Can You Spot the Label Liars?

It's time to get your nutrition facts straight. 

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Food packages are riddled with righteous claims. But not all snacks are as innocent as they appear. 


“Fat is bad. So buy me instead!”

The Charge:  Less fat should mean fewer calories, but here’s the thing: Fat is what makes many foods taste good! So some food manufacturers load low-fat and fat-free products with sugar and salt, just to add some flavor.

Check the Evidence:  Compare labels, and if the low-fat one has less sugar or salt and fewer calories than the full-fat option, go low-fat. When in doubt, pick the one that tastes better, then measure out a single serving. (If food doesn’t taste good, what’s the point, right?)  


“I want you to think I’m made with whole grains—but am I?”

The Charge:  Whole grains contain the entire kernel, which holds the majority of nutrients (like fiber). But some food companies slap healthy-sounding terms like “multi-grain” or “7 grain” on products made with less-nutritious refined flour, making it easy to get confused.

Check the Evidence:  Instead of relying on the name, look at the ingredients list. If you see the word “whole” before the first ingredient (such as “whole-wheat flour”), you’re in the clear.


“I’m pure and innocent . . . or at least it seems that way.”

The Charge:  All-natural” foods can’t contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. It’s a vague definition and food manufacturers get away with some sketchy ingredients. For example, high-fructose corn syrup qualifies as all-natural, meaning foods with this label can be extremely high in sugar and calories.

Check the Evidence:  Scan the ingredients list for words you don’t recognize, and ask yourself, “Would I still think this was a healthy food if it didn’t say all-natural?” 

Food-Sleuth Secret Weapons

Don’t let labels fool you! Just find these key facts on the nutrition panel of any package.

1. Serving Size: Look here first, and know that every number that follows corresponds to this single serving size. (It’s crazy, but a bag of chips labeled “snack-sized” could contain two servings!)

2. Percent Daily Value (%DV): For sodium and fat, you want this number to be low (5% is ideal). But for healthy nutrients, like calcium and iron, higher is better! 

3. Ingredients List: The shorter the list, the better. Also keep an eye out for sneaky names for sugar, like glucose, malt syrup, or fructose.

Images: Shutterstock

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