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5 Food-Label Claims: The Truth Exposed

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09.19.14
 

There are a lot of claims being made on food packages these days, but they don't always mean what you think. Plus, research shows that consumers often assume foods with these claims are healthier than those without them... and that the actual nutritional facts don't do much to change people's minds. Don't be blinded by buzzwords! Read on for the full scoop...

 
 
The Truth About Food-Label Claims: All-Natural
  All-Natural

Pop quiz: Does the official, government-regulated term "all-natural" ensure that a product is a) free of all artificial ingredients, b) healthy, c) made without any GMOs, d) all of the above, or e) none of the above? Shocker alert: The answer is e) NONE of the above! This is because there are no official guidelines -- neither the US Food & Drug Administration nor the Department of Agriculture has criteria or requirements for what can and cannot be labeled all-natural. You're basically taking the company at its word. We're not saying that these companies are lying, but it all comes down to semantics -- something that one company considers "natural" might be an additive that you'd consider pretty processed. Our advice for natural-food purists? Check the ingredient list for the full 411. And when it comes to weight loss and weight management, you're gonna wanna read the nutrition panel carefully.

 
  Gluten-Free

This is one of the most popular and divisive label claims out there right now. Much like all the claims on this list, people tend to think gluten-free = diet-friendly. In fact, a Mintel study from last year found that 27 percent of gluten-free-food consumers eat these foods because they feel they'll help their weight-loss efforts, and 65 percent of consumers who choose gluten-free foods do so because they believe them to be healthier than foods containing gluten. But as one of the study's food analysts explained, "there's been no research affirming these beliefs." The good news for those who avoid gluten due to celiac, sensitivity, or because they just feel better when they avoid the stuff? As of August, last year's official regulations dictating gluten-free standards are in effect. So if you see that labeling, you can take it at face value. Just don't read more into it...

 
The Truth About Food-Label Claims: Gluten-Free
 
 
The Truth About Food-Label Claims: Organic
  Organic

This word is associated with wholesome and healthy... but it really refers to how the agricultural products were produced, grown, or raised. When it comes to plant life, that means no conventional pesticides, forbidden synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering, etc.; for meat, poultry, and eggs, it means the animals can't be given antibiotics or growth hormones. Many studies have shown that organic foods may have certain health benefits, while others have found none. The important thing to remember is that just because a food is organic does not mean that the food is good for you -- organic brownies, burgers, pizza, milkshakes, and more can still pile on the pounds (resulting in other kinds of health risks). Read those nutritional panels, people! On the bright side, the USDA does regulate what can and cannot be considered organic.

 
  Whole Grain

Studies suggest whole-grain foods are beneficial to cardiovascular health and can help prevent chronic diseases. But can you trust the labels at their word? Unfortunately, the government doesn't have regulations in place for what constitutes a whole-grain food. And just because a product contains whole grains, that doesn't mean it contains a lot of them. But the Whole Grains Council provides packaging symbols to help you out -- a 100% Stamp indicates there's a full serving of whole grains in each serving of the food, and the Whole Grain Stamp shows the food has at least half a serving. Hooray for that! Our tip? Check the fiber count too... If a food has only a little fiber, it's unlikely that it has much in the way of whole grains. Plus, fiber is filling!

 
The Truth About Food-Label Claims: Whole Grain
 
 
The Truth About Food-Label Claims: Calorie Free
  Calorie-Free

Listen up: Foods labeled calorie-free can (and often do) have up to 4 calories per serving. Now, that may not sound like a lot, but a) the serving sizes can be freakishly small, and b) the stats add up if you consume a lot of that food. Zero-calorie nonstick spray, no-calorie sweetener packets, calorie-free salad dressings... All of these can legally claim to be calorie-free while actually containing some calories. The same goes for foods labeled fat-free and sugar-free, by the way. So what can you do? Pay attention to portion size, and don't overdo it on these foods. Click for more on this subject...

 
 

Top Takeaway Tips! While health-related label claims can sometimes steer you in the right direction, you have to read the nutrition panel and the ingredients list for the full picture. And when it comes to that nutrition panel, pay special attention to the serving size and servings per container. Now that's smart...

 
 
 

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Was today's topic a bit serious for you? Good news: It's also September 19th, Talk Like a Pirate Day. If your Blackbeard impression isn't great, chomp some Pirate's Booty instead.

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