Consumers rely on food labeling to provide vital information about ingredients and nutritional content. We accept the information provided as accurate, assume it is scientifically validated and expect it to be provided in our best interests. However, the confusing and down right misleading information found on food labels can negatively impact our health in many different ways.
What’s on a label?
Food labels contain a wide variety of information, supposedly to help us make informed decisions about the food we purchase. Some information is considered vital to our safety, such as refrigeration requirements and identifying specific ingredients known to cause allergic reactions, like peanuts. Other facts are presented more for our information, including preparation guidelines and in some countries the labeling of genetically modified food is also required.
There are regulations concerning the data that must be included, such as shelf life, but controls on what else is required are insufficient to truly protect and advise the consumer. Regulators such as the FDA merely require the nutrition panel to be present; they do not validate its accuracy. In addition to stipulated requirements manufacturers also use the label to promote the food. False advertising is typically not allowed, but there is much room for linguistic trickery that many would find purposefully misleading.
A significant issue is the use of scientific language, in particular when describing additives. As consumers we either need a degree in chemistry or simply trust that it is safe. Sadly this is not always the case as many food additives have known issues with excitotoxicity, bioaccumulation, chronic inflammation and other severe unwanted side effects. Despite their known issues regulators are disgustingly slow at removing these items from our food supply. Worse still, when consumers become savvy as to the unwanted effects of these chemicals the manufacturers simply hide them with different names.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a prime example of using alternative naming to disguise dangerous ingredients. After negative press in the 1990’s MSG was simply renamed, not removed. Now known as a neurotoxin,repeatedly proven to kill brain cells,MSG is present on food labels using over 40 different names. Additionally, since some manufacturing process induce the formation of MSG, consumers need to recognize procedural names such as ‘hydrolyzed’ and ‘protein fortified’ in order to avoid this potent and addictive toxin.
What are food labels for anyway?
If food labels are supposed to help us make informed decisions then surely some standardization of naming should be used? It would be useful if some reference was included as to the safety of the ingredients listed rather than just reading like a chemistry experiment. Food labels seem to be purposefully misleading and designed to confuse. The sheer information overload makes us accept the data presented without question, putting our trust in the ethics of this extremely profitable industry. We examine below 7 types of deceptive information included on foods labels which is surely designed to confuse us and increase profits.
1: Low Fat or Whole Grain
The food industry is always on the look-out for new profitable markets. If there is a new fad diet or eating trend becoming popular it won’t be long before there is some pre-packaged food available to conveniently meet consumer demand. “How kind of them,” we naively assume. In reality they are simply focusing on new revenue streams and little thought, or care, is given to the consumer.
Low fat food, supposed to help us lose weight, actually makes us put on weight for three reasons: firstly it often contains sugar; secondly it usually contains additives which either directly or indirectly lead to weight gain and increase toxic load; thirdly low fat diets increase appetite. The government guidelines recommending reducing fat intake to less than 30% of total calories were introduced in the US in 1977, which was approximately when the obesity epidemic started. Due to the huge government, and industry, funding of studies to support this assertion it is only recently that sufficient funds have been gathered to fund studies examining this claim with less bias.
The national institute of health studied nearly 50,000 women on low-fat diets and found after 8 years on a low-fat diet the average weight loss was less than 1lb (0.4kg). Studies by the American Heart Association even found that low fat diets increased risk of cardiovascular problems due to increasing ‘bad’ cholesterol and reducing ‘good’ cholesterol. At the same time artery clogging dense LDL is also increased on a low-fat diet further increasing the risks associated with this supposedly more healthy way of eating.
In addition to the low-fat weight loss misnomer manufacturers make up for the lack of fat, and taste, in other ways. Sugar and salt, both of which have established health risks, are often added to increase foods appeal. Many people choose low fat, reduced fat or ‘light’ foods believing they are consuming foods which are better for their health, when in fact quite the opposite is true. It is rapidly becoming apparent that it is sugar which leads to weight gain, due to its elevation of the fat-storage promoting hormone insulin. Sugar makes us fat, not fat.
Additionally eating fat, including saturated fat, is proving to be nowhere near as dangerous as we have been lead to believe. However, it has been a nice earner for the food industry, keeping us afraid of natural fats has allowed them ample opportunity to steer us towards their profitable manufactured alternatives. If your desire is to lose weight, or reduce cardiovascular risk, steer well clear of foods labelled as low fat and instead choose more natural foods. Nuts and avocados are both considered very high in fat; they are also known to be excellent for your health.
Whole grain is another label being over enthusiastically applied to food by manufacturers. This suggestive labeling is frequently applied to cereals and breakfast bars,even when one of the major ingredients is also sugar. Adding some nutrient-dense unprocessed ingredients does not counteract the toxic and addictive presence of sugar. Other less healthy ingredients such as bleached flour and additives are also present in these foods trying to persuade us that they are health foods.
Often whole grain foods are also accompanied by special logos proclaiming their ‘whole grain’ goodness. While the grains are indeed good for you they are dwarfed by the other unhealthy ingredients present. The typically green, healthy and hearty, looking logos are intended to deceive and they increase the power of the labeling. The industry gets away with this because of the naive trust consumers place in the labeling they provide. The whole grain label is a marketing tactic, and proving to be a successful one, targeting uninformed consumers and especially parents of young children.
