Many of us rely on food labels to try to follow a healthy lifestyle, and we can rely on these because the rules are set by the FDA, right?
Many of us rely on food labels to try to follow a healthy lifestyle, and we can rely on these because the rules are set by the FDA, right? Well, only sometimes. When it comes to labeling, food manufacturers can interpret the FDA rules very creatively. Take for example the description ‘zero’ grams of fat, zero grams of trans fat or zero calories on a label, when in fact the product contains measurable amounts of each.
Here’s how it works: As long as the item has less than 0.5 grams of any of these items, the manufacturer can indicate zero on the label. More dubious still, the product can be legally marketed with ‘zero’ grams per serving. As long as the food item contains less than 5 calories per serving, this can be rounded down to zero on the label.
Not a big deal, you may think. But remember, these values are per serving. The container may hold hundreds of calories, but if the serving size is set low, it can be described as ‘0’ calories per serving. When was the last time you thought a serving size was adequate? I sometimes buy frozen Chinese or Italian meals for those occasions when I work late and I’m too tired to cook from scratch. These are supposed to be sufficient for two people, but I consider them a light meal for one.
Take cooking sprays for example. These are labeled fat-free, but the ingredient is oil, which is 100% fat. How is this possible? Check the serving size – it’s just 1/5th of a second. Can you lightly coat the surface of a pan in 1/5th of a second? A more realistic 3-5 seconds would be 15-25 servings. Realistically you just sprayed 45-75 calories of pure fat. 25 sprays equals one teaspoon, whereas the regular serving size for butter is probably 2-3 times as much.
Furthermore, much has been written about the bad effects of artificial sweeteners. Not only are they bad for your health, but many brands use maltodextrin or dextrose (these are pure sugar, folks) as fillers in each packet. And a packet can legally contain a full gram of sugar and 5 calories and still be labeled as calorie free.
Watch people adding two or three packets of ‘zero-calorie’ sweetener to their iced tea! And these forms of sugar get into the blood stream really quickly, promoting a rapid insulin spike, which is what you are supposed to avoid with artificial sweeteners.
Any food that contains ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ in the ingredient list should be avoided at all costs. These are trans fats. You should NEVER consume trans fats. They are seriously bad for your health.
If you see ‘zero trans fats per serving’ you can bet they are playing the serving size game, so steer clear. You are likely to see partially hydrogenated oils on the list of ingredients and this is a dead giveaway.
It isn’t enough to read the labels. You have to read with a skeptical eye: these people are out to sell you a product and make you think it’s healthy, but they also want to make a profit, and to do this and offer you an attractive price, they have to waltz around the rules. So when you see ‘zero’ or ‘serving size’ check the fine print.