Don’t be Fooled by Food Labeling


July 30, 2007   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

I will freely admit that I have become a detail fiend when it comes to reading food labels. Perhaps the most important lesson that I have learned is that the front or ‘display side” of labels mean nothing. By ignoring the majority of the marketing attempts on the front of food containers, I am positive that my food intake has become healthier. My wife has helped and in general, I tend to shy away from foods that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup and unnecessary preservatives and chemicals.

It’s a pain, a real pain. I love bad food and resisting it is a daily struggle. Here are a few of the marketing ploys to be aware of:

    • Organic: This is a crazy buzz word that will eventually die. When you look into organic foods, read the label. Many times, organic foods contain a ton of sugar and/or sodium. I love real organic food, but be sure you are purchasing all-around healthy food as opposed to foods that replace artificial flavoring with unhealthy portions of sodium or sugar.


    • The mini: Nabisco, the owner of Chips Ahoy cookies has a product named “100 Calorie Packs“. The premise is that you can have a sweet, quick snack and only consume 100 calories. In theory, this sounds good but the reality is that there is no way this is going to satisfy your hunger. Many people end up eating 2 bags at a sitting when the smarter option is to eat some fruit or even drink some water. The label of “100 Calories” convinces you that 2 or 3 bags is OK because it’s only 10%-15% of your daily caloric consumption.


    • Imaging: I want you to take notice to this one. Next time you go grocery shopping, pay attention to the way foods are packaged. Just because there is a picture of a bushel of corn or a handful of wheat, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. You have to totally ignore EVERYTHING that is on the front of the container.


  • Serving Size: So you grab a box of something and you look at the nutrition data. Everything looks pretty solid until you realize that there are 4 servings in that one little box! At that point you can essentially multiply everything (i.e. sodium, saturated fat, etc.) by 4. If you notice this before buying, perhaps you will put the box back on the shelf before you consume 3 days of fat in one meal. Frozen Pizzas are infamous for this tactic.

After consulting with the FDA site, here are the real rules that must should be followed in food marketing. Oddly enough, many sections of the FDA site have not been updated since 2001. Nevertheless, we wonder why there is an obesity problem.

I digress – here are some labeling rules to be aware of:

    • Fat Free – The product has less than .5 grams of fat per serving


    • Low Fat – The product has 3 grams or less of fat per serving


    • Reduced or Less Fat – The product has at least 25% less fat per serving than the full-fat version


    • Light – This one is ambiguous and can have a number of meanings:
      -the product has fewer calories or half the fat of the non-light version,
      -the sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food is 50 percent less than the non-light version,
      -a food is clearer in color (like light instead of dark corn syrup).


  • Calorie Free – The product has less than 5 calories per serving

Real simple right?

Other Good Resources:
Food Label Decoding
7 Ways The Food Companies Fool You
Food Labeling and Nutrition (FDA)


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