Walk into any grocery store in America and you’ll be bombarded with some of the most persuasive marketing tactics out there. From baby food to soda bottles, massive food brands will put whatever they can on their packaging to make sure their product ends up in your shopping cart. With so many misleading labels that have no regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s difficult to understand what labels communicate real nutritional value and what’s just deceptive marketing. Fortunately, there are ways to navigate these marketing strategies and unveil the truth behind what items you’re actually adding to the cart.
Identify What’s Misleading
The first thing you need to know when you’re looking at food labels in the grocery store is what terms food marketers use that actually mean nothing. Below is a list of “buzzwords” that should raise the alarm that you’re being sold on a product rather than informed:
People buy products labeled “all-natural” or “natural” assuming that the food is healthier or even free of artificial ingredients, however, the FDA has no regulations in place for what can be considered “natural,” which means food marketers can use it for anything.
Marketers will often use labels like “gluten-free” on products like chips that never contained gluten in the first place. Additionally, gluten-free does not mean that the product is healthy. Gluten-free cookies are still cookies.
3) “Made with Whole Grains”
With minimal regulation on this phrase, many products boasting “made with whole grains” contain only a small amount of whole grains. Look for 100% whole grains.
4) “No Added Sugars”
This means that no sugar was added during the processing. While this may seem healthy, many products are naturally high in sugar and do not require added amounts such as maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup.
5) “No Hormones”
Products labeled “hormone-free” have no regulation, which means that marketers can use them however they’d like while consumers assume they’re eating unaltered, natural foods.
6) “No Cholesterol”
Like the phrase “gluten-free,” food marketers will use this term to describe products that don’t contain cholesterol in the first place. Additionally, the FDA requires that cholesterol-free foods not contain more than two milligrams of cholesterol per serving size, which is minimal. Cholesterol free does not mean the product is low in fat or heart-healthy.
Reading Food Labels Correctly
These are only a few of the incredible persuasive buzzwords marketers use to get consumers to buy their products. With so much food misinformation, it may feel like there’s no way to know whether or not your food is healthy. The good news is there are ways to read food labels so that you only get the correct, untainted information.
“Ignore all the claims on the front of the food package,” said Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator, Gale Pearson of TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News. When looking for the most informative food information, the nutrition label on the back will have the most helpful information.
Nutrition labels have a wealth of valuable information that can help consumers make informed and nutritionally-sound decisions. The nutrition label will have the intended serving size, the number of servings per container, the ingredients, and more. The problem? Reading nutrition labels can be confusing for a beginner. Here are a couple of things to pay attention to on a nutrition label:
1) Serving Size / Servings Per Container
The numbers below the serving size will only indicate the nutrition numbers for one serving, so it’s important to pay attention to how many servings a product contains.
2) Sodium and Fat Daily Value Percentage
The amount of sodium and fat listed on the nutrition facts label will always be accurate, as required by the FDA. If you’re having difficulty understanding what the amount of grams means, take a look at the percentages next to those values. The percentage of daily value is very helpful for determining whether or not a product is high or low in things like sodium or fat. Anything 5% or lower is considered “low” and anything 20% or higher is considered “high.”
Pay attention to the list of ingredients toward the bottom of the nutrition label. Remember that ingredients must be listed in order of their contribution from highest to lowest. If you’re seeing the ingredients you’re interested in towards the end, it may indicate that there isn’t as much of that ingredient in the product.
Understanding which labels are informative and which are deceptive can be difficult. Registered dietitians can help you separate fact from fiction when it comes to nutrition. If you want help understanding the nutritional value of the food you buy or to know the proper amounts of nutrients you need based on your condition talk to a registered dietitian with TPMG Nutrition Services today.
About Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES
Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 25 years of experience working with patients on dietary and nutrition wellness planning. Gale received her undergraduate degree from Hampton University and her Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Howard University.
With extensive experience in nutrition counseling, Gale works with her patients to develop strategies to improve their eating habits and lifestyles, in turn helping them to manage their weight and medical conditions. She credits witnessing her patients’ symptoms and overall health improvement as a result of the lifestyle changes as one of the most gratifying and rewarding aspects of her career.
At TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News and Williamsburg, Gale provides one-on-one consultations, nutrition and weight management counseling, and diabetes education.