It's a fact of the grocery store that the most healthy food often has the least marketing muscle behind it. The best source of fiber and vitamins are fresh vegetables and fruit, and yet it's the processed, packaged junk food fortified with vitamin and fiber powder that screams for attention. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently published a comprehensive report on the subject, a persuasive indictment delicately called "Food Labeling Chaos."
reading food labels
"Consumers need honest labeling so they can spend their food dollars wisely and avoid diet-related disease," said CSPI senior staff attorney Ilene Ringel Heller, co-author of the report. "Companies should market their foods without resorting to the deceit and dishonesty that's so common today. And, if they don't, the FDA should make them."
Like listening skeptically to a politician speak, however, you can often decipher the truth amid the lies and misdirection by carefully reading food labels. Here we take a look at four of the most common ways food labels lie, so you can prepare before your next trip to the grocery store.
Made With Whole Grains
You're standing in the grocery aisle, faced with a choice. On the one hand, there are the Thomas' English Muffins of your youth: white and filled with nooks and crannies practically screaming to be filled with pools of melted butter. On the other: Thomas' Hearty Grains English Muffins, which is "made with the goodness of whole grains." You reach, somewhat grudgingly, for the healthy option, since experts tell you that 50% of your grains should be whole grains.
What you don't realize is that unbleached wheat flour is the main ingredient; whole wheat flour is the third on the list, "indicating that the product contains relatively little," according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Once again, one truth - the presence of whole grains, masks another, that whole grains make up an insignificant portion of the food. Some products that trumpet their whole grain credentials (like Keebler's Zesta saltine crackers) use caramel to mimic the brown color that results from the use of whole grains; in fact, according to CSPI, the crackers have almost as much salt as whole grains. Other purportedly healthy crackers have more sugar than whole wheat. So much for healthy whole grains (or truth in advertising).
Ingredients Bill Cosby chocolate cake quote - Eggs are in chocolate cake! And milk! Oh goody! And …
What could be more straight-forward than ingredient lists? So you might think, but there's a lot of room for deception and misdirection in the average ingredient list. Exhibit A, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest: the Tasty Living Mocha Cherry Double Chocolate Layer Cake. The first ingredient is enriched bleach flour, and everyone knows that ingredients are listed in order from most to least. This cake must be sort-of nutritious, since it's mostly made out of nutritious wheat flour, right? After all, as Bill Cosby reminded us so many years ago, "Eggs. Eggs are in chocolate cake! And milk! Oh goody! And wheat! That's nutrition!"