Saturday, January 17, 2009

Label jargon - what does it mean?

When we venture to the store each week we are constantly hammered with new terminology. "Charlotte's Web" had it right! Everything seems to be new and improved these days. However, we've added so many other descriptions that you almost need to carry a thesaurus with you.

Let's start the basics:

  • “Fortified”, “enriched”, “added”, “extra” and “plus” normally means that the food has been altered or processed in some way. During the manufacturing process the company added something to the basic ingredients to "help" you. You see this alot on cereal and bread, especially when they've stripped all the healthy stuff out of the wheat!

  • “Zero trans fat” This is a hot one! Labeling law loopholes allow food that contains less than 0.5 g per serving of trans fat to be declared ZERO! This would be your cue to search for code words for trans fats include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. DON'T think this means zero fat! It's usually far from it.

  • "Light” or "Reduced Calorie" means that several of the usual ingredients have been changed. This may mean that the regular ingredients have been decreased or that more chemicals have been added to enhance the flavor.

  • "Made with wheat”, “rye”, or “multi-grains” implies that these products are good sources of whole grains but they usually aren't. Look “whole” before the word grain to ensure that you are actually getting a 100% whole-grain product.

  • “Natural” or “made from natural” means the manufacturer started with a natural source. After processing, the food may not resemble the original product in any way, shape, or form.
  • “Organically grown”, “organic”, “pesticide-free” and “no artificial ingredients” say little about the nutritional value or safety of the product. When searching for organic products look for those labels that say “certified organically grown.” This means that the company has been checked by an organization to verify how they produce this product.

  • “Sugar-free”, “sugarless” or “no added sugar” tells you that a chemical enhancer has probably been added. This chemical may be more harmful to you than sugar.

It's important to always check the ingredients section of the label to determine what is truly included in your potential purchase. Unfortunately, the manufactures have lost credibility while upping the use of confusing jargon.

Also, make it a priority to learn how to use the Nutrition Label section. Pay particulare attention to the serving size, as this may not be the entire container or anywhere near what you would serve as a portion!

HealthCheck Systems offers a good synopsis of food labels and has a break-down of other terminology you might want to learn more about.

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