ArtisanalThe dictionary definition of ‘artisanal’ (via Merriam Webster) is "one that produces something inlimited quantities often using traditional methods." Thus, it is no surprise that food companieshave started using the term to suggest that a product contains better quality ingredients, or issomewhat superior to their ‘regular’ products. It’s pretty easy to see this one as a scam whenyou find it on products such as Tostitos Artisan Recipes 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 is listedfirst, but whole wheat flour is further down the list, you can be sure there isn’t a large amount ofwhole grain in the product. And definitely steer clear of any product that contains caramel coloring.
0g Trans FatCurrent recommendations suggest that consumers eat no more than 1.1 g of trans fats per day,due to the link between these fats and heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.However, the FDA allows companies to label foods, like Frito Lays Mild Cheddar Dip, as 0gtrans fat, even if the product contains up to .49 g trans fat per serving. This means, if you eatmultiple servings or several foods with similar amounts, the trans fats could start to add up.Again, turn to the ingredients list. If you see partially hydrogenated oils anywhere on the list, theproduct contains trans fats. Also, try to avoid mono- and di-glycerides, which some healthexperts 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 as ‘100 percent certified organic’ as the claim has stricter guidelines.For other foods, make sure the ingredients list only contains a few, simple ingredient namesthat you can recognize.
Fat Free or Reduced FatWhile fats arent demonized like they were in the past, many health-conscious consumersstill choose products with this label over the full-fat versions, believing they are making ahealthier choice. Unfortunately, most food companies replace fat with sugar, salt or otheradditives in products like, Skippy Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter, since removing fat meansremoving some of the flavor.Dont be afraid to include healthful fats in your diet like nuts or nut butters, seeds, and oliveoil. Even some saturated fats like those found in coconut oil have significant health benefits.If you see this claim, compare the nutrition labels of the reduced-fat and regular versions tomake sure you 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 andvegetables by placing these misleading statements on their products. But, just because aproduct has a vegetable puree or fruit juice concentrate hidden somewhere in its ingredientlist doesn’t mean the product is good for you. When you process fruits and vegetables, youlose a huge amount of the nutrients that make them healthful in the first place. For instance,the fruit concentrates and purees found in Welch’s Fruit Snacks are just alternate sources ofsugar, They have little nutritional merit.If you want the nutrients and fiber that fruits and vegetables provide, eat fruits andvegetables.
No Sugar AddedAs 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)that are not naturally occurring in the product. For instance, fruit products or dairy products (like Edy’sNo Sugar 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 sugar added’ 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 alsocontains sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, which requires a disclaimer that the product may cause a laxativeeffect. I’ll stick with sugar, thanks.
FiberMany products boast of their fiber content without distinguishing where the fiber is comingfrom. Traditional sources of intact fibers from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits areassociated with lowering blood cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as helping with regularity.But many products, like Activia Fiber, brag about their fiber content even though it is gainedfrom isolated fibers, such as purified powders like inulin, polydextrose, and maltodextrin, thatdo not have the same 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 thisclaim on plant-derived products, like Crisco Pure Canola Oil. It makes the product seem morehealthful and tricks the consumer into thinking the product is nutritionally better than otherplant-based products.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 toyour heart 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 USDAwill affix its ‘USDA organic’ seal to products that aren’t completely organic. If the products’ contentis 95 percent or more organic, it’s good enough for the USDA. To add to the confusion, the USDAalso allows companies, like Healthy Valley, to use the label ‘made with organic ingredients’. Thiscan be placed on products that are only 75 to 95 percent organic. No matter which organic labelthe product carries, you can be sure it will come with a premium price.If you want to be certain that a product is organic, look for the ‘100 percent certified organic’ label(or shop at farmers markets where you can ask the farmer directly.) Keep in mind, none of theorganic labels guarantee that the product was produced on a small farm, is healthy, or that animalswere treated humanely.