Sunday, March 11, 2012
What does the lingo on food labels really mean?
"Flashy claims on the front of packages can be misleading," says registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of Read It Before You Eat It. "In many cases, you need to read the nutrition information on the back to find out what's really inside." Sharpen your translation with this guide.
Light: A food earns this ID when it contains less than half the fat of a comparable product or one third fewer calories, according to rules set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But Taub-Dix says the comparative term can muddy your judgment-light ice cream might be lower than its counter part, but that doesn't mean it's good for you. Evaluate nutrition information on its own merits before buying.
Natural: It's little more than a buzzword and far broader than many people realize, Taub-Dix says. Many iffy food additives, such as MSG, technically are natural because their components occurs in nature. And if you eat enough of them, many innocent sounding natural ingredients (like cheese) can undermine health.
Made with organic ingredients: This claim, regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, means at least 70 percent of the product's ingredients are organic. (Foods that display the USDA organic seal must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients.) While organic foods contain few man made chemicals, a win for folks concerned about exposure, they aren't necessarily more nutritious. "Organic potato chips are still potato chips," Taub-Dix says.
Lower sodium: Like lite, lower sodium is a comparative term defined by the FDA; it means that food has, at most, 25 percent less sodium than the fully loaded version. However, some reduced sodium foods still pack a salty wallop. If you're on a low salt diet, look for the term low sodium (without the er), which means the food contains no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
Good source of fiber: This phrase, another regulated by the FDA, means the food contains 10-19 percent of the recommended daily value of fiber per serving. (Excellent" sources contain at least 20 percent.) But not all sources of fiber are created equal. "Fiber that comes from additives might not be as beneficial as fiber from whole foods," Taub-Dix says.
Sweetened with fruit juice: What could be wrong with fruit juice? For starters, it might be just one of several sweeteners, Taub-Dix says. And even if juice is the star, the food itself might offer little benefit. Keep cookies and candy to a minimum, no matter how they get their flavor.
Contains whole grains: Whole grains deliver more fiber and nutrients than their refined counterparts, but how much are you really getting in that loaf of bread? "The amount might be too small to provider any benefit," Taub-Dix says. Instead, choose foods labeled "100 percent whole gain," which means they have only the good stuff.