Understanding Food Claims: Part 2
A few months ago we defined common food claims such as “low fat,” “lean” and “high fiber.” Those aren’t the only claims you will find on a food product however. There are several food claims that can be quite confusing and make consumers think they are making a “healthy” choice when buying certain products. These products may not be as healthy as you think though. Let’s take a look at some of the most confusing and misleading food claims.
- Added Fiber. Synthetic fiber such as inulin, polydextrose and maltodextrin are now being added to foods such as yogurt, ice cream and artificial sweeteners in an effort to make them “healthier”. As a general rule of thumb, if a food product needs fiber added to it it’s probably best to skip it. Nothing beats foods that contain natural dietary fiber such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Although there may not be a difference in fiber content and function, foods with “added fiber” are generally processed and don’t provide the vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients found in naturally high-fiber foods.
- All Natural. The FDA has not defined this term and has only stated that products claiming to be “all natural” must not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. This leaves room for interpretation and food companies can label a highly processed food that contains genetically modified ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, pesticides and preservatives as “all natural.” If the foods you are choosing have a food label and the ingredients listed are not whole foods (such as asparagus, apples, almonds, beans, etc.) then that food product is not “all natural.”
- Made with Whole Grains. Just because a product claims to be made with whole grains doesn’t mean it’s exclusively made with whole grains. The FDA has not defined what percentage a food product with this claim must actually be made with whole grains. For all we know these products could only be 10% whole grains and 90% refined grains. Check the ingredients list and if the first ingredient is whole wheat flour or whole grains than it primarily contains whole grains.
- Made with Real Fruit. Products claiming to be made with real fruit may contain as little as 2% real fruit. The fruit may just be juice concentrate and not actual fruit. The fruit may also not even be the fruit pictured on the box. Certain strawberry flavored fruit snacks, for example, don’t contain any strawberries at all and are actually made with pear concentrate and red dye. If you are craving fruit or are trying to increase your fruit intake than eat whole fruit. Avoid any products claiming to be made with real fruit because you may not be getting what you think.
- Lightly Sweetened. In my last article about food claims we defined the terms “sugar free” and “no sugar added.” There is no definition for the term “lightly sweetened,” however, so a product with this food claim isn’t necessarily low in sugar. Technically these products can contain any amount of sugar, so be sure to check the nutrition facts label for the sugar content.
- Enriched or Fortified. “Enriched” means that nutrients removed during processing have been added back to the food. “Fortified” means that nutrients not naturally found in the food have been added, such as milk fortified with vitamin D. Since these types of foods are generally processed it’s better to avoid them and consume whole foods that don’t need to be “enriched” or “fortified.”
- 100% Fruit Juice. Fruit juice (whether it’s 100% or not) is no better than soda. Yes, you could argue that fruit juice contains vitamins and minerals, however it is missing the fiber found in whole fruit and contains just as much sugar as most sugary drinks. It’s better to eat the whole fruit and drink water instead.
- Calorie Counts. When it comes to calorie counts on a food label, the FDA allows a 20% error of margin. This means that a 500-calorie meal, for example, could actually contain up to 100 more calories. Researchers from Tufts University found that packaged foods may contain ~8% more calories than reported on the label and restaurant meals may contain ~18% more calories than reported on the menu.
As always the majority of the foods you consume should not have a food label to begin with such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats. When choosing foods with a food label be sure to take all label claims with a grain of salt. As I hope you’ve realized by now, they can be very misleading and may or may not be true. It’s better to look at the ingredients list instead. Look for foods that have only a few ingredients listed and items you recognize. Avoid foods that have a laundry list of ingredients and contain unfamiliar additives, preservatives and artificial flavors or colors.
What’s Up Next Week: How Do Calories Really Count?
This Week’s Recipe: Chicken and Apple Sausage
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1 apple, peeled and finely diced
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped (or 2 tbsp dried thyme)
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (or use 2 tbsp dried oregano)
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Coconut oil to cook with
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
- Place 3 tbsp coconut oil, apples, thyme, parsley and oregano in a skillet and cook on medium high heat until the apples soften (~7-8 minutes)
- Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes
- Mix ground chicken, garlic powder, salt and pepper with everything in the skillet
- Form 12” thin patties (1/2 inch thick) from meat and place on baking tray lined with foil
- Bake for 20 minutes
- Cool and store in fridge or freezer (reheat easily in the morning in a skillet or microwave)