Don't Let Food and Supplement Labels Fool You - Part
Purchasing food for you and your family seems simple
enough. The packaging for the product should tell you
everything you need to know - right?
For example, the packaging for a popular breakfast cereal
states, "cereal made with the goodness of corn" right on the
front of the box. Most people assume that because corn is
healthy and the box says 'made with the goodness of corn' that
this cereal must be healthy. Unfortunately, although corn may
very well be one of the ingredients in the cereal (Corn Pops),
the 'goodness of corn' in this particular cereal has been
combined with a lot of sugar that may not be so good for
Many people don't really know what they're eating or how
much they're eating, because they don't know how to read a food
label and are fooled by the claims on the front of the package.
The majority of people are surprised once they learn how to
read the food label and realize that they are consuming more
calories, fat and added sugar than originally thought.
The biggest mistake people make is not looking at the
serving size. You might say, "oh wow, this only has 100
calories!" and eat the whole thing. But be careful, the package
may serve four, which means you'd be eating 400 calories, not
You can find the serving size listed directly under the
"Nutrition Facts" on the food label. When reading your food
labels, this is the first place to look because it influences
all the nutrient amounts listed below it. The serving size is
supposed to be based on the amount of food people typically
eat, but this is not always the case. Breakfast cereals are a
great example. A serving size is typically listed as one half
cup to one cup, but most cereal bowls hold two cups. In the
case of Corn Pops, as used in the beginning of the article, a
typical cereal bowl would actually provide 2 servings.
Another place consumers get confused is the fat content.
Less than 30 percent of your total calories should come from
fat. Unfortunately, we can't always rely on the advertised
percentages to paint a true picture. Labels that boast "98% fat
free" or "50 percent less fat" are misleading. The fat
percentages on these labels are based on volume only. For
example, if you were to take a bottle of water and put one drop
of oil in it, you could say that by volume, that water is 99
percent fat free. Yet 100% of the calories come from fat.
The next time you're at the store look at the milk labels.
One serving of 1% milk typically contains 100 calories and 25
of those calories are from fat. That's 25% fat, not 1%. To
determine whether the food you buy is less than 30% fat, follow
this simple procedure.
- Look at the label on a particular food. It will show the
number of calories per serving and the number of calories from
- Next, divide the calories from fat by the total calories to
see if it is less than 30%.
Even if you find a food that has less than 30% of calories
from fat or one that has no fat, be careful not to fall into
the fat-free trap. It's a proven fact that people eat more than
they should if it's labeled fat-free. Just because it's fat
free, doesn't mean it's calorie free.
Another potential problem with fat-free and low-fat foods is
the sugar content. A lot of fat-free foods have a lot of added
sugar. Read the ingredient list. The ingredient section of the
label provides a list of all ingredients in descending order by
weight. If sugar is one of the first things on the list, then
that is what was used to replace fat, and if you're concerned
about your health you don't want added sugar in your diet
Where sugar is concerned, you'll also want to watch for the
'hidden' sugars in your foods and avoid food products that
contain several sugary ingredients. Occasionally, food
manufacturers will use several different sugar sources so that
they don't have to list sugar as the number one ingredient.
For example, if a product contains 9 grams of whole wheat, 8
grams of sugar, 7 grams of safflower oil, 6 grams of high
fructose corn syrup and 5 grams of honey, the ingredient list
would read: "Whole wheat, sugar, safflower oil, high fructose
corn syrup, honey".
Listing whole wheat as the first ingredient may make you
think that this is a healthy product. However, 3 of the five
ingredients are basically sugar and the reality is that there
are 19 grams of sugar sources (8+6+5) - more than double the
amount of whole wheat! Make sure you look at both the
ingredient list and at the amount of sugar per serving. And
don't forget to account for the serving size by multiplying the
sugar content per serving by the number of servings you'll be
Watch for the following 'hidden' sugars in your foods.
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn Syrup (derived from maize (corn) starch)
- Dextrose (derived from sucrose)
- Fructose (found in fruits, but can also be made industrially
from corn starch)
- Maltose (derived from barley)
- Sucrose (the chemical term for sugar)
- Beet Sugar
- Brown sugar
- Cane Sugar
- Confectioner's Sugar
- Corn Sugar
- Corn Sweetener>BR> Corn Syrup
- Granulated Sugar
- Invert Sugar
- Maple Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Raw Sugar
- Turbinado Sugar
- Fruit syrups/concentrates
- Glucose derived syrup
- Golden syrup
It is important to note that fructose is NOT the same as
high fructose corn syrup. The former (fructose) is pure
fructose with a low glycemic index, whereas high fructose corn
syrup is a mixture of 50% fructose and 50% glucose. The
glycemic response of high fructose corn syrup is high - about
the same as sucrose (table sugar).
Let's go back to our Corn Pops example. One serving of Corn
Pops is 1 cup and provides 120 calories per serving, 0 grams of
fat, just 1 gram of protein and 28 grams of carbohydrate (of
which 14 grams come from sugar, 0 from fiber and the rest from
refined starches). The first four items on the ingredient list
are: "Milled corn, sugar, corn syrup, molasses". Knowing that
there are 14 grams of sugar and that 3 of the top 4 ingredients
are sugar tells you that this cereal is almost 50% sugar. If
you fill an entire cereal bowl (2 cups), you are consuming 240
calories and 28 grams of sugar. Even if you don't sprinkle any
additional sugar on your cereal, you are still getting about 7
or 8 teaspoons of sugar in your bowl.
You may be one of the consumers who realize that Corn Pops
is a sweetened cereal and therefore high in sugar, but were you
aware that many cereals marketed as a healthy choice, like
Kellogg's Smart Start contain as much sugar as Corn Pops?
Although Kellogg's Smart Start will give you more complex
carbohydrates and a few grams of fiber that you don't get in
Corn Pops, that fiber is packaged with a whopping 30 grams of
sugar if you fill your cereal bowl (the typical 2 cups). In
both cases - Corn Pops and Smart Start - you are getting about
7 or 8 teaspoons of sugar in your two cups of cereal.
One final note of caution in reading food labels - Don't be
fooled by the label claims on the package, such as 'Light',
'Reduced Fat', etc.! Below is a list of some of the common
claims seen on food packaging and what these claims mean
according to the FDA regulations.
- Fat free = less than 1 gram of fat per serving
- Low fat = 3 grams of fat or less per serving
- Reduced fat = 25% less of the nutrient or calories than the
usual product has.
- Light = one third fewer calories or fat of the usual
- Calorie free = fewer than 5 calories per serving
- Low sodium = less than 140 mg of salt per serving
- Low calorie = less than 40 calories per serving
- Low cholesterol = less than 20 mg of cholesterol and 2 grams
of fat per serving
- Reduced = 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or
calories than the usual product
- Good source of = provides at least 10% of the daily value of
a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving
- High fiber = 5 or more grams of fiber per serving
- Lean (meat, poultry, seafood) = 10 grams of fat or less, 4
grams of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3