In Fine Feather: Truth lies in the labels

Feb. 18, 2015

By Alena Purpero

The concept of health is a broad idea, because within the subject of health comes several different realms of wellness. While focusing on the physical aspect of wellness, specifically nutrition, people tend to have their own ideas of what makes something healthy.

These ideas are based on the marketing techniques at grocery stores. If something says: “Healthy snacking! All natural! Low in fat!” in big and bold red letters then say no more. Don’t even bother to look at the ingredients list because a box of Triscuits would never lie to you, right? The unfortunate truth is there are many loopholes that can be used to mislead us as consumers into thinking that something with no nutritional value is healthy for them.

As someone who cringes every time I see someone deem something healthy because of package claims, I was (and sometimes still am) guilty of seeing food labels as a credible source. It’s unlikely that we are going to whip out our phone, research and break down the nutritional value of something while aisle cruising through the grocery store. Therefore, it is important that we are well-equipped with knowledge on the truth behind labels before you fill your cart with food made of who knows what?

Here are some simple guidelines to follow when trying to find the healthiest version of your favorite snack:

The first label term we need to understand does not guarantee health within your product of choice. That word is “diet.” People tend to be convinced that the word “diet” or the label “zero calories” makes the product guilt-free. For those who are big soda drinkers and don’t want to give it up, you might as well scribble out the title “Diet Coke” and write in “Liquid Gold.” Many people don’t question diet soda and what makes it diet, nor do they want to believe that they are better off eliminating soda out of their diet all together.

The truth is diet soda can lead to weight gain instead of weight loss. The artificial sweetener in the soda causes the brain to crave the real deal and causes us to eat and drink more things with more sugar. In addition, the artificial flavoring in diet soda interferes with the natural bacteria in our stomach, which makes us less tolerant of glucose, according to medicaldaily.com.

A few other misleading food claims include “fat-free” and “natural.” To start off, fat-free does not guarantee it is healthier. To replace the fat, sugar and chemicals are used to make up for lost taste. Fat isn’t always bad either; you’re better off eating an avocado with 240 calories and 22 grams of fat than a cookie with zero grams of fat and 120 calories, as lifewithgreens.com demonstrates.

As for natural, there is really one simple guideline to follow: if you are really on the hunt for natural food that is not processed or artificial then head over to the produce section. Sure, it’s reassuring to know that our favorite packaged snacks are as natural as they could be, but it’s not always the case. According to FDA policy, a product with the label “natural” must not contain synthetic or artificial ingredients. But like I mentioned earlier, with food claims that marketer’s promise comes loopholes. Therefore, natural foods may still contain pesticides, be high in fructose corn syrup, heavily processed and genetically modified, according to cncahealth.com.

These food claims that mislead us to think a product is healthy are just a few of the many we let fool us when fighting the battle between our favorite foods and healthy foods. So next time you’re perusing through the grocery store, know that it is not a choice between diet soda and regular soda, it’s packaged food or natural food. No, not FDA approved “Natural,” like fruits and veggies natural. If you can’t let your favorite packaged foods go, then stick to the original product and enjoy in moderation instead of believing low fat is the answer. So stick to basics, know your labels and eat clean.

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