6 Common Nutrition Label Mistakes to Avoid

( - In this day and age when there are a slew of labels being thrown around by manufacturers, it can be hard to know what means what. Gone are the days when we could trust what we eat without doing any research. Now it’s important that we learn the hidden meanings behind the big, bold words stamped onto our favorite foods. Even health foods can contain sugar, refined wheat, and other harmful ingredients.

Research has shown that putting health claims on the front labels of products affects people’s choices, making them believe a food is healthier than it is (1, 2, 3).

To ensure you stop costing yourself inches, pounds, and possible health issues related to the ingredients being used, become aware of these food label mistakes you might be making:

1. You’re not aware of sugar’s many names.

Now it’s common knowledge that sugar works against not only your waistline but your overall health too. It’s becoming necessary to steer clear of refined sugar as much as possible. This can seem hard if you don’t know the many names it goes by, however.

It seems to be in everything — from granola bars to salad dressings and pasta sauces. Some of the sneaky names it goes by include: cane juice, carob syrup, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, and sucrose. But there are so many more, so do your research and get familiar with all of them!

2. You look for “sugar-free” items.

Perhaps you know the detriments sugar has on your health, so you see “sugar-free” as the easy answer to enjoying some of your favorite foods. But this isn’t always the right choice, either, as many of them contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, erythritol, polydextrose, sorbitol, and or sucralose. Research suggests that these ingredients may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. This may lead to craving more sweets and choosing sweet food over nutritious food — it may even lead to weight gain.

In fact, participants who consumed more than 21 diet drinks per week in the San Antonio Heart Study proved to be twice as likely to become overweight or obese compared to people who didn’t drink diet soda.

3. You’re a sucker for low-calorie labels.

Counting calories can be beneficial for ensuring you don’t overeat, but if you’re picking foods based on nutrition labels, don’t assume that the “only 100 calories per serving” refers to the entire bag of chips and begin to dig in. These serving sizes are typically much smaller portions than people are used to eating in one sitting. Manufacturers deceive consumers into thinking that they’re eating something “low-calorie” in this way, and many people are unaware of this scheme.

To know the nutritional value of what you’re eating, you need to multiply the serving given on the back by the number of servings you consumed. Similarly, if you see a label simply labeled “low-calorie,” you should know that these products must contain one-third fewer calories than the same brand’s original product, but it may still contain the same calories as the original of another brand. In other words, just because it’s labeled “low-calorie” doesn’t mean it’s the lowest calorie choice.

4. You search for “whole wheat” labels.

Whole wheat is often assumed to be healthy, and people pick it as a replacement for their white bread and other grain products. But the problem is that the wheat isn’t typically “whole” since the grains have been pulverized into a fine flour, which causes your body to rapidly digest the grain and spikes blood sugar just as its refined counterpart would.

What you should be looking for is “whole grain,” however this, too, can be tricky because many processed foods have labels like “made with whole grain” on their packaging. This doesn’t make it healthy, though, since it can still contain refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, excess sodium, and more. The product should simply be whole grain, not made with it.

5. You mistake foods labeled “natural” as nutritious.

“Natural” is such a vague term, and often one that people turn to for a healthier, perhaps even organic, option. But it’s typically neither one. According to the USDA definition, food labeled “natural” doesn’t contain artificial ingredients or preservatives, and the ingredients are minimally processed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and similar chemicals.

Products may also be labeled “all natural,” but the USDA doesn’t define this label as any different than the former. Packaged food labeled “natural” may still contain too much refined sugar or artificial sweeteners as well, so it’s best not to assume a product with this label means it is healthy and free of toxic ingredients.

6. You think labels with “no added” ingredients are healthy.

Just because products are labeled as “No Added Sugar,” “No Added Salt,” and “No Added MSG” doesn’t mean they don’t contain these ingredients. It simply means that the food already contains them, but no more was added. It’s a useless label for the consumer — all you’re really getting out of it is that it may, for instance, have less sugar than other brands, but it still likely has quite a bit of sugar in it.

Keep these six common misconceptions in mind the next time you’re out grocery shopping and you’ll avoid unhealthy products marketed as healthier choices.

Written by Alexa Erickson
Inspired by balance, Alexa finds that her true inner peace comes from executing a well-rounded lifestyle. An avid yogi, hiker, beach bum, music and art enthusiast, salad aficionado, adventure seeker, animal lover, and professional writer, she is an active individual who loves to express herself through the power of words. See more articles by this author
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