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Pay attention to those food labels; 

they may sound healthy but aren't.


Because more and more "healthy" buzzwords are appearing on food packages, we must proceed with caution.  Just because a product is advertised as lacking in fat, gluten or sugar doesn't mean it's healthier.  Some labels are flat-out confusing and misleading.


To help you access the food you really want, Eating editors have provided a list of labeling that claims one thing but may not be what is claimed.



FAT FREE!  You might think you are making a healthy choice when you see fat free, but eating certain fat-free foods may cause you to gain, not lose weight.  In a new study from Purdue University, rats fed potato chips containing Olean (referenced on the "Chemical Terms" page) subsequently put on more weight than rats fed regular chips.  More research is needed but experts think fat substitutes, like Olean, may interfere with the body's natural ability to regulate how much food is enough, and so you are eating more.


GLUTEN-FREE!  If you don't have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, think twice before ditching gluten.  Being gluten-free does not automatically make a product better for you.  Gluten-free products can vary greatly in the amount of fat, protein and other nutrients they contain.  Some gluten-free breads have up to 13 times more fat and 16 times more protein than others according to a recent study that compared 11 different gluten-free breads.  Many products advertise they are gluten-free when in fact, they never contained gluten in the first place. 


DIET SODA!   To most of us, the word, "diet", equals weight loss, but diet soda is holding up its end of the bargain.  Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antoinio found that people, who drank two or more diet sodas daily, had a six times greater increase in waist circumference at the end of the 10 year study than those who didn't drink diet soda at all. 

Those bigger waist sizes may be due to the wishful thinking of the "I saved here; I can splurge there" theory of dieting, says researcher Sharon Fowler, M.P.H., or perhaps the artificial sweeteners in diet soda stoked diet-soda drinkers' appetites as other research suggests.


It seems to me that no one, with the authority to do so, wants to come right out and tell the soft drink industry to cut out the aspartame and other sweeteners they use to justify "diet" soda.  More studies come out every year confirming that the addition of sweeteners in soft drinks (and sweetened waters) are contributing seriously to the obesity problem in this country.  I don't believe for a minute that the industry is unaware of the dangers of so much sugar (real or synthetic) in their products, but I do recognize admitting as much would jeopardize the industry's bottom line fh


ORGANIC!  This is a word that once was a quick answer to our shopping for naturally grown food but no more.  In a study done by Cornell University, people were asked to rate "organic" versus "conventional" yogurt, cookies and potato chips.  They overwhelmingly preferred the taste of the organic ones and thought they were healthier and worth a higher price tag.  The Catch?  All the products in the study were actually identical in taste - just labeled differently.  This means, that while people want and will pay more for good organic food, the industry can make anything taste good, and while this allows them to produce "on the cheap", we are duped into buying it. 


TRANS-FAT FREE!  Since 2006, the FDA has required food manfacturers to list reportable amounts of trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label, but there's a catch here as well.  Food manufacturers don't have to report the trans-fat content if it's less than 0.5 grams per serving.  So check the ingredients list for the terms "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils" which conceal the 0.5 grams allowed by each listing even though the Nutrition Facts label may claim 0 grams of trans fat. 


All calories are the same, but the loaded concealed calories in certain foods can leave you wanting more food which then off-sets any calorie counting you may be doing.  It's hard to ignore the desire to eat more when the cravings are there.  fh




by Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D.. & Katie Andrews and Eating Well editors, 23 June 2012


Additional information on labels to avoid are found on the "Chemical Terms" page.  fh