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Don’t Fall For These Food Label Lies

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When it comes to food labels, it's imperative that one reads between the lines. Learn more about the lies on the food packaging that you never knew existed.

Reading labels is a skill we encourage all our clients to learn. After all, how can one get better nutrition simplified if they don’t understand the simple (or, in most cases, complex) ingredients that are in their food?

But, reading just the front of the package doesn’t cut it, in most cases. In fact, just reading the front, or just reading the name of the product may lead to a false trust in the overall quality of that food. There are a handful of foods out there whose names have us scratching our heads.

The product itself may not be Health Hall of Shame worthy, per se, but it’s marketing is, so we present you with the Top 10 Label “On No You Didn’ts”…

1. Energy Drinks

The term calories means energy, so when energy drinks are calorie-free, they’re really just providing a stimulant and not providing true energy. You get “energy” from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, not sugar-free or calorie-free stimulants.

2. “Protein” Bars

With less than 5-6 grams of protein, any product with the word “protein” seems to get a lot of air time. But, bars, granolas, or snacks that contain <6 grams of protein really shouldn’t be marketed as a good source. Of course, the quality of the protein source matters but that’s a whole other discussion.

3. What’s “Green?”

From wraps and sautés to green smoothies and juices, we love that everyone is looking for new delicious ways to get their greens. But when a juice is marketed as being a super source of greens, yet contains greens as the last ingredient aka: the food in the least amount, we’re not impressed.

4. Isn’t Water H2O?

What’s water these days? There’s coconut water, artichoke, maple, and watermelon water, even “fat” water but none of these names actually indicate pure water.

Further, there are alkaline waters and vitamin waters that play around with the nutrient load to “improve” water for us. We think regular water works just great. These others may be okay but certainly don’t deserve a nutrition halo because of the name “water,” nor likely qualify for what you need daily.

5. “Superfood” Bites

We’re all about enjoying exotic superfoods like goji berries and acai or even traditional superfoods like strawberries and blueberries and dipping them in a respectful amount of quality dark chocolate or sprinkling cacao nibs overtop wins in our book.

But, when these superfood snacks come in the form of a jelly bean with more added sugar than fruit or a candy bar, or in the form of ‘blueberry flavor’ covered in dark chocolate, we’re all about sending that name into the health hall of shame.

6. “Fruit” Snacks

Chews, bites, leathers, strips, or bars – if there’s no fruit in them or simply fruit juice in minimal amounts then we’d like to change the name to sugar snacks. That sounds more appropriate.

7. “Vegetable” Straws

Typically, vegetable straws are made with vegetable powders (primarily potato starch) whose nutrients are depleted through the extrusion process (what makes the starch puff). One serving of these does not equal one serving of vegetables, so think again before you choose these as a healthy snack.

8. “Diet” Soda

Can supporting a healthy “diet” really be done with artificial sweeteners? We think not. Artificial sweeteners may disrupt normal metabolic functioning, leading to glucose intolerance and an altered gut microbiome. A healthy diet cannot be supported with artificial colors or flavors, either.

9. “Aspartame-Free” Yogurt

Sure, go ahead and take out the aspartame. We applaud you for that Yoplait. But keeping acesulfame-K and sucralose in your yogurt and slapping an “aspartame-free” label on the front does nothing but confuse the customer into thinking they’re getting an artificially-free ‘yog when they’re not. You can either go organic, even use full or  low fat, and then accessorize on your own.

10. “Pumpkin” Lattes, Creams, And Yogurts

We love pumpkin, but read the fine print when you get your PSLs, your coffee creamer, or your cookies as these may not even contain a morsel of real pumpkin in them and their closest chance of containing pumpkin is that they include “pumpkin spice” (typically cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice). Read your labels to know what you’re getting, ok pumpkin?

In this case a toe-may-toe is not a toe-mah-toe and we should be naming things as they are not as we want them to be. Let’s call a glass of fruit juice, a glass of fruit juice; a candy bar, a candy bar; and a chip, a chip. If they’re made with quality ingredients let’s enjoy them in polite portions and in a nutrient-balanced fashion. But, if they’re not then let’s add both their name and their product into the Health Hall of Shame.

Ashley Koff RD

Ashley Koff RD is an internationally-renowned registered dietitian who believes better nutrition is simple and is on a mission to help people achieve their personal health goals by providing understandable and highly effective tips and strategies. A self-described “qualitarian,” Koff emphasizes the value of quality nutritional choices in achieving optimal wellbeing, and has developed online tools such as The AKA Qualitarian Nutrition Plan and The AKA Personal Shopper to help people make better-quality choices. Besides maintaining a Washington, D.C.-based clinical practice, Koff is a much-sought-after expert in the media, social media, and is a go-to dietitian for the nation's leading doctors.

Ashley Koff RD

Ashley Koff RD is an internationally-renowned registered dietitian who believes better nutrition is simple and is on a mission to help people achieve their personal health goals by providing understandable and highly effective tips and strategies. A self-described “qualitarian,” Koff emphasizes the value of quality nutritional choices in achieving optimal wellbeing, and has developed online tools such as The AKA Qualitarian Nutrition Plan and The AKA Personal Shopper to help people make better-quality choices. Besides maintaining a Washington, D.C.-based clinical practice, Koff is a much-sought-after expert in the media, social media, and is a go-to dietitian for the nation's leading doctors.

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