Looking Beyond the Label: Family Health & Nutrition

When you are shopping for food and snacks for your family, do you see words like “pure” and “natural” and “contains real fruit” and toss it in the cart, thinking it’s a healthy choice?

Don’t be so quick to judge a package by it’s label! Many of these appealing descriptions are simply misleading, and it’s always advisable to get out  your reading glasses and try to decipher the list of ingredients on the back of the package (they do put some of those lists in tiny letters, don’t they?!).

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While the labels usually don’t outright lie, they can use tricky terms that stretch the truth more than you’d believe. As a parent it’s especially important to ignore the hype and be aware of the following trendy terms:

  • Pure: Well, you don’t want contaminated food, do you? But “pure” actually has no regulated meaning in food labeling and doesn’t tell you about things in the package that perhaps should not be there.
  • Natural: It sounds so appealing, but is probably the least trustworthy term. Consumers think it means that this food is as good as freshly picked off the tree… but it really says nothing about the nutritional quality or safety of the food.
  • Made From… The food may have started out with whatever is printed on the label, but who knows to what extent the food is then diluted, processed, or hydrogenated. It may be quite far removed from the actual food it is originally “made from.”
  • Made with real fruit/veges: The law does not require the label to say how much real fruit is in the product. So you may have a tiny percentage of fruit in a product that is mostly sugar.
  • Made with whole grains: Check the list of ingredients and you may be surprised to see that the product contain mostly refined flour with just a small amount of whole wheat added.
  • Fat Free: Suppose a food is labeled 95 percent “fat-free.” This means that five percent of the total weight of the food is fat, (which may not seem like much), yet a single gram of fat contains nine calories – compared to four calories in a gram of protein or carbohydrates. Five grams of fat in 100 grams of dark-meat turkey represents one-fourth of the calories in that serving.
  • Enriched: This often means that after doing something to the food that removed many of it’s nutrients, another process was required to put some of the good stuff back in. For example, enriched white bread is not as healthy as its whole wheat counterpart.
  • Smoked: This term legally describes the flavor of the food. So while you might imagine your food being smoked in an old-fashioned smokehouse, it could actually be artificially or chemically smoked, or just contain smoked flavoring.
  • Fruit drinks: These may contain little or no real fruit juice, and might be mostly sugar and water. If it says “high in vitamin C,” it may have added vitamins but still be a long way from real orange juice.
  • Organically grown, organic, pesticide-free, all natural, and no artificial ingredients: None of these terms say much about the nutritional value or safety of the product. Trust only labels that say “certified organically grown, which means that the food was grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, in soil free of these substances.

For more information on family nutrition and being label-savvy, visit AskDrSears.com, or click on one of the following links!

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