2. Trans Fat Free
Often cheap fats undergo processing, to increase stability and shelf-life, to further escalate profit. During this processing some of the fats take on unnatural configurations, called ‘trans’, which have been linked to: diabetes; immune problems, cancer and heart disease. Even the FDA publicly declared that these fats are not safe and are making moves to ban some of the processes which cause their creation.
Current regulations allow food to contain as much as 0.5g of ‘trans’ fat and still be labeled as ‘trans fat free’ or ‘zero trans fat’. Over a few meals this can, and does, quickly add up to a substantial amount of the fats which consumers were actively choosing to abstain from. Also since the fats are produced as a byproduct of manufacturing processes the amounts can easily vary with minor modifications in manufacturing conditions and raw ingredients. This potential for variation combined with unfair labeling is taking away consumers ability to decide what they put into their bodies. The only option is to completely abstain from processed fats, also avoiding many of the other toxic ingredients that go with them.
The word ‘natural’ is often used to suggest food has not been polluted, processed or interfered with. However, this is our assumption; it is not an agreed definition. Some countries have ambiguous guidance for when the term natural can be used, but the majority do not. All food has at some point come from a natural origin, even plastic was once a ‘natural’ plant but processing has major impacts.
The language used on food labels is very carefully selected and often conveys the opposite of the truth. Fresh apples do not need labels like ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’, we instinctively know they are. Processed food trying to convince us of its nutrient value has to use vague terminology, such as natural, to keep the deception going. Avoid food which is trying to sell itself to you, if marketers have had to slap on health promoting terms to persuade you to buy it, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t.
4. Full of Omega 3
Consumers have been made aware of the benefits of eating foods which are rich in Omega-3 fats. These fats are good for your heart and brain and can even reduce depression. The FDA allows food labeling to specifically promote beneficial effects on the heart even if it contains only one Omega-3 fatty acid as long as it is low in saturated fats. However, some food producers simply label food as containing Omega-3 fats regardless of the other ingredients. They know consumers are looking for the buzz word ‘Omega-3’ and try to get on the healthy bandwagon by specifically pointing it out.
5. Sugar free
Many people are moving away from sugar as a source of sweetness. This is due to the overwhelming data suggesting it is sugar that is responsible for many lifestyle diseases we have become accustomed to. Sugar is addictive, causes mood fluctuations, makes us gain weight, makes our blood more acidic and impacts the cardiovascular system. Highly refined and processed sugars are even worse, causing a state of inflammation and a pro-cancer environment.
When choosing to avoid sugar consumers rely on the labeling to know what is in the product. Unfortunately many sugar alternatives are just as bad as sugar. Artificial sweeteners are simply chemicals which trick the brain, and body, into perceiving sweetness. These chemicals have other effects, such as excitotoxicity, like MSG, and negatively impact the good bacteria in our gut. In addition to the toxicity of these artificial sugars they don’t actually resolve one of the main problems they were designed to alleviate. Artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, the body responds as if it were eating sugar but actually gets hungry again, quicker.
‘Natural fruit sugars’ is another labeling trick which is used to tempt you into thinking the sugar contained in the food is good for you. It isn’t. It is highly refined and processed and more than likely toxic to your body. The easiest solution is to reduce your sweet addiction, letting your taste buds gradually adjust. Some genuinely natural products like the herb stevia, local raw honey, raw maple syrup, coconut nectar/crystals are much more healthy alternatives. Trust your own judgment about the sugary contents, not the label.
6. No Nitrates
Nitrates are often added to food to prevent spoilage from bacteria and fungi. Most of these are artificial chemicals which you do not want to consume: they have a tendency to become carcinogenic nitrosamines. Instead food manufacturers are adding other substances, such as celery powder, which has a high level of nitrates. So in effect the foods are not nitrate free but they do contain celery powder, or other ingredients which contain nitrates. Cleverly they have shifted the emphasis away from unnatural chemicals towards more natural alternatives but the effect is the same. The food does contain nitrates and the manufacturers would prefer you not to know.
7. “Serving Size”
The final whammy on the label is suggested serving size. Often calories and nutritional content is reported based on a suggested serving size. In reality nobody ever measures out the right amount, and we eat what we feel we need to fill us up – increased by any addictive additives and sugar in the food. What might seem like a small bowl of cereal could in fact be much more than the ‘suggested’ serving size, meaning you are consuming many more calories than you intend.
While calories are a poor way of measuring food nutrition anyway, since we are not furnaces, it is still the measure most people use. Instead of relying on labels to help you limit calories eating fresh fruit and vegetables and genuinely healthy food means your body won’t need calorie control to find an optimal weight. When we cut out processed and addictive food the body quickly returns to a state of metabolic, hormonal and immune calmness and you will gradually, with very minimal effort transition to a healthy weight. Cut out the addictive processed foods and you can eat as much healthy food as you like!
Who should we trust?
With an industry as gargantuan as food and beverages it should be no surprise they are driven by money and not health. Health is a mere gimmick to sell more food and adding specific words and labels drives these sales. The overwhelming labels are known for their lack of clarity and the time taken to simply read them is enough to put most people off. The depth of understanding required to comprehend them is another way of making them completely ineffective. The only real way to protect yourself from their destructive products is to make the food at home, from ingredients you know and trust. That way you do not need preservatives or additives, you control the salt, fat and sweetness and don’t need a label to tell you what is healthy.
You can take control of your health and body by having the right knowledge and knowing what to eat. Go to the next page to find out how you can achieve peak health performance –
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice.
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