Food Labels & Quality Ingredients By Rajaa Chahine
How do you decide whether packaged food is nutritious? Clever labels and marketing schemes can trick consumers into thinking their products are healthy when they are far from it. Food labels are used to attract customers as much as to inform them of the contents of the product. Health expert Rajaa Chahine will help you carefully navigate through misleading food labels towards quality ingredients.
What are food labels?
Food labels give us information so we can make informed decisions regarding our food. They include key product information such as ingredients, Nutrition Facts, and allergens.
Why are food labels important?
Food labels arm you with information and allow you to compare between products. They help you understand what a product truly is and what it contributes to your daily needs. You have people who look at the food label to look out for nutrients they need to increase in their diets.
How are food labels misleading?
Manufacturers are often dishonest in the way they use these labels. They tend to use health claims that are misleading and in some cases downright false. Examples include many high-sugar breakfast cereals. Despite what the label may imply, these products are not healthy. This makes it hard for consumers to choose healthy options without a thorough inspection of the ingredients list.
Study the Ingredients List
Product ingredients are listed by quantity — from highest to lowest amount. This means that the first ingredient is what the manufacturer used the most. A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, as they make up the largest part of what you’re eating. If the first ingredients include refined grains, a type of sugar, or hydrogenated oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy. Instead, try choosing items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients. In addition, an ingredients list that is longer than two to three lines suggests that the product is highly processed.
Which food labels should concern us?
The top 3 labels that are often misused are:
“Light” can mean light in color (such as some varieties of vegetable oil), light in texture, lighter in salt, lighter in weight, lower in kilojoules, or lower in fat than a comparable product. They are usually watered down for this purpose. Check carefully to see if nothing has been added instead.
“Multigrain” simply means there are many types of grains in the product. Those grains might be whole-grains, but that’s not guaranteed. One way to be sure your multigrain food contains whole grains is to check the ingredient list. If the first ingredient listed is a type of whole grain, such as whole wheat or whole oats, you can be sure the majority of the grains in your food are whole. Or choose a food marked as 100% whole grain.
- “Made with whole grains”
The product may contain very few whole grains. Check the ingredients list and if “Whole Grains” is not between the top three ingredients, then the amount is very small.
This term does not necessarily mean healthy, it means that at one point the manufacturer worked with a natural source of food like apples or rice.
- “No Added Sugar”
A ‘no sugar added’ claim means that no sugar has been ‘added,’ but that doesn’t mean the product wasn’t high in sugars in the first place.
- “Low Carb”
Low-carb diets have been linked to improved health. Still, processed foods that are labeled “low carb” are still processed junk foods similar to processed low-fat foods.
Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy, the product simply doesn’t contain rye, spelt, wheat and barley. Still, many gluten-free products are highly processed and loaded with unhealthy fats and sugar.
This label says very little whether a product is healthy or not. For example, organic sugar is still sugar.
- “Low fat”
This label means that the fat was reduced at the cost of adding more sugar.
Be very careful and read the ingredients list! At Mint Basil Market, we make sure all ingredients are clearly stated for you. All our products are carefully vetted by health experts and made from clean ingredients only.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.