We know that when you go shopping for groceries, deciding between all of the food options available can sometimes be overwhelming. We often rely on the labels we see on the packaging to shape our opinions on whether a food is a healthy choice to purchase.
Certain buzzwords have a health halo, which companies use as marketing tactics to make you more likely to buy them. But when you’re in a sea of food choices all labeled with different terms, how do you know which terms to actually believe and which foods to choose?
Knowing which “healthy” food labels are misleading can help you make the best decisions on what you buy for you and your family. Here are a few key food labels to look out for, and what they actually mean when you see them on the package.
Watch out for the positive connotation of this term, because it actually means nothing. The FDA has not defined the meaning of this label, so companies can technically put this on any food as a marketing ploy. While this label is usually meant for foods that do not contain artificial substances, there is no official rule that it can’t be used elsewhere. Just because a food doesn’t have an artificial additive doesn’t mean the food is healthy or nutritious; for example, foods that contain high fructose corn syrup can still be labeled “all natural.” Many packaged goods do not contain synthetic ingredients, but they aren’t necessarily nourishing for the body.
The label “100% certified organic” means that the food does not contain any pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, make sure you look for this specific label instead of the term “made with organic ingredients,” which does not necessarily mean the food is 100% organic or free of GMOs. While it is important to purchase organic produce to avoid harmful chemicals, just because a food is organic does not guarantee it is the most nutritious choice. The cookies you buy could be flashing a label that claims they are made with organic ingredients, but at the end of the day, they are still cookies that just don’t happen to have any pesticides.
This term indicates that the food has at least 25% less fat than the original version. Be wary of these foods, as many of them (such as reduced-fat peanut butter) have more added sugar to make up for the reduction in fat, and hardly any fewer calories. Thank goodness the low-fat phase is now over and we know that fat is essential for a healthy diet.
“Made with Real Fruit”
Any food that contains a fruit ingredient is allowed to have this label. However, just because a food contains fruit does not mean that the food is a healthy choice; it only means the fruit of the product is not artificial flavoring. When paying attention to labels, check to see if the “fruit” being mentioned is, in fact, fruit concentrate, which is just another name for sugar. When in doubt, stick to the whole fruit itself!
“Made with Whole Grains”
This term is often used to make a food seem like it is free of refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This label only means that the food contains some sort of unprocessed grain, but the food as a whole can also contain refined grains as well. Make sure you read the ingredients on the package to really know exactly what is in the product.