Walk into any grocery store, and you’ll see a wide variety of choices. While we all know that foods with vitamins, minerals and fiber (like fresh fruit and vegetables) are good for us, a lot of us end up buying a lot of processed and prepackaged food. Why? Part of the reason lies in the way foods are marketed. There isn’t nearly as much “selling” behind produce and fresh foods as there is behind the processed stuff. This article will help you learn the truth behind all the ads, by teaching you how to read and understand food labels.
Foods “with whole grains”
OK, you’re in the bread aisle, trying to decide between that soft white bread that you know and love, and the whole-grain stuff that you know you should be eating. Although you don’t really want to, you choose the whole-grain bread because you’ve been told that half of your grain intake should be from whole grains. However, a closer inspection of the label on the bread will show you that there is a lot of unbleached wheat flour, and very little whole wheat flour. A lot of foods tout the fact that they are “made with whole grains” but in some cases, food manufacturers add caramel coloring to mimic the brown hue of a whole-grain flour.
Lists of Ingredients
You may think that an ingredients list is cut-and-dried, but nothing is further from the truth. Most ingredient lists have the food’s components in order from greatest to smallest- there’s a lot of room for interpretation. For example: You may think a cake is “healthy” because the first ingredient is wheat flour- but in reality, sugar is the main ingredient. How is that possible? Sugar in food goes by a few different names- high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, and corn syrup. That cake doesn’t seem so healthy now, does it? The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI, for short) wants food labels and ingredient lists to be more readable, and an easy way for food makers to do that would be to group all the main ingredients together, and leave the more minor ingredients for last.
Serving Sizes Can be Deceptive
You may think that a 20-ounce bottle of soda or juice is meant for just you, but really, that bottle contains two and a half servings. At 100 calories per serving, there are 250 calories in the entire bottle. Most standard serving sizes were outlined years ago- meaning that our idea of what constitutes a “serving” may be vastly different from the manufacturer’s ideal.
As the old saying says, you shouldn’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you read. By paying closer attention to serving sizes, ingredient lists and health claims made by food manufacturers, you can become a more educated consumer.