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Food Advertising - Separating Fact From Fiction

Armen Hareyan's picture

Nutrition and Food Labels

To get the most nutrition in your grocery cart, you need to be an educated consumer. You need to be able to figure out what's actually in a product, not what it's advertised to contain.

Beware of big, bold claims on product packaging. They are designed to get you to buy the item, not necessarily to be an accurate representation of the item's nutritional content.

The March issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers common examples of misconceptions that may arise from food advertising:

  • Reduced-fat products: Reduced fat doesn't necessarily mean a product is low in fat. One ounce of reduced-fat mild cheddar cheese still has 6 grams of total fat and 4 grams of saturated fat. While it is less fat than in regular mild cheddar, it still provides a fair amount of total and saturated fat.

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  • Whole-grain products: The packaging on bread and pasta often indicates the product is made with whole grain. Even though the product may contain some whole grains, the total amount of whole grains may be very low. Other ingredients may still provide plenty of fats and sugars. Look for the words "100 percent whole grain" or "100 percent whole wheat." Look for products that contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

  • Natural ingredients: The word "natural" may have a healthy ring to it, but there's no standard definition for the term. And natural doesn't always mean nutritious. After all, an orange is a natural product, but the same could be said for butter.

  • Food additives and preservatives: Just because a product is advertised as having no additives or preservatives doesn't mean that the item is healthy. It can still be high in sugar or fat, as well as low in overall nutritional value.

Light or low-salt: Even light soy sauce has large amounts of salt. Light means, by definition, 30 percent less than the standard product. If the standard product is extremely high in sodium, such as soy sauce, the light version will still contain a large amount of salt.

What's a shopper to believe? Read the Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient lists. This information, not the banners on the front of the package, will help you make nutritious choices.