Misleading food labels – do you know what they mean?

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By Dr. Holly

Food labels are notoriously bad for providing misleading information…do you know how to read them – or what they really mean?

Let’s look at some terms and see what is really going on…

1. All natural:  doesn’t have any meaning as the FDA doesn’t define it.  So basically, as long as it does not contain added colors, artificial flavors or synthetics – you can call it natural.  Sound good?  Not really!  It can also contain preservatives; or be injected with sodium; or contain products like high fructose corn syrup – so just because it says it is natural, doesn’t mean it is good for you.

2.  Multigrain:  what you really want is wholegrain.  Any multigrain label that I have looked at, has whole wheat flour and enriched white flour as the first two ingredients – not what the name suggests.  Also, don’t go by the colour…many darker breads or crackers have a caramel coloring – whoops no good either.  Wholegrains may include:  popcorn, oatmeal and quinoa – but now you have to make sure that they are organic

3.  No sugar added :

a) remember foods like fruit, cereals and vegetables already have their fair share of sugars

b) in addition, carbs like maltodextrin is a carbohydrate that contains numerous glucose units

c) simple carbohydrates turn into sugars quickly in the body

d) sugar free products are usually full of fats

e) not all sugars are created equally: 5 carbon sugar, i.e., ribose & deoxyribose are used to make ATP (cellular fuel) and DNA; whereas 6 carbon sugars, i.e., fructose, sucrose, galactose, glucose can cause alot of damage to the body

i) sugar alcohols like mannitol, xylitol or sorbitol

ii) agave :  a popular sweetener because of its low glycemic index BUT is very high in fructose (which when taken in regular doses can lead to insulin resistance) NOTE:  the fructose content of sugar is a much bigger problem than the glycemic index.  Unfortunately, table sugar is about 50% fructose, whereas Agave is between 70-90% fructose making agave much worse than table sugar.

iii) evaporated cane juice – this is a marketing strategy – this is just a fancy name for sugar

iv) raw organic cane sugar – another marketing strategy – whether raw, organic or otherwise – it is still sugar and will break down into glucose and fructose with the same impact on your body

v) brown sugar – another marketing strategy – after sugar is processed/refined, molasses (50% sugar) can be added and give the table sugar its brown color – thus you are adding a less concentrated sugar to sugar and calling it brown sugar

vi) coconut sugar – sugar is extracted from the coconut sap, which does contain a small amount of fiber and some nutrient; and does have a lower glycemic index but like agave has a high level of fructose (a small amount of free fructose but 75-80% of it is sucrose – half of which is fructose)

vii) honey – contains a variety of nutrients, anti-oxidants and anti-biotics – although the specific profile depends on what kind of plant the bees made honey of; another important issue is whether the honey is pasteurized; pasteurized honey has lost its nutrients and has a high concentration of sugar

4) Fats :  

Like sugars, not fats are created equally:

i) trans fats:  bad for the heart and increases LDL, while decreasing HDL.  Found in:  margarine, vegetable shortening (baked goods), partially hydrogenated vegetable oils

ii) zero trans fats:  means than it has less 0.5 grams per serving (read more about servings further down)

iii) fat free: usually means that it is loaded with sugar; just as sugar free products are usually loaded with fats

5) Gluten free: 

Gluten is a protein found in various grains, ie., wheat and rye, which can cause problems for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  However, many people who are believed to be “gluten intolerant” are really biphosphate intolerant.  Biphosphates are found in the fertilizers, i.e., RoundUp, that are sprayed on the crops.  Both can be resolved by “reprogramming” the gut with transfer factor and improving the microbiota.  However, gluten free whole grains tend to have less fiber than other versions and consequently, have faster glucose uptake

6) Cholesterol 

Cholesterol is misleading for a number of reasons:  our bodies require choelsterol which is why the liver makes 80% of the cholesterol in the body needed for:  cell membranes, neuron insulation, bile, steroid hormones to name a few.  Further, it has been shown repeatedly that the intake of cholesterol has little impact on our health, blood cholesterol levels, etc.  The original studies were poorly designed; poorly interrupted and didn’t know the difference between omega 3s (anti-inflammatory) and omega 6s (pro-inflammatory).

a) Cholesterol free is misleading because it does not mean free of cholesterols but rather less than 2 mg per serving (read more about servings further down).

b) Low cholesterol means that the product has less than 20 mg per serving

c) Reduced or Less Cholesterol means it has 25% less cholesterol than other products

7Organic

While the term has gone undefined and unregulated for some time,  efforts are being made to impose both.  A USDA label that says organic means that 95% or more of te ingredients are grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.  However, there is still concern with the:

i) quality of the soil:

  • heavy metal toxicity
  • environmental toxicities
  • nutrient availability
  • mineral availability

ii) the airs that carry:

  • POPs (persistant organic pesticides)
  • fertilizers that carry PCBs from surrounding crops
  • car fumes from heavy traffic

iii) the waters that carry:

  • heavy metal toxicity
  • fertilizers from surrounding area
  • pollutants from manufacturing plants

8) Light:

While consumers believe a product labelled “light” has less calories.  “The flavor might be lighter, but you aren’t saving one calorie,” says Taub-Dix. “The wording on light products can be confusing for consumers, but it is important to read the nutritional facts.”

9) Made with real fruit:

Companies are not required to identify the % of ingredients like fruits.   Further, various law suites reveal that often the fruit is artificial.

10) Omega 3s

As with most other nutrients, there are a variety of different types of omega 3s – the most common requirements in our bodies are:

a) ALA:  alpha-linolenic acid

b) EPA:  eicosapentaenoic acid

c) DHA: docosahexaenoic acid

Different foods have different amounts of each of the fatty acids in them.  For instance, flax seeds, hemp seeds and salba/chia seeds  have higher amounts of ALA than EPAs & DHAs.  Various manufacturers will sprinkle the smallest amount of ground flax seed into a product – just so they can say it has omega 3s.

11)  Free range

Free range simply means the chickens have been out of the cage for more than 5 minutes a day.  If you want real free range chickens – you need to go to a local farmer that has free range chickens.

12) Serving

When labels tell you the nutrient profile of their product in terms of a “serving”, you want to be sure you read what amount constitutes a serving.  Most servings are far less than the normal person would actually eat.

13) Calories

If you tend to look for calories counts – you may want to make sure you are getting sufficient nutrient for the calorie intake.  A simple example would be to compare a 1000 calories at a fast food restaurant in comparison to a broiled salmon steak, with asparagus, a rice pilaf and a green salad with oil & vinegar (versus store bought dressings).  Same amount of calories but one is nutrient dense and the other is toxic to the body.

Know what you are eating.  Make wise choices for your body and it will be kinder to you in return.

Here’s to your health!

For more information, contact: Dr Holly at holly@choicesunlimited.ca
Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information only, and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or other health care professional. The writer or publisher is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a reader based on the content of this article. Always consult your own health care practitioner.
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