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...
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.
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
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 2013, 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...
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
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!
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...
We may have received free samples of food, which in no way influences whether these products are reviewed favorably, unfavorably, mentioned with indifference, or mentioned at all. Click for more about our editorial and advertising policies.
SmartPoints® value* not what you expected? We follow the same method as WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) when calculating the value of a recipe: We add up the SmartPoints® values* of the individual ingredients using the Recipe Builder, not the calculator. (Many foods have a value of zero and remain zero in recipes.)
*The SmartPoints® values for these products and/or recipes were calculated by Hungry Girl and are not an endorsement or approval of the product, recipe or its manufacturer or developer by WW International, Inc., the owner of the SmartPoints® trademark.