13 Ridiculous Food Labels that Might Be Fooling You

September 23rd, 2009

Food Label ConfusionWith the ridiculous and misleading claims that are made on the packaging of many foods, it can be difficult to differentiate the truth from devious marketing. This is important because the failure to make this distinction can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing.

To help you recognize the deceiving marketing that’s commonly found on food labels, I went grocery shopping and came home with a number of great examples. Aside from the obvious reason of it being unhealthy, I ordinarily don’t buy this type of food because it supports industrial agriculture, and in turn, supports irresponsible and inhumane farming practices. However, if I’m able to help steer you away from these foods, then it will be for a good cause.

The following are some of the most ridiculous and misleading food labels that quickly drew my attention in the grocery store.

1. Froot Loops Is a Smart Choice

According to the new Smart Choices Program, which seems to be nothing more than another way for food manufacturers to market processed food, Froot Loops is apparently a “smart” choice despite the sugar, trans fat, and artificial additives that it contains.

Froot Loops Smart Choices Program

Froot Loops and FiberIt’s true that Froot Loops contains natural fruit flavors, but this shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that it provides similar benefits to eating real fruit. Natural fruit flavors are nothing more than concentrated fruit extracts that contain little to none of fruit’s original nutrition. Furthermore, the term natural has no bearing on the quality of the fruit that the flavoring is extracted from. It’s very likely that this fruit was grown with heavy usage of chemicals which is clearly not natural. In addition, the trans fat, artificial colorings, preservatives, and synthetic vitamins that are found in Froot Loops certainly aren’t natural either.

Froot Loops and FamilyWhat I find most despicable about the Froot Loops label is the suggestion that its fiber content will keep your child healthy and improve your family life. Aside from the fact that the health benefits of fiber are often overstated, and that fiber can even be detrimental in some ways, fruit and vegetables contain plenty of fiber and are a much healthier source of it. Furthermore, the sugar, refined grain, and chemical additives in fruit loops certainly won’t help digestive health. If you’re concerned about the health of your children, feed them natural whole foods, not Froot Loops.

Another thing that’s disturbing about the marketing of Froot Loops is that Kellogg’s has included it in their Fuel for School program suggesting that it’s a good way for kids to start their day. Anyone having to deal with the resulting hyperactivity will likely disagree.

2. DanActive will Boost Your Immunity

DanActive is a “probiotic dairy drink” that claims to strengthen your immune system with active cultures of beneficial bacteria. Although this claim is supposedly “clinically proven”, the packaging gives no indication whatsoever of what this actually means.

Danactive Immunity

The label is correct in pointing out that approximately 70% of your immune system is in your digestive tract. It’s also true that beneficial bacteria will promote healthy intestinal function, and in turn, strengthen your immune system. However, what the package doesn’t tell you is that DanActive’s 13 grams of sugar will diminish these benefits by suppressing the immune system and fueling the growth of undesirable bacteria. Furthermore, the pasteurized milk that DanActive contains is a common cause of digestive issues, including suppressed immunity.

If you really want to strengthen your immunity and improve the health of your digestive tract, then avoid processed foods and use a high quality probiotic supplement. If you’d prefer a more natural source of probiotics as I tend to, you can use some of the recipes in Nourishing Traditions to make fermented vegetables.

3. Sensible Snacking with Fig Newtons

Although this packaging may lead you to believe that Fig Newton Minis are a 100% whole grain product, a closer look reveals that they’re merely baked with 100% whole grain. Based on this, only a portion of the grains used are whole, and if you check the ingredients, you’ll see unhealthy and highly refined grains such as corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup in addition to added sugar.

Fig Newtons

A similar claim is made in regard to this product’s fruit content. At first, you might miss the smaller print and be impressed by only seeing 100% fruit. Even after realizing that Fig Newtons merely contain 100% more fruit than a Nutri-Grain bar, you may still be impressed. However, a Nutri-Grain bar is highly processed and unlikely to contain much real fruit, and if Fig Newtons really do have twice as much, it’s still probably a small amount. Regardless of how much better Fig Newtons are than Nutri-Grain bars, neither product even comes close to the nutritional value of whole fruit.

Fig Newton Minis are supposedly a sensible snack because they’re low in saturated fat and contain 0 grams of trans fat. Despite the bad reputation that saturated fat has undeservedly earned, its a valuable source of energy and is critical to the proper function of the brain, the nervous system, cell membranes, and ironically, even the heart. Even though the side panel does list 0 grams of trans fat, the ingredients list contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil which is a trans fat. This is possible because the amount per serving is small enough to be rounded down to zero. While this may sound negligible, the amount of trans fat that you consume can accumulate to the point of being dangerous if you eat this type of product frequently enough.

4. Snack Right with Nip Chee

Lance Snack RightSimilar to Fig Newtons, Lance’s Nip Chee claims to contain 0 grams of trans fat but contains partially hydrogenated soy bean oil. The fine print under the ingredients list states that the partially hydrogenated soy bean oil “adds a dietary insignificant amount of trans fat.” Many processed foods contain this “insignificant” amount, and as I previously mentioned, if you eat enough processed food, an insignificant amount can become substantial.

