One of the best things you can do for your body is to nourish it with healthy foods. As the content and ingredients of our foods have changed over the past three (3) decades to provide convenience and longer shelf life, so has our weight. There is a direct link between the content of our food and the increase in obesity. With obesity posing such a national health crisis, many manufacturers are turning to food packaging labels trying to convince us that their product is a healthy choice–don’t be fooled so quickly! The terms below will help show you what these claims really mean and help you break the code!
“Calorie Free” These are foods that contain less than 5 calories per serving.
“Cholesterol Free” These foods must contain less than 2 mg of cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving (a low cholesterol product is not necessarily low in fat).
“Fat-free” These foods have less than 0.5 g of fat per serving.
“Lean” These foods contain less than 10 g fat, less than 4.5 g saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per serving.
“Lite foods” A lite claim indicates only that the product has no more than 1/2 the fat, 2/3 the calories or 1/2 the sodium of the ‘regular’ version of the same food.
“Low-calorie” These foods have 40 calories or less per serving.
“Low Cholesterol” These foods have 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
“Low-fat” These foods have 3 g or less of fat per serving.
“Low in saturated fat” Foods that contain 1 g or less of saturated fat per serving and no more than 15% of the calories comes from saturated fats.
“Low sodium” These foods contain 140 mg or less sodium per serving.
“Saturated fat-free” These foods have less than 0.5 g of saturated fat and less than 0.5 g of trans fat.
“Sodium-free” Foods that contain less than 5 mg sodium per serving.
“Sugar-free” These foods contain less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving.
“Trans fat free or No trans fat or Zero trans fat” Foods that have fewer than 0.5 g trans fat per serving. Always read the food labels that make this claim; if you see the words “partially hydrogenated” on this package, then the product does contain trans fat. Any food with 0.5 g trans fat or less per serving can be given this label and eating these foods in quantity can add up over time. There are no safe levels of trans fat!
“Very low sodium” These foods contain 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.
Some labels also make claims for healthy benefits, here is what those labels really mean:
“May reduce the risk of heart disease” or “helps to lower cholesterol” The FDA backs the claim that this food may help prevent heart disease and/or lower LDL cholesterol when eaten regularly and as part of an overall healthy diet. This label is often found on produce and foods rich in soluble fiber, whole grains, soy protein and/or plant sterols or stanols.
A red heart with a white check mark The American Heart Association certifies that this product is low in cholesterol, total fat, saturated fat and trans fat; has less than 480 mg of sodium per serving; and naturally contains at least 10% of the daily value for vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, protein or fiber.
A yellow and black “whole grain” icon that looks like a postage stamp The Whole Grains Council verifies that this product contains at least 8 g of whole grains (a 1/2 serving of whole grains). If the stamp specifies “100% whole grain”, then the product has at least 16 g of whole grains (1 full serving of whole grains). Three (3)daily servings of whole grains are recommended.
Be cautious if the package makes any of these claims:
“Natural” This word can be deceiving, as it is not regulated by the FDA. Almost all packaged foods are processed in some way and could still contain a high fat or sugar content and offer little nutritional value.
“Made with Real Fruit” or Contains Real Fruit Juice” There are no laws in effect that require how much real fruit or real fruit juice needs to be in any food that makes this claim. So just a minute amount is all that is needed to be able to use these labels. In this instance, you need to look at the food label more closely and see what actual ingredients are in that product. If high fructose corn syrup or any sugars are listed as the first few ingredients, then that will tell you that the “real fruit or juice” content is minimal.
“Whole Grains” If this label doesn’t have that yellow and black postage stamp icon on the packaging, you can probably bet the whole grain contained is nill. Manufacturers can label any product as whole grain that contains just a minuscule amount of whole wheat mixed into refined flours, which means nothing good for your health. Avoid foods with the words enriched and/or bleached listed on the ingredients label. A healthy choice is one that states the product is “100% whole grain.” Products that are good sources of whole grains will also have a good fiber and protein content too.
Making healthy choices is really a matter of knowing what it is you are purchasing. Investigate those labels by reading the ingredient list and search for the real content. The real ingredients and those with the highest content will be found in the first few ingredients listed on the label. Be cautious with any food that claims to be “low” or “free” as the content is based per serving; you will not be doing yourself any favors if you consume many servings thinking this food is a healthy choice…it all adds up over time.
The best food choices you can make are those that may not even have labels and are unprocessed like fresh meats, fresh fish, whole fruits and vegetables, beans, high fiber and calcium rich foods. Don’t let the razzle dazzle on packaging fool you anymore! Just a little know-how will help you and your family to consume a healthy diet and a healthy diet will help stamp out obesity!