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The Health Food Fallacy: Nutrition Labels Decoded



The Health Food Fallacy: Nutrition Labels Decoded

Is your health food really healthy?

With more people wanting to adopt healthy eating as a lifestyle, food companies have revamped their approach. A label that reads “low-fat”, “sugar-free” or “organic” is the perfect way to eat healthy, or is it? In reality, majority of these are marketing gimmicks that are designed to make us believe we’re eating healthier. A larger majority of people don’t actually understand how to read a nutrition label at the back of a product, which is why when the front of the packaging says natural or organic, we assume it’s healthy.

This article will explore some of the most common health food deceptions in the packaged food industry. Check out what these labels actually mean:

1. All Natural or Natural Food

When your favourite food is “all natural” and delicious at the same time, it’s quite exciting right? As per the guidelines of the FDA, if a product doesn’t contain added colours, artificial flavouring, or synthetic substances, it can be labelled “all natural”. What the packaging won’t tell you is that you need preservatives to maintain the shelf life of a “natural product”. Or in some cases the food will have high amounts of fructose, which is natural sugar, but even natural sugar in large quantities can do harm. So can packaged foods be natural at all?

Choose wisely: Try looking at the shelf life of the products to determine how much it has been processed before being packaged. More often than not, it is safe to assume that an “all natural” food has been processed enough to no longer be considered a direct product of the planet. To eat healthy, simply opt for real natural food be it fruit, veg or dairy.

2. Multigrain

We’re oh-so-pleased with ourselves for ditching white bread and picking up the multigrain variety. The darker the colour of the bread, the healthier it is, right? No! Some breads have caramel colouring to give it that sweetness and healthy-looking colour. The quantity of whole grain might be very less in the bread, but as long as it’s there, it counts (which is why brands are allowed to label it as “multigrain”).

Choose wisely: Next time, look for the percentage of wheat to regular flour on your bread packet. The important tip while shopping for bread is to look for 100% whole grain.

3. No Added Sugar

This is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood food label. “No sugar added” does not mean that there’s no sugar–the manufacturer could very well have used other forms of sugar such as fructose and lactose, that mimic the effects of regular sugar in the body.

Choose wisely: When a label reads “sugar-free” or “no added sugar”, your next step should be to look for artificial sweeteners. Also look for the carbohydrates content, because sugars are found in starchy carbs as well. So if the carbohydrates percentage is high, then you know how it’s compensating for the “no added sugar” claim. Remember that sugar-free doesn’t mean low-carb or low-calorie.

4. Fat-Free

This was a notoriously tall claim that got slapped onto food packages when people recognised the dangers of trans fats and saturated fats. Ideally, we need zero percent of trans and saturated fats. Just because a product says “fat free”, doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with high amounts of sugar and carbs. How you should tackles this?

Choose wisely: Check for the calorie count. More often than not, the calories per serving are the same for a full fat version and a fat free version of the same food product.

The bottom line is that even if you’re a health-conscious person, it is easy to be swayed by the tall claims on food packaging. But the truth is that food manufacturers have found loopholes to market their products as healthy options, when in reality, they probably aren’t. Don’t forget to glance at the nutrition table at the back of the package, rather than buying it for it’s claim on the front. An even better option is to limit your consumption of packaged food as far as possible!

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Jasmine is a 22-year-old media student who describes her self as an ambivert. Passionate about working for a cause, she wants to extend her skills in the social development space. When away from work, you'll probably find her at the gym. She's currently struggling to strike a balance between her love for all things sweet, and her new-found interest in fitness. Jasmine's travel bucket list is constantly updated with new places to see in the world.

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