The package also proudly proclaims that it contains no preservatives, which is true, but is negated by the fact that it contains artificial flavors and artificial coloring.

5. Natural and Farm Fresh Chicken from Perdue

Unlike the USDA certified organic label, there are no regulations whatsoever on the use of the word natural on food labeling. As such, you’re left to rely entirely on the honesty of the company behind the label.

Purdue All Natural Chicken

In the Food, Inc. documentary, which I highly recommend that you see, Perdue forbid their chicken farmers from letting the film’s producers inside their facilities. One farmer who disobeyed this order revealed thousands of chickens that were crammed into a small indoor space and deprived of sunlight. They were fed antibiotics and many of them were too sick and weak to even walk. That certainly doesn’t sound natural or remind me of the nice farm house setting prominently displayed on the Perdue packaging. Furthermore, the label claims that no hormones are used, but says nothing about antibiotics, feed quality, or living conditions.

6. On the Go with Sugar Free Kool-Aid

Sugar Free KoolaidSugar Free Kool-Aid Despite what the label clearly says, Sugar Free Kool-Aid is not sugar free! Its second most abundant ingredient is maltodextrin which is a sugar. Like the labels that hide small amounts of trans fat, the amount of sugar contained in the minuscule 1 gram serving size must be small enough to be rounded down to zero. In addition, it’s unlikely for most kids to be satisfied by the 8 ounces of Kool-Aid that this small serving size produces.

This product is supposedly a “sensible solution” because it only contains 5 calories per serving and contains synthetic vitamin C. However, the aspartame, preservatives, artificial flavors, and artificial coloring that it contains aren’t sensible at all. Aspartame in particular is especially not sensible and is a highly controversial artificial sweetener that’s often associated with a number of serious health problems including cancer and neurological disorders. As such, it should be regarded as a legitimate concern.

7. Soft, Delicious, and Nutritious Whole Grain Wonder Bread

If you look to the left of the label on this package of Wonder Bread where it says whole grain, you’ll see from the smaller print that it’s made with whole grain. As with some of the previous labels, this Wonder Bread only contains a partial amount of whole grain. In fact, there isn’t even enough whole grain for it to be listed as the first ingredient. Enriched wheat flour is the first and most abundant ingredient and is a low quality grain that’s so depleted of nutrients during processing that synthetic vitamins and minerals must be added as replacements. Whole wheat flour doesn’t show up until the third ingredient and is immediately followed by high fructose corn syrup and other highly refined grains.

Whole Grain Wonder Bread

Although whole grains are certainly more nutritious than refined grains, they contain phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which interfere with digestion and absorption. Although these substances can be broken down by soaking the grains prior to use, it’s extremely unlikely for processed food manufacturers to incur the added expense and inconvenience to do so. Furthermore, it’s common for grains to cause digestive and health issues for many people.

8. All Natural 100% Juicy Juice

As the label indicates, Juicy Juice is indeed free of artificial flavors and preservatives. However, despite the clam that it’s all natural, the fruit that this juice originates from is almost certain to be a product of industrial farming, and as such, is likely to contain chemical residues.

Juicy JuiceThe claim of 100% juice is valid as well, but this isn’t as meaningful as it sounds. Juicy Juice is made from concentrate like most other juices, and although concentrate is extracted from real fruit, it’s highly processed and pasteurized which results in most of the fruit’s nutrients being lost or damaged. The sugar from the fruit is most of what remains after processing, and as such, juice from concentrate isn’t much healthier than soda. Although the label is again correct in stating that Juicy Juice contains no added sugar or high fructose corn syrup, this doesn’t really matter because it already contains more than enough sugar from the concentrate.

Juicy JuiceThe label also claims that one 8 ounce serving of Juicy Juice equals one cup of fruit. Perhaps the amount of concentrate in 8 ounces of Juicy Juice comes from one cup of fruit, but there’s simply no way that drinking 8 ounces of Juicy Juice is as nutritious as eating a piece of whole fruit. Furthermore, because juice doesn’t contain the fiber naturally found in fruit, the sugar it contains is much more likely to be absorbed quickly and cause blood sugar fluctuation which can promote weight gain, diabetes, and other health issues.

Worst of all, the manufacturer of Juicy Juice makes an unsettling attempt to bring the welfare of your children into the equation by stating that “with Juicy Juice as your ally, you can focus on the good stuff – raising happy and healthy children.” What this should really say is hyper and overweight children. As if we should be grateful for this awful guidance, the label also states that “parenting doesn’t come with road maps. That’s why Juicy Juice is by your side throughout this journey – creating nutritious and delicious 100% juice products.” Unbelievable!

9. 99% Fat Free Soup and Broth

I firmly believe that fat is essential to good health and am definitely not an advocate of low fat diets. However, the deception behind the labeling of the following products as 99% fat free is still a good example of why most food labels can’t be trusted. As you will soon see, percentages can be very ambiguous.

