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Labels That Are Deceptively Similar
Similar does not mean the same.

Which label shows the healthier option?

Food companies are masters at saying one thing, while meaning another. By changing just one or two words on a label, they are encouraging you to believe something that isn't true. Their goal is to give less desirable foods a healthy glow, without doing anything more than changing the box. Here are four things you should pay closer attention to.

Whole Wheat or Multigrain bread?

Both terms can be misleading. A company can claim their product is "whole wheat" even if it that wheat makes up only 1% of the ingredients total. You should only buy whole wheat that says "100% whole wheat." Otherwise, you may be getting white bread with an image makeover.

Breads advertised as "multigrain" aren't necessarily a healthier choice either. A variety of grains is good, but you often get that in 100% whole wheat breads. Compare two loaves of bread from a company called Nature's Own. The "Healthy Multigrain Bread" has 19 grams of whole grain per slice. The "100% Whole Wheat" has 22 grams of whole grain per slice. The whole-wheat bread has more grains than the multigrain.

To make sure you're getting the healthier bread, look for ones that say "100% whole wheat" on the label and that have 3 grams or more of fiber per serving.

Reduced Sodium, Light Sodium or Low Sodium?

They seem similar, but "reduced sodium" simply means it has at least 25% less salt than the original. If the original product was packed in salt, reduced has very little meaning. Take a look at Bush's Best Reduced Sodium Black Beans. It still has 240 mg. of sodium per serving.

"Light in sodium" products aren't much better. By law, that means they have to contain 50% or less sodium than the original. But that still doesn't matter much if the original was a salt-filled disaster.

The best choices are "low sodium" products, because they can't have more than 140 mg. of sodium per serving. A serving of "low sodium" kidney beans has a third less salt than the "reduced sodium" option.

Unsalted or Salt-Free?

You would think that "unsalted" on a label would mean there's no salt inside. But you'd be wrong. That just means there was no salt added during the processing of the food.

Cooking stock or broth is typically very high in salt, so companies started releasing reduced-sodium versions. Regular Swanson Beef Broth has 800 mg. per serving. The Swanson 50% Less Sodium Beef broth has only 440 mg. of sodium per cup. Better, but still a lot of salt.

You can now choose "unsalted" stock. But a quick glance at the label shows a cup of Swanson "Unsalted" Beef Cooking Stock still has 140 mg. of sodium per serving.

When cutting down on salt, look for labels that say "low sodium" or "salt-free." The rest are merely distractions.

No Sugar Added or Sugar-Free?

"No sugar added" is just like "unsalted." It means there was no sugar added during the processing of the food. A "no sugar added" item could contain large amounts of naturally occurring sugar, but you're led to believe it's a healthier option. 

For example, Publix sells "no sugar added" fudge bars. It sounds good, but they have five grams of sugar per serving. Right beside that package are "sugar-free" grape, orange & cherry ice pops. If you're trying to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, skip "no sugar added" items and look for the "sugar-free" options.  

Remember, similar does not mean the same. In each case, food companies are playing with words to promote less healthy items in order to keep them selling. The front of the box is primarily an advertisement, trying to convince you to take it off the shelf and put it in your shopping cart. Skip and hype on the box, and turn directly to the nutrition label before you decide to buy.

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