Don’t let claims on the packaging fool you

By Karin Boode, PhD

In the past three articles we looked at all the information that is available to you through the nutrition labels on foods. With this information you should be able to avoid blueberry waffles that do not contain blueberries and strawberry yogurt with no strawberries. And I am not joking. These products really exist.

Next week we will start a new topic, but this week I want to share with you a few more common, extremely misleading, claims you can find on items you may have sitting in your pantry.

Lightly Sweetened – A common claim on crackers, cereal, nuts and many beverages. Unlike ‘sugar free’ and ‘no sugar added’, which are strictly regulated by the FDA, lightly sweetened is not. A great example can be found in the cereal isle. Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal, described by Kellogg’s as a cereal with “original antioxidants (?!)”, lightly sweetened, toasted multi-grain flakes and crunchy oat clusters. But if you are reading labels you will realize that this “healthy” cereal contains more sugar per cup than a full serving of Oreo cookies!


All Natural – Another common claim that is not protected, unless we are talking about meat and poultry. Granted, by using the claim ‘all natural’, the manufacturer is not outright claiming that the product is healthy, but they don’t have to. Chances are that you will instinctively associate ‘all natural’ with healthy and good for you. Again, if you read the label, there is a good chance that you will find such descriptions as ‘partially hydrogenated’, ‘modified’ and the like on the ingredient list.

Made with real juice – when you see this, chances are that you expect that the manufacturer pretty much shipped the fruit straight to the store. But even though the juice was made from fruit, in most cases they are so heavily processed and pasteurized that the nutrients of the fresh fruit are long gone. All that is left behind is sugar. This is why a lot of these juices are not any healthier than a can of regular soda.

Trans-fat free – It could not be any more clear, or could it? Believe it or not, by FDA regulations a trans-fat free product can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans-fat per serving. Let me put this into perspective. The American Heart Association recommends the daily intake of trans-fats to be limited to 1% of your daily calories. If you are on a 1,500 calorie diet, that is only 15 calories or 1.7 grams of trans-fat a day. As you can see, it is very possible that you are eating more trans-fats than you should. Remember that they raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol, while lowering the “good” HDL cholesterol levels.

Again, look at the ingredient list and if you see monoglycerides or diglycerides the product does contain trans-fats that the manufacturer did not have to declare, provided he chooses an appropriate serving size.

Extra-Lean – Under the FDA regulations, a meat qualifies as “extra-lean” if it contains less than 5 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces of product. This seems hardly lean when you realize that turkey, cod, haddock, lobster and scallops contain only 0.8 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces and skinless chicken breast and sole only contain 1.2 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces.

It is obvious that reading the label is the only way to make healthy choices.


Healthy habits for making healthy food choices:

  • Read food labels to make healthy selections

  • Watch out for serving sizes and ignore the claims on the packaging

  • Adjust the amounts on the label for the serving size you eat

  • Ignore (the misleading) claims on the packaging



karinDon’t let claims on the packaging fool you

Comments 3

  1. Gareth Sitz

    It takes me a lot longer to shop than it used to just because I take time to read the labels. Sometimes it’s a bit tedious, but eventually, I think I will know which products to avoid on a regular basis. It’s annoying that the food industry tries to deceive the public with misleading claims on their products.

  2. Jonathan Quist

    I’m with Gareth on this.

    My wife does most of the shopping, so when I’m along and “helping”, it takes me a lot longer to locate appropriate items on the shelf. On a recent shopping trip she sent me to cereal aisle to “find something you like”. I have stopped eating cereals that contain added sweeteners, but I had not yet started reading the label on the high fiber cereal that had become my occasional late night snack. Well, I read them all. Out of a hundred or so varieties, I found three with no added sweeteners: Oatmeal, steel cut oatmeal, and original Shredded Wheat (large biscuits only). (I count rolled oats and steel cut oats as two distinct cereals due to family preferences and convenience. For rolled oats, I stick with “old-fashioned oatmeal” rather than quick-cooking or instant. Read the label for the “convenient” varieties!)

    I have just one question. What labeling genius decided that putting both “sugar” and “evaporated cane syrup” in a list as distinct and separate ingredients was not going to insult the label-reading public?

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