Outsmarting Food Labels

A healthy diet is an important priority to many people. But confusing and sometimes mis-leading labels on food can make shopping difficult for those who are being health-concious. Jody Rohlena, Senior Editor for ShopSmart Magazine, shares some of the tricks to avoid.

One trick label to look out for is "Made with Whole Grain." It makes it sound like the food your choosing is giving you a good dose of fiber. The truth is a product with a reasonably good source of fiber has at least 3 grams per serving. However, a box of Honey Nut Chex, made with whole-grain rice, only provides 1 gram of fiber per serving.

Another trick to look out for are added nutrients that camouflage the junk. The truth is you might get a reasonable amount of fiber per serving from Pop-Tarts with added fiber, but it comes along with high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil. Even with some fiber or vitamins thrown in, junk food is still junk.

The 'Made with' highlighting a minor ingredient is another trick to look out for. Terms "made with" or "made from" are virtually meaningless because they don't tell you how much of an ingredient was actually used. For example, the first mention of fruit in the ingredients list for Mixed Berry Nutri-Grain bars is "apple purée concentrate," after high-fructose corn syrup, glycerin, and sugar.

Another misleading label advertises zero bad stuff. However, if you see 'no trans fats' on the label, don't assume you're in the clear. Check the ingredients for partially hydrogenated oils, a source of trans fat, which is in Country Crock butter alternative. The problem is the FDA defines trans-fat-free as less than 0.5 gram per serving. That's not a lot, but it can add up, especially if you eat a few pats of this butter substitute every day.

And finally, remember the label reading "Good Source" might not be great. The truth is foods only need to supply 10 percent of a specified nutrient to be labeled a "good source." Quaker chewy granola bars, labeled a "good source of calcium'" have just 8 percent of your daily calcium needs or less than one-quarter of the amount in an 8-ounce glass of milk. That means those bars don't even meet the standard if you eat just one daily. Quaker gets around the issue with tiny print under the calcium claim that says "10% daily value per 40 grams," which is 1 2/3 bars.

For more information on food labels and other consumer topics, click here.
By Jenn Eaker and Jody Rohlena