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Little White Lies: Can You Always Trust Your Food Labels?

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When you go grocery shopping, you select items wrapped up with food labels. And you probably don’t realize just how much these labels influence your decision-making promise. After all, food labels provide information on nutritional content, calorie count and other pieces of health information.

But can you trust them? If you think so, there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t. In fact here are 7 food label terms that aren’t reliable.

Nutrition (Know What You're Buying: How to Read Food Labels)
Amazon Kindle Edition; Shelton, C.D. (Author); English (Publication Language); 26 Pages - 11/12/2012 (Publication Date) - Choice PH (Publisher)
Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time
Taub-Dix, Bonnie (Author); English (Publication Language); 272 Pages - 08/31/2010 (Publication Date) - Plume (Publisher)

Trans fat

Trans fat is easily one of the worst fats for you. It causes inflammation throughout the body and makes way for a whole slew of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and more.

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And if you try to avoid it, you probably opt for foods that claim “0 grams trans fat.” But here’s why that claim is very misleading.

Even if the food label says “no trans fat” or “0 grams trans fat” that doesn’t mean there’s zero trans fat in that food. It just means that there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in each serving. And we all know that serving sizes are usually pretty small. So, we usually eat more than one serving at a time.

That means you can easily consume trans fats in one sitting.

So, how can you tell if the product has trans fat if the food label says it doesn’t? You want to go straight to the ingredient list and look for partially hydrogenated oils. These are the primary source of trans fats.

And if they’re in the ingredient list, put that product down! It actually does contain trans fat.


According to the co-director of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at Nebraska University, Steve Taylor, “There is no legal definition of ‘natural.’” So, you better believe companies take full advantage of this fact and abuse the term “natural” all the time.

There is no legal definition of ‘natural.

Take the food manufacturing company, Tyson, for example. They came out with “100% all natural batter dipped chicken tenders” which were far from natural.

This claim brought Tyson to court. That’s because their product included xanthan gum, a synthetic substance, along with other unnatural ingredients.

Moral of the story? Check the back of the food label and read through the ingredient list. That’s usually a little more honest than the front of the food label.

Light or Lite

If you’re trying to lose weight or restrict fat consumption, you probably prefer “light” or “lite” products, but this is another example of clever marketing and poor information. The FDA does monitor the use of these two terms based on the products fat content.

Therefore, a food can be low in fat, making it “light”. But it can also be high in sugar.

And the truth is, if the product is highly processed and loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners, it might not be rich in fat, but it’s an unhealthy option, just the same.


The term organic is very attractive for conscientious consumers, but it doesn’t always guarantee an organic product. The USDA does have pretty strict requirements for the term “organic”, but there are also variations on a theme, too.

For example, food labels can only say “100 percent organicwhen all ingredients are certified organic and all processing aids are organic.

However, the term “organic” meets a different set of criteria and makes room for some non-organic ingredients, too.

If you see, “Made with organic” it merely means that 70 percent of the ingredients are certified organic. Therefore, whenever you see the word, “organic”, take a closer look to determine just how organic the product is.


It’s important to eat fresh fruits, and we assume that if a food label says “juice” on it, we must be getting a fresh fruit squeezed down into juice. And while that might be the case sometimes, it’s better not to rest your hat on this belief.

The truth is, juice can mean a lot of things.

It can refer to a juice blend. It can be something that was freeze-dried. It can be a drop of juice, diluted with flavor and water.

The best way to know? Read the ingredient list and see what’s inside. It’s probably not freshly squeezed oranges.

Health benefit claims

According to Marion Nestle, the author of Food Politics and the former chair of nutrition at New York University, food label health claims are “inherently misleading.” So, if you’re reaching for the cereal that “lowers cholesterol” or is “heart healthy”, you might want to reconsider. Here’s why.

Food label health claims are inherently misleading.

Certain foods do support specific areas of health. And there are so many reasons for this.

For one thing, they contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, compounds, macronutrients and more. And these have been shown to provide health benefits.

But here’s the catch: just because a product contains one of these foods, it doesn’t necessarily make that product is “heart healthy.”

That’s because along with those healthy ingredients, there are many other unhealthy ingredients, like sugar, artificial sweeteners, colors, additives and more. And all together, the product isn’t so healthy for your heart – or the rest of you.

While not technically a food, the Airborne herbal supplement used the words, “boost the immune system” on the label. This led to a 2008 lawsuit, which ended in a $23 million settlement to consumers who bought the product.

Why? Because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the ingredients in the supplement could actually boost immunity.

Nutrition (Know What You're Buying: How to Read Food Labels)
Amazon Kindle Edition; Shelton, C.D. (Author); English (Publication Language); 26 Pages - 11/12/2012 (Publication Date) - Choice PH (Publisher)
Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time
Taub-Dix, Bonnie (Author); English (Publication Language); 272 Pages - 08/31/2010 (Publication Date) - Plume (Publisher)

Alcohol content in wine

According to a study published in the Journal of Wine Economics, companies are guilty of false claims about the true alcohol content in their products.

Researchers examined close to 100,000 bottles of wine from around the world and found that in almost 60 percent of them, the alcohol content was actually 0.42 percent more than the label said.

If you can’t always trust food labels, what can you trust when it comes to product information? A good place to start is the ingredient list and calorie count. This can cue you in on what’s really in your food.

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