Label Confusion: Is 'Organic' Really Better For You?
Not all "healthy" choices really are.
This April Fool’s Day, make sure you're not tricked by food manufacturers into buying products that claim big benefits but fail to deliver. Dietitian Gloria Tsang, founder of nutrition network HealthCastle.com, says many "healthy" products aren't the real thing.
Some claims on grocery store packaging mean virtually nothing in terms of health benefits, according to Tsang.
"There is very little regulation over how manufacturers are allowed to use certain claims," she said. "That means you have to educate yourself about which claims are actually meaningful so as not to be fooled into paying too much for products with no added benefits, or thinking you’re eating healthy when you're not."
Here are HealthCastle.com’s top five misleading terms to watch out for on food products:
- Natural: FDA rules allow this claim to be used on any product with no synthetic or artificial ingredients, even if it’s high in sodium, nitrates, and other unhealthy ingredients found in nature – like arsenic, which Consumer Reports found in 100% natural juice.
- Sugar-Free: In a sweet product, this means artificial sweeteners, which are at least as bad as sugar. Artificially sweetened drinks may cause weight gain in children, and artificial sweeteners in products like chewing gum and flavored water can actually increase hunger.
- Organic: For produce, "organic" means fewer pesticides, but for packaged foods the claim often means little for health value. Two brands of organic toddler formula, for instance, were found to contain arsenic – traced back to the organic brown rice syrup in the ingredients.
- Light: When fat is removed, artificial thickeners (including various gums and waxes) are added, like in light soymilk made from water-diluted soy flour with the thickener carageenan added to approximate "real" soymilk texture.
- Made with Whole Grains: This claim can be added to foods that contain only a tiny amount of whole grains, even those made mostly from refined white flour. Look for "100% whole wheat" or whole wheat flour as the first ingredient if you want real whole grains.
Check the ingredient list to know what’s really in the foods you eat. More simple, small achievable actions to reclaim health are available on HealthCastle.com.