The label of your food is marketing, not facts. Billions of dollars are being spent to find what buzzwords will make food sound "healthy" without necessarily being accurate. Buzzwords like natural, superfood, and low or free of anything are all used to boast what's believed to be the good qualities of the product while potentially hiding harmful others. Even the nutrition facts on the back of the label aren't 100 percent accurate. In fact, companies are by law allowed a 20% margin of error for the nutrition facts of each item. As a whole our society is becoming more health conscious but also more confused than ever.
Here are a few terms I hear and see a lot of that don't really mean what you think they do.
Natural. This term doesn't technically mean anything and it is not regulated by the FDA. Most companies use the term natural when the product is free of added color or synthetic substances... you know, things you don't expect to be in your food anyway. A product doesn't deserve an automatic addition to your shopping cart just because it says it's natural.
Sugar Free. It seems like it is sugars turn to be public enemy number one. We are in a serious fear mongering phase with sugar. Don't get me wrong, too much sugar is harmful and all sugar pretending to be sugar can be harmful but we shouldn't be terrified of any food. The real problem is, nearly everything says sugar free has sugar in it. Sugar free means there is no real cane sugar in it. If you check the ingredients list and find names like corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltose, sucrose... the list goes on... it means there is sugar disguised as something else.
Cage Free or Free Range. The words produce an image of animals living free and happy but the terms are allowable as long as there is access to outdoors but that doesn't mean that is what happens. If you’re concerned about the treatment of animals and the higher quality eggs, look for pasture-raised and organic eggs.
Low, Free, and Light- mostly followed by the term fat. Low Fat or Fat Free products mean they have under a certain amount of grams. This doesn't mean it's healthy. Fats are a necessary and healthy part of our diet and again, not something to fear. The more fearful attribute would be once fat is reduced or removed from a product what in turn is used in its place.
Made With Real Fruit - Sounds innocent enough, right?! Most often this means there is fruit juice concentrates in it, most likely a highly concentrated version of the sweetest part of the fruit. This doesn't mean it possesses the same benefits of eating fruit.
Whole Grain & Whole Wheat - Grains are really just edible seeds from grasses. They all of layers and layers surrounding the germ/embryo (this is the part that would produce another plant). When you refine a grain you remove a lot of its layers and in turn rich nutrients and the fiber that helps you digest it. Made with whole grains doesn't mean made with the nutrient rich, high fiber goodness of 100% whole grains.
Multigrain - This is as about reliable as my dog off his leash. The term simply means there are different types of grains present, typically those of the refined variety like corn and wheat flour. Not those nutrient rich, high fiber whole grains. Some producers even add dyes to make their product appear more natural. Just take a look at Multigrain Cheerios.
Terms like organic can even begin to get tricky with big companies buying their own certification processes. Instead of feeling confused and discouraged use information like this to encourage you to do your homework. Become an advocate for yourself and your family. If you want to be more conscious of what you are eating focus on the ingredients list of foods and ignore the fancy label. To make life even simpler start adding in some of those single ingredient foods like fruits and vegetables.
Sweat & Smiles,