Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Label Lingo 101

Labels on food packages are advertising opportunities- period. Labels often make big promises and health claims about the product in order to get you to buy. Sometimes these assumptions are not what they appear to be and not nearly as healthy as it sounds. Let’s look at a few labels to investigate.

Trans-fat Free

Trans-fats are often used by manufactures to length shelf life of a product and improve mouth fill and taste. Downside, trans-fats are known to increase cholesterol and risk for heart disease. Health professionals agree to limit or remove all trans-fat from your diet. Ok- great so you purchase products labeled trans-fats free. You’re safe? Not so fast.

To use the word Free- on a label such as, fat-free, sodium-free, sugar-free and trans-fat free, the FDA requires less than 0.5 grams of nutrient per serving. Last time I checked 0.5 is not zero! If a more than the recommend serving is consumed in a short amount of time one would eat multiple grams of the dangerous ingredient.

Fight back - Look for words partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated in the ingredient list. See these words and put it back on the shelf regardless the label lingo.  


Organic is simply a label assigned to foods that are produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and that do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic food production also supports farming methods that are deemed environmentally sound.

Note - Just because a product is labeled organic does not mean it is low fat or even healthy. It means it was produced in a safer more environmentally favorable situation. Organic sugar is still sugar and organic Oreos will still make you fat.  

Free Range:

Animals or livestock that are labeled free range have access to outdoor grazing areas and are not confined to cages. However, free range can be on a concrete slab or simply dirt. It does not mean grassy fields for feeding. 

Fight back- Look for the words grass finished or grass raised to ensure the animal had access to grassy fields and was able to feed on pastures before spending extra for the inaccurate label.

100% Natural / All Natural

Unfortunately, the word Natural on a food label doesn't mean a thing. The FDA has no definition and no regulatory meaning for Natural.  Whether the label says 100% Natural or All Natural, it means the same thing: it's unregulated!

By NO means does natural mean organic or healthy. So get rid of those assumptions right away and start reading the ingredient list. Can you read it? Would most of the items come out of granny’s garden? Yes, then it’s probably all natural and all right to eat!

As a registered dietitian, I know it is tough to make educated guesses about what products to purchase. Don’t allow marketers to take advantage of your decision to become healthier. Remember, the truth always lies in the ingredient list. Continue to get educated and spot misleading food labels.

Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian and certified sports specialist in dietetics and founder of Runner’s FUEL. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @RunnersFuel. For more information visit www.runner-fuel.com. Text runnersfuel to 601.863.8370 for health news and nutrition tips.