Are Health Claims Fooling You?
– By Guest Blogger Danielle Rancourt, MS, RD, CSSD
Food labels can be extremely confusing and misleading. Companies will add any eye-catching words they possibly can to sell their products, even it’s completely irrelevant…
I recently saw a pack of Gummy Bears with “FAT FREE” stamped on it.
Why would there be fat in gummy bears? There wouldn’t be, and there never has been. It only says FAT FREE so people think Gummy Bears are healthy or healthier than the last version – it’s the same gummy bears that you ate when you were a kid. Don’t fall for these types of marketing scams.
Here’s the deal – most health claims are NOT SYNONYMS FOR HEALTHY. This said, seeing the following terms on a label DO NOT MEAN IT’S NUTRITIOUS.
Fat is not the enemy, nor does eating it make you fat. Eating too much of just about anything can lead to weight gain. They key is to choose healthy, omega-3 rich fats to reap the many benefits fats have to offer:
- Fats contain powerful nutrients and antioxidants for cellular repair of joints, organs, skin, and hair
- Fats aid in nutrient absorption (vitamins A, D, E, & K)
- Fats release energy slowly keeping you satiated, regulating blood sugar, and stabilizing energy levels
- Fats high in omega-3 fatty acids boost brain power, memory and reduce inflammation
This said, there is nothing wrong with the seeing x grams of fat on a label of almonds, flax seed meal, guacamole, almond butter, Greek yogurt or olive oil. So don’t be reaching for low fat peanut butter or fat free ranch dressing. That stuff almost always contains more added sugars and ingredients you’d never use in a recipe. You’re better off choosing the “regular” stuff and keeping portions in check. Also – don’t be afraid of dairy products that aren’t fat free. I’m a big advocate for yogurt and cottage cheese that contain fat like 2% Daisy Cottage Cheese or Stoneyfield Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt.
Listen up people.
“GLUTEN FREE” does not mean nutritious or “better for you”. Many GF products are highly processed, high in calories and high in sugar. If you’re avoiding gluten, stick to naturally GF foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and lean protein. Also, if you don’t have a specific condition, like Celiac, going gluten-free won’t necessarily help you’ll lose weight.
Published literature states that organic foods do not have a significantly higher vitamin or mineral content than the same foods grown using conventional methods. On the plus side, organic foods are significantly higher in certain antioxidants and lower in pesticide residue. In addition, organic meat, poultry and dairy is often higher in omega 3 fats. The downfall is that organic foods cost 30-40% more and the term organic does not always mean 100% organic. If it just says “Organic” without the “100%”, it’s definitely not 100% organic. The last thing to note is that organic does not mean LOCAL. In my opinion, local is the way to go if possible. If your local produce is organic, BONUS!
When it comes to labels, “natural” has ZERO meaning. The FDA has yet to define “all natural,” so companies can slap it on anything from French fries to peanut oil, even if preservatives or genetically modified ingredients were used. Your best bet is to READ THE INGREDIENTS LIST. For example, the only ingredient in All Natural Apple Chips should be apples and maybe cinnamon, not a list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
As you can see, health claims don’t always tell the whole story. As mentioned above, your best bet to bypass tricky claims is to make your way to the ingredients list. If you wouldn’t use the ingredients listed to make it yourself, it’s probably not a great choice.
Danielle Rancourt, MS, RD, CSSD
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