says “cholesterol free” on the label. This implies that other brands are less healthy and may contain cholesterol. Illegal? No. But quite misleading.

2) Another trick used is on juice labels. A certain brand of drink may boast “contains 100% real fruit juice”. This, of course, sounds preferable to one that admits it has water and flavors mixed in with small parts of juice concentrates. However, take note of the wording: “Contains” 100% fruit juice just means there is real fruit juice within the cocktail. Yes, it’s in there, but there is also water, flavoring, and maybe even sugars added. There is a difference in a juice drink that ‘is’ 100% juice and one that ‘contains’ 100% juice. Just wording, but very misleading, and not illegal.

3) One of the most commonly mistaken purchases is that of bread that the customer believes is healthier “wheat” bread. What do you think makes wheat bread superior to white bread? Knowing the answer can help you find what you want on the label. What you probably want is more fiber and perhaps a more natural grain that has the original nutrients in it. So the first ingredient you’ll want to see on the label is “whole grain flour”. (Ingredients must be listed in order of the highest content by weight first and decreasing to the lowest content by weight.) What you may find is “enriched flour” listed first. How can they get away with calling this “wheat bread” when it’s what most people call “white bread”? Because the grain that is used is wheat! Some companies even use fluffy white bread to appeal to consumers who like this softer texture, and add caramel coloring so it looks like the healthy whole wheat bread people are looking for! Check the ingredient label and be sure “whole grain flour” is listed first.

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