Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's that Food Label Mean?

It's National Nutrition Month!  It's great that this focus on nutrition also happens during a change of season, because I find that seasonal changes are a natural time to make upgrades or adjustments to our personal wellness.  Today I want to focus on deciphering marketing mumbo jumbo so we can figure out exactly what the lawyers who approve the packaging don't want us to think about.

So, here's a bit of the hard work done for you: a cheat sheet for reading through the marketing on food packages.  You might be surprised at what you learn...I know I was. You can find more information on food labeling here.  

Enriched. This is a tip-off that something bad was done to the food, requiring another process to put some of the good stuff back in.

100% Wheat doesn’t specify that it is actually whole wheat. It could have some whole wheat, or none. "Wheat" is a very broad term.

Multigrain just means that there are just a variety of grains without reference to what kind they are or whether they are whole grains. Doesn’t matter how many grains there are if they are all refined or bleached. Skip it.

Whole Grain doesn't cut it either.  It must say “100% Whole Grain”  to make it to my pantry.

"Supports Heart Health" sounds like a good thing, but only products with the words, “may reduce the risk of…” have ingredients that have been clinically shown to be effective in reducing a health risk. 

"Pure" is another tricky one. Of course you want to eat food that is pure; you would not want to put contaminated food into your body. But "pure" has no federally-regulated meaning in food labeling. It tells you nothing about what's in the package that perhaps should not be there.

Natural. Plenty of foods in the world are natural, but that doesn't mean you should eat them.  Fat is natural, but too much of it is a bad thing.  This word really says little about the nutritional quality of the food, or even its safety. Consumers believe that "natural" means the food is pretty much as Mother Nature grew it, but "natural" is not the same as nutritious.

Made From/Made With This simply means the food started with this product. For example, the claim "made from 100% corn oil" may be technically correct, yet it is misleading. The label really means the processor started with 100% corn oil, but along the way may have diluted or hydrogenated it, changing it into a fat that will clog your arteries, not one that flows free and golden.

Made with natural... This simply means the manufacturer started with a natural source, but by the time the food was processed it may be anything but "natural."

So what the heck are we supposed to buy?  It's actually easier than you think:

1. Shop around the perimeter of the store where the fresh food is.
2. Be a stickler for the details and insist on only 100% whole grain products.
3. Skip everything else. You don't need that crap.

And if you're interested to know what I buy at the store, check out my Clean Eating Shopping List.

1 comment:

Pam said...

My favorite is the advertising for Poptarts: "Made with real fruit!"