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Food Label Tricks Used To Mislead The Uniformed Grocery Shopper

I get dozens of questions each week about whether or not I endorse a particular food. My answer is usually pretty straight forward since as a general guideline I recommend Jack LaLanne’s “if God made it, eat it, if He didn’t leave it alone rule.” Now granted there’s moderation with things other than whole foods now and then, but for the most part I try to avoid foods in a box or with an ingredients list.

With food manufacturers getting wise to health conscious shoppers they’re doing the best they can to make you believe their products are nutritious. While they have to tell you the whole truth on the actual label and ingredients list, its fair game with packaging.

There’s no shortage of loopholes that they exploit to deceive you. Learning how to spot some of the trickery is valuable information to have when going grocery shopping.

In this article I’m going to share with you 9 different tricks food manufacturers use to prop up their products.

Trick #1: Highlighting The Positive No Matter How Minimal

You might look at this candy and think you’re getting the benefit of fresh fruit. Take a look at the label and you’ll see it’s an amazing 3%!

Trick #2: Using Scientific Terms To Make The Product Seem Advanced

Here’s one of my favorites! What’s all this talk about advanced hydration systems? This is water with some vitamins and electrolytes. Save your money and hit the fountain or cooler for some plain old fashioned water.

Trick #3: Highlighting Positive But Meaningless Descriptions

Here’s a good one used in products to make you think they contain less fat. The term “light” doesn’t always mean fewer calories from fat. In this case, as you can see from the small print “light” means in color and taste.

This product is 100% fat; don’t let the label fool you! You’ll see this quite often in cooking oils. We’ve already reviewed the best choices for cooking oil so I won’t beat this one into the ground any more.

Trick #4: Using Image Magic To Mislead You About Contents

Far too often products will mislead you by making you think they contain more of a certain product than is actually in it. Look at our Guacamole example with the picture of avocados.

It even reads on the label that it contains a “smooth and creamy blend of tasty avocados, fresh capsicums, garlic and fresh spices.” But wait a minute, read the label and it shows that this product is only 1% avocado.

Trick #5: Sneaky Serving Sizes That Just Don’t Make Sense

This is one of the biggest manipulation techniques you’ll see with food products. The FDA and USDA have established the guidelines for nutrient contents but who makes up the serving sizes? You guessed it, the food and drink manufacturers.

One of my favorite all time examples is Diet Coke. Look at the serving size of 1.88 per container. Now how many times have you opened up a can of Coke only to drink half of it and put it in the fridge for later? Give me a break! One can is one serving. But if that was the case Coca Cola couldn’t make their “less than 1 calories per serving claim.”

You’ll see this quite often in a lot of foods and drink. Make sure to look at the serving size and then do some math to figure out what’s really up.

Trick #6: Misleading Fiber Claims

35% of your daily fiber needs shouts the label of Fiber One Chewy Bars. Do the homework and these bars are made from chicory root extract, rolled oats, caramel flavored drops, rice flour, sugar, and other artificial sweeteners.

The fiber used in this product (inulin) is added and doesn’t have the same health benefits of natural fiber. This is a con job. Did General Mills really believe that we would think that a gooey, caramel dripping, bar was going to be healthy? We’ll we’re smarter than that and won’t be falling for this one.

Trick #7: Adding fiber to make a product appear healthy

Delicious white pasta plus 3x the fiber says the label. That’s all the excuse some shoppers will need to choose Smart Taste over whole grain pasta. “Smart Taste is an excellent source of fiber,” the product claims. They go on to cite the health benefits found from eating fiber.

The problem is the health benefits from eating fiber come from natural foods and not the “modified wheat starch” used in this product. This starch is made by altering the chemical bonds in ordinary wheat starch so that the human digestive enzymes can’t break them down. I’ll pass on the chemically altered, laboratory fiber thank you.

Trick #8: Misleading Fiber Claims On Drinks

“20% daily value of fiber per 8 oz glass,” declares the label of High Fiber V8 Juice. It may have fiber but it’s been added and as you’ve learned not all fiber is created equal. The fiber they added to the processed and refined V8 juice is “maltodextrin.” Ordinary maltodextrin which is made from starch is perfectly digestible so it’s NOT a technically a fiber.

But the smart folks at Campbell’s figured out how to alter maltodextrin to make it resistant to human digestive enzymes and just like that a “fiber” is born. Yes, you could have had a V8 but you’d be better off with some real vegetables than a glass of water with tomato paste and some altered maltodextrin.

Trick #9: Another High Fiber Scam You Probably Never Knew

“Provides 1/3 of your daily fiber needs,” declares the label of Thomas Light Multi-Grain English Muffins. What kind of grains are so rich in fiber that each 57 gram muffin ends up with 8 grams? Here’s a clue. Nobody ever said that the English Muffins’ fiber came from their GRAINS.

The 8 grams of fiber in each muffin come largely from four added powders. Modified food starch, polydextrose, soy fiber, and sugarcane fiber. This is not the same as natural fiber from WHOLE GRAINS. Nice try Thomas but my people won’t be fooled any more.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a totally free trial of his Charleston personal training programs with no obligation to experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Nutrition.