Food Labeling: Don’t Believe Everything You Read

In a previous blog I took on the issue of obesity and oversized, sugar-laden beverages, as well as the new beverage ban law in New York City. For the dedicated nutrition consumer and blog reader, this is indeed a two-part scenario: you need to be able to make educated choices about the food you select, and you are entitled to accurate information from which to make these choices.

Recently, the same law firms that pursued the tobacco industry for manipulating nicotine are taking on the Big Foods manufacturers for inaccuracies concerning nutrition and for misleading ingredient claims. Specifically, these lawsuits target food products promoted as “natural” or “healthy” when it fact they are not. This is all taking place against the backdrop of exploding obesity and expanding waistbands in the United States.

According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, prepared foods contain an average of 8 percent more calories than their package labels admit to, while restaurant meals contain a whopping 18 percent more on average.

What I tell my patients

  • Keep checking that nutrition info. I still recommend that you continue to look at the nutrition information on food packages, so you can use them as a compass for food choices. First and foremost, pay careful attention to portion size and calorie content. Soon the FDA will be launching a new front-of-the-package initiative, whereby nutrition information will be more visible, legible, and hopefully easier to understand.
     
  • Beware of jargon. Currently, for example, no legal definition exists for the term “natural” when it’s used on a food label.
     
  • Examine the first items in the ingredient list. Food components are listed in the order of their amounts or concentrations. If a fat or a sugar (and watch for synonyms!) is located as the first, second, or third ingredient, then consider that food to be largely composed of fat or sugar—and use it sparingly.
     
  • Examine the items at the end of the ingredients list. Next, look at the tail-end of the ingredient list with an eye for spotting suspect additives. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors additives for safety and requires that all new additives undergo testing prior to approval for use; however, some of the purportedly “safe”‘additives may not be totally worry-free. The experts at Environmental Nutrition, for example, advise that you limit your exposure to the following additives and preservatives: potassium bromate, BHA and BHT, propyl gallate, sulfites, red dye No. 3, and FD&C yellow dye No. 5 (Tartrazine).

Of course, the best way to avoid these pitfalls is to eat a diet made up predominantly of whole foods, one based largely on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unprocessed meats fish and poultry.

Until next time. See you around the supermarket!

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