Progresso 99% Fat Free

Swanson Chicken Broth 99% Fat FreeFat contains more than twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrates. As such, it’s advantageous for food companies to use weight rather than calories when calculating the percentage of fat. As you can see with the Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup above, it’s really only 85% fat free when calculated based on calories. The Swanson Chicken Broth is an even more dramatic example and is only 50% fat free based on calories.

Jeff Novick, a registered dietitian and former employee of Kraft Foods, has shared some interesting insight. To justify the use of low fat food labels, he claims that Kraft intentionally dilutes certain products with water to make the fat content a smaller percentage of the weight and then adds sugar and salt to compensate for the resulting lack of flavor. He also claims that on his departure, Kraft forced him to sign a legal document that prevents him from talking about this. Fortunately, his conscious has compelled him to talk about it anyway.

10. Weight Watchers Endorsed Popcorn

Although I consider it to be flawed, the premise of Weight Watchers is quite simple. You’re given a daily allowance of points, and based on the point values that Weight Watchers has assigned to various foods, you’re supposed to stay within your limit. Their idea of eating smarter instead of eating less is commendable, but the low fat diet that their point system promotes isn’t so smart. Furthermore, having a daily limit encourages people to equate low point values with healthy choices.

Jolly Time Popcorn Endorsed by Weight WatchersAccording to the Weight Watchers point system, a regular 12 ounce beer is 3 points and a 4 ounce steak is 7 points. A 12 ounce steak, which is fairly common and is about the size I prefer, is 21 points. I assume that Weight Watchers considers steak to be an unhealthy choice, which I completely disagree with, but even despite the misguided dogma surrounding red meat, the fact that a 12 ounce steak is equivalent in points to 7 beers is absolutely ridiculous! Despite the fact that Weight Watchers claims to promote healthy food choices, it seems to me that their program is based much more on quantity than quality.

Jolly Time popcorn, which is coincidentally only one Weight Watchers point, makes some familiar claims. A single 34 gram serving contains 2 grams of fat which amounts to 6% of fat by weight. However, 20 of the 90 calories per serving are from fat which amounts to more than 22%. In regard to the 0 grams of trans fat, partially hydrogenated soy bean oil is listed as the second ingredient with an asterisk admitting that it “adds a dietary insignificant amount of trans fat per serving.” Insignificant is not the same thing as zero!

11. Lower Your Cholesterol with Cheerios

Despite the excessive amount of advertising from General Mills that depicts Cheerios as a heart healthy food, 4% of a high cholesterol level is not much at all. Furthermore, the relatively high carbohydrate content of Cheerios has the potential to elevate blood sugar, and in turn, cause artery damage and actually increase your cholesterol.

Cheerios and Cholesterol

Even though saturated fat and cholesterol don’t cause heart disease, the fact that Cheerios is low in these two nutrients earns it the stamp of approval from the American Heart Association. General Mills had to pay quite a bit of money to display the AHA’s seal of approval on their products which detracts from its validity in my opinion.

12. A Cardiologist Approved Promise

The work of Dr. Weston A. Price clearly shows that butter is an excellent source of nutrition. However, the lies we’ve been fed about saturated fat lead most people to choose a highly processed but “cardiologist endorsed” food like Promise Butter Spread instead.

Promise - Cardiologist Approved

Promise - Cardiologist ApprovedOut of the 326 cardiologists that supposedly endorse Promise, it’s unlikely that any of them have received more than the one or two weeks of nutritional training that’s typical of most medical school curriculums. Otherwise, they would know that the pro-inflammatory and delicate nature of some polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, which is what Promise is made of, are now believed to be a significant cause of the artery damage that leads to heart disease. As such, this “cardiologist endorsed” product is probably more likely to cause heart disease than prevent it.

In addition, the package prominently lists its imbalanced content of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids as if it were a good thing. Based on the diets of our ancestors, it’s commonly recommended that we consume a roughly equivalent ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Despite this, the modern diet is excessively high in omega-6 fatty acids which is believed to be a contributing factor to many of today’s health problems. Promise contains a 6:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids which isn’t awful, but isn’t great either. Furthermore, the omega-3 fatty acid it contains is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which must be converted by the body into the more important eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) forms. Because this conversion can be slow or incomplete, ALA is a less preferable form of omega-3.

13. Fight Heart Disease by Drinking Diet Coke

You can help to spread awareness about the impact of heart disease on women by purchasing and drinking one of the most unhealthy beverages available.

Diet Coke - The Heart Truth

Diet beverages, especially zero calorie sodas, don’t offer any nutritional value and are full of potentially harmful additives and artificial sweeteners. Diet Coke in particular contains aspartame which is one of the most notorious sweeteners on the market.

It would make a lot more sense to associate foods like fruits and vegetables with such a program, but I guess the red dress goes better with the red Coke label than it does with yellow, orange, or green fruits and vegetables.

The Most Honest Label is the One that Doesn’t Exist

Regardless of what a food label says, the fact that the label even exists should raise some concern. In general, the healthiest foods available are the whole foods provided to us by nature such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Although some healthy foods do come in packaging, these foods don’t, and if you truly want to eat healthy, they should ideally represent the majority of your diet.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.

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