Don’t be fooled by packaging. Here are seven misleading words you’ll run into at restaurants and grocery stores … and how to find the truth behind the advertising.
The Lie: Healthy Fast Food
From salads to oatmeal to grilled chicken, plenty of fast food restaurants offer a handful of so-called healthy alternatives to the fried, cheesy, and bacon-y stuff. Turns out those healthy-sounding options aren’t necessarily even any healthier than the regular items on the menu. Take McDonald’s for example: the New York Times found that their oatmeal contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than their cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. And the grilled chicken in their Premium Caesar Salad? Surprisingly, it contains rib meat, along with a bunch of additives.
Get the Truth: Always read nutrition labels and look up the ingredients and nutritional info when possible (readily available online when it comes to chain restaurants) before you chow down. If something as simple as grilled chicken has 11 ingredients you can’t pronounce, move along.
The Lie: All Natural
Plenty of food products, from soda to granola bars, have “natural” or “natural ingredients” on the label … and it definitely sounds healthy. But what does it actually mean? Unless it’s meat or poultry, whatever the company behind the product wants it to, for the most part.
Get the Truth: Unlike meat and poultry, which is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture, other products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And it turns out, the FDA has no official definition of the term “natural” or its derivatives. They only go so far as saying they don’t object to the use of the term “if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances” which gives companies pretty generous leeway. Before being fooled by a food that’s labeled “natural,” ask yourself: can I make this in my own kitchen? If you can’t pronounce half of the ingredients on the label, let alone define or find them in a supermarket, they’re probably not as natural as the branding would like you to believe.
The Lie: Whole Grain
Whole grains have been shown to reduce your risks of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular disease. So bring on the whole-grain crackers, right? Not so fast. Some products labeled “whole grain” actually contain very little of it—and some contain none at all.
Get the Truth: Look on the packaging for stamps and certifications from third parties like the Whole Grain Council. And make sure a whole grain (like whole oats or whole barley flour) is listed first on the list of ingredients. Ingredients are always listed in a descending order, from greatest amount to least amount. If it’s second, it may make up as little as 1 percent of the product.
The Lie: Multi-Grain
Multi-grain is touted on food packaging as if it’s healthy for you, but all “multi-grain” means is that there are multiple kinds of grains in the product—often the unhealthy refined kind. And the kind of grain is more important than how many there are.
Get the Truth: Flip the package to see if whole grains are listed first in the list of ingredients to get the most health bang for your buck. And make sure “whole” is in front of every grain listed.
The Lie: Artisan
The “artisan” label evokes images of small-batch cooking and skilled chefs perusing farmer’s markets for fresh ingredients. But it’s a word not regulated by the FDA, which means anyone can use it any way they want, even with bulk quantities of frozen food. Case in point, an “artisan egg sandwich”… made by Wendy’s.
Get the Truth: Dig to find out how a food is made and what it’s made from. If it’s filled with artificial flavors, trans fats, and additives, cooked by microwave, and produced in mass quantities for huge chain restaurants and fast food place, there’s likely nothing “artisan” about it.
The Lie: “Made With Real…“
Cheesy crackers made with real cheese. Snack bars made with real fruit. Sure, they’re made with real cheese and fruit… and plenty of other stuff too. Take Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain raspberry bars—”real fruit” is on the label, and they even added “no high-fructose corn syrup” to make it sound healthier. But really, the “real fruit” is listed as raspberry puree concentrate…and it’s only third on the list, after invert sugar and corn syrup.
Get the Truth: Look at the ingredient list, not the packaging. And remember that even if the list does include real cheese or real whole fruit, it still may be sharing space with a whole bunch of junk. If a product has to cover its package in claims that it’s “real” food, be skeptical.
The Lie: “Made with 100% real/pure…“
But surely 100% real must mean something, right? Not really. Whether it’s sugary juice drinks made with 100% real fruit juice or a Betty Crocker casserole-in-a-box made with 100% real potatoes, the packaging doesn’t tell the whole story. The “made with 100% real” is a particularly deceptive kind of trickery, because it intentionally reads like the entire product is 100% made up of that ingredient. For things like fruit juice, that’s easy to buy into—until you read the label.
Get the Truth: Yep, I’m going to tell you—again—to read the list of ingredients! Take juice for example—the fruit juice inside may indeed be 100% fruit juice, but often it’s also mixed in with extra sugar, and the 100% real fruit juice only makes up 50% of what’ll end up in your drink.