ArtisanalThe dictionary definition of artisanal (via Merriam Webster) is "one that producessomething in limited quantities often using traditional methods." Thus, it is no surprise thatfood companies have started using the term to suggest to consumers that the productcontains better quality ingredients, or is somewhat superior to their ‘regular’ products. It’spretty easy to see this one as a scam when you find it on products such as Tostitos ArtisanRecipes tortilla chips.The term artisanal is unregulated and meaningless. Don’t expect anything special from aproduct containing this claim.
Whole Wheat, Multi-Grain or Whole GrainWhile these products might contain SOME whole grains, the primary ingredient is almost alwaysordinary refined wheat flour. Unless the label clearly states 100% Whole Grain or 100% WholeWheat, these products aren’t usually much different than the regular white variety. Furthermore,companies will often add caramel coloring to make products like Keebler’s Zesta Whole WheatCrackers appear more ‘wheaty’. This artificial coloring has been linked to several cancers innumerous animal studies.To protect yourself from this claim, always check the ingredient list. If Enriched Wheat Flour islisted first, but Whole Wheat Flour is further down the list, you can be sure there isn’t a largeamount of whole grain in the product. And definitely steer clear of any product that containscaramel coloring.
0g Trans FatCurrent recommendations suggest that consumers eat no more than 1.1 g of trans fats perday, due to the link between these fats and heart disease, diabetes and metabolicsyndrome. However, the FDA allows companies to label foods, like Frito Lays Mild CheddarDip, as 0g trans fat, even if the product contains up to .49 g trans fat per serving. Thismeans, if you eat multiple servings or several foods with similar amounts, the trans fatscould start to add up.Again, turn to the ingredients list. If you see partially hydrogenated oils anywhere on thelist, the product contains trans fats. Also, try to avoid mono- and di-glycerides, which somehealth experts believe may also contain some of these unhealthful fats.
NaturalWhile the word natural may make products sound healthful and minimally processed, neitherthe USDA nor the FDA have a strict definition for the term. Products, like Arizona KiwiStrawberry, can contain questionable preservatives and additives such as high-fructose cornsyrup (which is made through a complex chemical industrial process), and still carry the claim.Your best bet is just to ignore this claim all together. For meat, poultry, and eggs; look forproducts that are USDA certified as 100 percent organic as the claim has stricter guidelines. Forother foods, make sure the ingredients list only contains a few, simple ingredient names thatyou can recognize.
Fat Free or Reduced FatWhile fats arent demonized like they were in the past, many health-conscious consumers stillchoose products with this label over the full-fat versions, believing they are making a healthierchoice. Unfortunately, most food companies replace fat with sugar, salt or other additives inproducts like, Skippy Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter, since removing fat means removing some of theflavor.Dont be afraid to include healthful fats in your diet like nuts or nut butters, seeds, and olive oil.Even some saturated fats like those found in coconut oil have significant health benefits. If yousee this claim, compare the nutrition labels of the reduced-fat and regular versions to make sureyou aren’t gaining something extra that’s even less healthful than the fat.
Made with Real Fruit and/or VegetablesFood manufacturers love to take advantage of consumers’ desire to eat more fruits and vegetablesby using these misleading statements on their products’ packaging. But, just because a product hasa vegetable puree or fruit juice concentrate hidden somewhere in its ingredient list doesn’t meanthe product is good for you. When you process fruits and vegetables, you lose a huge amount ofthe nutrients that make them healthful in the first place. For instance, the fruit concentrates andpurees found in Welch’s Fruit Snacks are just sweeteners – a.k.a. alternate sources of sugar—theyhave little nutritional merit.If you want the nutrients and fiber that fruits and vegetables provide, eat fruits and vegetables.
No Added SugarAs I mentioned in a previous post on artificial sweeteners, this claim can be very confusing. First, thewords added sugar only refer to added caloric sweeteners (like sugar and high fructose corn syrup) thatare not naturally occurring in the product. For instance, fruit products or dairy products (like Edy’sSugar Added Slow Churned Ice Cream) can carry the claim even though they still contain severalteaspoons of sugar per serving. Furthermore, this claim distracts consumers from the presence ofartificial sweeteners, which are often lurking in products with no added sugar on the label.The nutrition and ingredients label can be very helpful with this one. The grams of sugar (naturallyoccurring or not) have to be listed on the nutrition label. Remember that 4g = one teaspoon. Theingredients list will clue you in to the presence of artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame,neotame, saccharin, and acesulfame pototassium. Of note, this variety of Edy’s Ice Cream also containssorbitol, a sugar alcohol, which requires a disclaimer that the product may cause a laxative effective. I’llstick with sugar, thanks.
FiberMany products boast of their fiber content without distinguishing where the fiber is coming from.Traditional sources of intact fibers from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits are associatedwith lowering blood cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as helping with regularity. But manyproducts, like Activia Fiber, brag about their fiber content even though it is gained from isolatedfibers, such as purified powders like inulin, polydextrose, and maltodextrin, that do not have thesame health benefits of traditional intact fibers.Stick with foods that contain fiber naturally like those mentioned above.
Cholesterol FreeOnly animal products contain cholesterol. If a food product claims that it is cholesterol free, allthis means is the product was not derived from an animal. Yet, companies love to post this claimon plant-derived products, like Crisco Pure Canola Oil. It makes the product seem more healthfuland tricks the consumer into thinking the product is nutritionally better than other plant-basedproducts.Keep in mind, cholesterol-free does not mean fat-free. A product that contains no cholesterolcan still be loaded with saturated and trans fats, which studies show are more of a threat to yourheart and arteries than dietary cholesterol.
OrganicOrganic products are typically made without potentially harmful pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics,synthetic hormones, or genetic engineering (i.e. GMO). Unfortunately for consumers, the USDA willaffix its USDA Organic seal to products that aren’t completely organic. If the products’ content is ‘95percent or more organic,’ it’s good enough for the USDA. To add to the confusion, the USDA alsoallows companies, like Healthy Valley, to use the label, made with organic ingredients, if the productis 75 to 95 percent organic (which means the products also usually get the same premium in price).If you want to be certain that a product is organic look for the 100 percent certified organic label (orshop at farmers markets where you can ask the farmer directly). Keep in mind, even the 100 percentorganic label does not guarantee that the product was produced on a small farm, is healthy, or thatanimals were treated humanely.