Abigail Joy Dougherty: Registered Dietitian, Nutrition Expert & Lover of Life
Fruits and Vegetables, Healthy Eating, Registered Dietitian

Don’t Be a Fool: How to Avoid Being Fooled by Common Health Claims

Happy April Fools Day!! 

With all of the trendy health claims on food  packages these days, it could feel like everyday is April Fools Day. While the food products’ packaging may be eye-catching with bright colors and a ridiculous amount of health claims, these claims may be fooling us as consumers! And with 75% of consumers spending their hard earned dollars on impulse purchases, it’s easy to see how we’d quickly grab that box of natural blah blah or organic schnobbely-schnook because we think it’s healthy. Even the FDA commissioner states: “claims may not provide the full picture of their products true nutritional value”. And if the package is successful in fooling you, you may be unknowingly sabotaging your health and wellness goals. As a savvy consumer, wouldn’t you like to know how you are being fooled and how to avoid falling into that trap?

Question

As a frequenter to all grocery stores and even online grocery shopping I have come across a few common health claims that may fool you into thinking the item is “healthy”…when it really isn’t!! Boo on that.  Keep reading to find out what to look for on the food label to spot the “fool” and choose the better option!

Label: “Natural” 

Look at you up there, looking all fabulous and healthy. At first glance, the word Natural makes you think – healthy, pure and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But are you being duped?

Maybe.

The fact of the matter is that the FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term Natural or its derivatives. Just because a product claims to be Natural doesn’t mean that it is healthier than another item that is in its natural form (think Natural cereal product vs and apple).

Cereal vs. appleA Natural product could also be more expensive (thanks to the tricky marketing tactics), so don’t be fooled into spending more money on a label claim. Instead, look first to my trusty old friend: the ingredients list!!

Look for food items with the fewest ingredients from real, whole sources that you can pronounce! You want to look for ingredient lists that read more like a recipe than a science experiement. Take my favorite Natural peanut butter, Smucker’s Natural, for example, made from only peanuts and salt, super awesome! When reading a food label, you also want to look for the sodium and sugar content which helps you identify if any preservatives have been added to it. PS: My favorite foods are the ones that have no food label at all… Fresh fruits and vegetables!!

Label: “No Sugar Added”

The next foolish claim to be aware of is No Sugar Added (NSA). According to the FDA “No Added Sugars” and “Without Added Sugars” are allowed if no sugar or sugar containing ingredient is added during processing.” Real person interpretation: This does NOT mean that the food item is “sugar-free,” or contains NO sugar but it simply means that no sugars have been ADDED to the product during processing. The item may still contain sugar that is naturally present, like bananas in banana bread or a fig in a fig newton bar… you get where I’m going, right? And usually these are safer choices when trying to select the healthiest product.

Don’t be fooled by the “sugar-free” health claim, as the item may have sugar alcohols and other preservatives added to it in order to make it still palatable or YUMMY.  Enter my trusted friend the ingredient list? Look there first! It will always tell you what type of sweetener is lurking inside your food!

My favorite No Sugar Added product, The Rx Bar, is actually a processed energy bar that is made with whole food ingredients (whoot shoot), has a short ingredient list, and does not have any added sugars.

RXBar

Not to mention, these bars are sooo delicious and easy to grab and go for a quickie snack on the go! Now that’s a win, win situation if you ask me!

 Label: “Fat-Free”

This term had quite the hay day back in the 80’s and 90’s! The term Fat-Free is defined by the FDA as “less than 0.5 g labeled serving and contains no ingredient that is fat or understood to contain fat.” Real person interpretation: Fat-Free does NOT mean calorie-free and many Fat-Free items may be loaded with added sugars and sodium in order to preserve the taste and texture, and enhance the shelf life of the food item. Now, there are many foods that are naturally free of fat, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. These items are indeed theeeee healthiest choices.

Fat-Free does NOT mean calorie-free.”

Label: “Organic”

For good reason, organic food is all the rage these days, but few people really know what that means. The USDA defines “Organic” as an item that is “produced using sustainable agricultural production practices. Real person interpretation – no chemicals or hormones (including  most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation, have been added to the product during processing). Sewage sludge! Say whaaaaa??? No thanks!

Just because a food is Organic does NOT mean it is healthy.”

Here’s the deal, I don’t want pesticides or any other nasty chemicals added to my food either, but you don’t have to buy only organic food to eat a healthy, balance diet. Plus, just because a food is Organic does NOT mean it is healthy. Instead of focusing on the word Organic, pay more attention to what the food actually is. An Organic cookie is still a COOKIE and Organic Sugar is still SUGAR. Simply stated, organic processed food is not as nutrient dense and packed with “the goods” as conventional whole fresh foods, like fruits and vegetables. Remember that cookies, cakes and snacky-type foods, regardless of whether you buy conventional or organic cookies should still be eaten in moderation. I have an idea, skip the organic mini apple pies and buy a fresh apple to make your own baked apple with a drizzle of maple syrup and cinnamon! YUMMM!!!

Now that you have the tools to spot the fool, you can shop with confidence and use the food label and ingredients list to select the healthiest options! It may be time-consuming at first to read the fine print of the food label, but if the writing is that small and there are that many ingredients, save your money and time and DON’T BUY IT!! Seriously, with practice, you will be one savvy shopper and you’ll have your health and high-energy level to prove it! BOOM!!!

With joy,

Abigail Joy

 

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