Detect the buzz…Understand common phrases found on food packages
It is important to act like a detective when it comes to reading nutrition labels in the supermarket. Consumers can take charge of their health by making smart food choices, however, with the abundance of health claims on packages today, this task is not always as simple as it sounds.
Here we define some of the common “health” buzzwords that appear on labels. Remember, everyone has individual needs therefore a food item that is healthy for you may not be for someone else.
Immune Boosting – Many beverages, cereals, and even crackers now claim immune boosting properties. Such products have been fortified with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But simply adding nutrients to a food does not automatically make it “healthy.” Its important to scan the label for the saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar content to be sure you are truly getting a healthy product. And remember that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat yogurt naturally contain essential vitamins and minerals
Made with Whole Grains – A whole grain claim simply means that whole grains are an ingredient in the product. The claim itself is not an indicator of how much whole grain is actually in the product. To be sure that you are getting a whole grain product, read the ingredient panel. Ingredients are listed from greatest to least, so the first ingredient should read “whole” before the grain to show it is actually a whole grain source. For example, “whole oats” or “whole wheat.”
Trans fat – Also known as “partially hydrogenated oil” on an ingredient panel, trans fats have been under scrutiny by health professionals as an ingredient to limit due to their role in increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It is important to read labels since some products make the claim, “Trans Fat Free,” yet partially hydrogenated oil is listed in the ingredients. This is because FDA guidelines allow for a “free” claim as long as the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. But be aware that if you are consuming multiple servings of that food, the trans fat amount will add up.
Low Sugar or Lightly Sweetened – Terms like “low sugar” and “lightly sweetened” are not defined by the FDA, which means there is no regulation on what those statements actually mean. To find out how much sugar is in a product, you need to read the full nutrition label and ingredient panel. Sugar can be disguised on the label since ingredients like corn syrup, brown rice syrup and high fructose corn syrup are also forms of sugar. For more information on being savvy about sugar, read last week’s article, “Sugar by any other name, is still sugar.”
No High Fructose Corn Syrup – Often a claim found on breads and packaged snacks, high fructose corn syrup is a form of sugar made up of 42-55% fructose and the rest glucose -similar to the components of table sugar (so the name “high” fructose is a bit misleading). If you are limiting sugar in your diet, it is important to read the ingredient label to see how much total sugar the product contains, since all sugar, including HFCS contains the same amount of calories per gram.
Made with Real Fruit – Read the label to see where “real fruit” appears, if at all. These products sometimes contain small percentages of real fruit with the bulk being made of ingredients such like sugar, corn syrup, or fruit concentrate.