Are You Really Eating Healthy?
By Sam Lewis
Clever phrasing of food labels can skew the truth for consumers
These days, it seems like everyone is making attempts at bettering their diet and eating healthier. Food manufacturers, more than anyone, are aware of this trend and are doing their best to capitalize on it. Sometimes, however, food manufacturers use misleading product descriptions to promote products as being more healthy, whether it is accurate or not. Listed below are a few key phrases shoppers should be aware of while browsing grocery aisles.
Doesn’t it seem that just about every product on grocers’ shelves has this generic term branded across its label? While this may appear to be an invitation to buy the product because it is beneficial or healthy, that’s not necessarily the case. Currently, the FDA has not offered a formal definition for the term “natural.” Instead, food manufacturers are left to determine if the use of the term is appropriate. When push comes to shove, food manufacturers want consumers to buy their products, and ultimately can label it "natural" if they choose to. Consumers are urged to check nutritional information of products to decide for themselves if the product’s “natural” label is in fact beneficial or healthy. After all, saturated fat is natural.
This term is tossed around very loosely in the food industry. In regard to food, “organic” means making food in such a way that the use of synthetic materials is limited or totally eliminated during production. Up until the 20th century, this term could describe all agriculture. A product’s label may claim that it is "organic," but a closer inspection of ingredients can reveal very few organic parts. Rather than trusting the manufacturer’s word, look for the USDA organic seal, indicating the product contains no less than 95 percent organic ingredients.
Much like the term “natural,” “whole grains” has no FDA-regulated definition on food packaging. So, like our term “organic,” “whole grains” can mean that just one piece of a product contains at least one leaf of grain, not the entire product. Instead of buying products labeled with “whole grain,” consumers are urged to search for products listing “100 percent whole wheat” or “100 percent whole grains” as ingredients. This will ensure consumers looking for the benefits of a high fiber diet are actually getting what they pay for.
0 Grams Trans Fat
This is a tricky term, as the FDA allows food manufacturers to display it on product labels where the product contains less than one half gram of trans fat per serving. That’s fine and dandy, but it is not a realistic expectation, as the majority of consumers will be eating more than one “recommended” serving of many foods per sitting, but that is another issue altogether.
Vitamins and/or omega-3 added
Consumers obviously want to purchase food products that have been given additional nutritional value. However, without a close inspection of the label, you might not be getting what you pay for. Currently, the FDA does not require products fortified with additional nutrients to display percentages of these ingredients on its label. When buying products claiming to be fortified with additional nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 oils, consumers should see where the additions fit on the ingredient list. If they are at the bottom of the list, chances are the additions are miniscule and may not even have significant nutritional value.
These are just a few buzzwords and phrases that food manufacturers are putting on their products’ labels to capture consumer interest and sell product. The FDA plays a role in determining what companies can put on their products’ labels — refer to The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. But, FDA legislation moves at a slower pace than companies develop labels and the marketing schemes for those products. Ultimately, it is up to the consumers striving for a healthy diet to educate themselves about the misnomers placed on food labels.