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10 Nutrition Labels To Be Wary Of

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Calorie-free energy drinks only provide stimulants, not energy. Less than 6 gm protein doesn't make a good protein bar. Super food bites and fruit snacks are most likely just sugar bites. Vegetable straws cannot replace vegetables. Diet soda is just artificial sweeteners. Pumpkin Latte may not have any pumpkin. Green is often the last ingredient in green smoothies.

Reading labels is a skill we encourage all our clients to learn – after all, how can one get better nutrition 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.

1. Calorie-Free 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

Any product with the word “protein” seems to get a lot of air time, but bars, granolas, or snacks that contain less than 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 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. 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. Go organic, full or low-fat, plain and 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 – 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?

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, 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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