Don't Let Food and Supplement Labels Fool You - Part One

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 you.

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 100.

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 fat.
- 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 either.

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 eating.

Watch for the following 'hidden' sugars in your foods.
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn Syrup (derived from maize (corn) starch)
- Molasses
- Honey
- Dextrose (derived from sucrose)
- Fructose (found in fruits, but can also be made industrially from corn starch)
- Glucose
- Lactose
- Maltose (derived from barley)
- Galactose
- Levulose
- Sucrose (the chemical term for sugar)
- Beet Sugar
- Brown sugar
- Cane Sugar
- Confectioner's Sugar
- Corn Sugar
- Corn Sweetener>BR> Corn Syrup
- Granulated Sugar
- Honey
- Invert Sugar
- Isomalt
- Maltodextrins
- Maple Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Molasses
- Raw Sugar
- Sorghum
- Turbinado Sugar
- Fruit syrups/concentrates
- Glucose derived syrup
- Golden syrup
- Treacle

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 food.
- 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 ounce serving.





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