food labels: buyer beware

While wasting time waiting to cool down after my run yesterday I saw Just Label It had shared some news: 1 million people had signed their petition asking the FDA to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.
I read food labels like it was my job  (and I suppose on some level it is- as a concerned citizen and mother and nutrition/obesity researcher) and I recently wrote about a push by advocacy groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest to redesign the label in the hopes that it’ll become easier to digest (it seems that it takes a certain level of numeracy to really understand and properly use the information on nutrition labels, which a majority of Americans just don’t seem to have).

To make matters worse, there is little regulation over nutrition claims made on those so-called front of package labels, which is why Kellogg’s can write “Now helps support your child’s IMMUNITY” on the front of each and every package of Cocoa Krispies. Pu-lease.

Until the marketers have less power {to make misleading claims} and the consumers have more {to demand honest and scientifically supported information about what’s in their foods}, here are some other food label claims to be wary of.

1. Lightly-sweetened: Cereal packages often contain the phrase “lightly sweetened” to suggest less sugar, but the FDA only has regulations for “sugar free” and “no added sugars” but nothing governing the claims “low sugar” or “lightly sweetened.”

2. A good source of fiber: Much of the fiber included in products marketed as having “a good source of fiber” doesn’t come from traditional sources — whole grains, bean, vegetables or fruit — that are known to have health benefits.

3. Strengthens your immune system: Through “clever wordsmithing,” food companies can skirt F.D.A. rules about health claims.

4. Made with real fruit: Often the “real fruit” is found in small quantities and isn’t even the same kind of fruit pictured on the package.

5. Made with whole grains: Many products make a whole grain claim butcontain refined flour as the first ingredient, have minimal amounts of actual whole grains, and/or contain more sugar than whole wheat. Buyer beware.

6. All natural. Although the F.D.A. has issued several warning letters to firms making misleading “all natural” claims, the agency has never issued formal rules about the term. As a result, it seems like anything goes.

For the complete story, click  here. And if you’re feeling particular ambitious there’s a full 158 report on Food Labeling Chaos from CSPI which will surely motivate you to join the million others who are demanding real information.

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5 thoughts on “food labels: buyer beware

  1. Hence the reason (or many reasons) why I’m making spaghetti sauce from scratch tonight and have oatmeal muffins cooling on the counter… Buyer beware! (Thanks for the links and info!)
    (I totally had to use my fingers to get the total amount in my security question…And I have a science degree…awesome.)

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    1. You want to know what else I just learned – and am horrified that I’m just learning it – aluminum cans have BPA in them, and tomatoes and coconut milk are the worst offenders for leaching it from the can liners. No joke. Muir Glen has pledged to remove it from their cans, as did Campbell’s recently, so hopefully all other makers will follow suit. But really…come on!

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  2. Ugh. I’ve heard rumors about the aluminum cans and tomatoes – I did not want them confirmed! Guess I’ll be adding tomatoes to my farmers market list this summer to can/freeze… I’ll hold out hope that the companies will actually follow through on their pledges. (but not hold my breath)

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  3. For me, I’d like to know how I’m going to feel 15 minutes after eating it. McDonald’s? Terrible. Sushi. Pretty damn good.

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