BULL***T FREE!: Navigating Nutrition Claims
“All Natural”, “Made with Real Fruit”, “0 Trans Fat”, and “No Artificial Flavours”! These food stamps help you figure out what’s healthy, right? Mmmmm, not so much. Unfortunately, many of these claims are poorly regulated or not regulated at all!
Never fear, The Realistic Holistic is here!
…I’m a dork, I know.
Here’s what’s up! I’m gonna go through a bunch of the nutritional claims you see on packages and let you know what they ACTUALLY mean - if anything at all - so that you don’t get duped into thinking you’re doing something actively healthy by eating a Twinkie that has “less fat!” That’s an extreme example but some of this can get tricky, and legitimately deceiving, so let’s get real.
Starting off with probably the worst offender and one that I fell for a hell of a lot before I did my research. This claim pretty much means absolutely nothing...Yea.
The only regulation on the words suggests in vague terminology that the food should be “minimally processed” and “should not contain any artificial flavourings, colorings, preservatives, or other synthetic substances”. “Artificial flavourings” and “synthetic substances” are also largely unregulated terms.
This label does not include any standards for farm practices. Meat can be labeled as natural if it contains “no artificial ingredients or added colour and are only minimally process.” This means that they can have been fed GMO crops and antibiotics or plumped with salt water solution and flavoured teriyaki sauce to give it a healthier appearance and better taste but still be labeled as natural. -- They do that crap guys, I ain't makin' this stuff up!
BOTTOM LINE: Essentially, this label means next to nothing. It is very loosely regulated, making it easy to slip things through on technicality.
0g TRANS FAT!
Again, this label doesn’t exactly mean what it’s supposed to mean.
When you see 0g of trans fats you probably think that means it has absolutely no trans fats. Not necessarily.
Manufacturers are only required to list trans fats if they are present in amounts greater than 0.5 grams per serving.This means there could be 0.4 grams per serving, and if you eat two servings, which people often do, you could be consuming almost a full gram of trans fats. The American Heart Association advises limiting trans fat consumption to no more than 2 grams per day.
These fats are denatured and unnatural. Our bodies can’t recognize their molecular structure and so it treats them as foreign invaders by attacking. This leads to a cascade of inflammation throughout the entire body. We really shouldn’t be consuming any trans fats at all.
The only way to know for sure you aren’t getting any trans fats is to read the label carefully. If you see the words “shortening” or “hydrogenated” then trans fats are present in the food, even if the label claims “0g Trans Fat”.
It’s a similar deal when it comes to claims like “sugar free!” or “fat free!” There can still be up to 0.49g per serving.
Also, when they claim “reduced sugar” or “reduced fat”, it only has to be 25% less than their original product – this does not even mean that it's actually low sugar or fat. Depending on how packed with these ingredients the original item was, the product could still be extremely high in sugar or fat.
In addition, when ingredients like sugar or fat are taken out of a product they are often replaced with something just as - or more - harmful.
Sugar is usually replaced with artificial sweeteners which are proving to still induce cravings and overeating, while also being carcinogenic (they cause cancer guys!). Not a better option. I’d take the sugar any day.
Meanwhile, whenever fat is taken out of a product it is often replaced with copious amounts of sugar to compensate, which is more likely to be stored as fat than fat anyway!
BOTTOM LINE: You may still be getting some of what the label claims you’re getting none of. Check the ingredients list. And don’t bother with fat-free, it’s almost always better to take the fat!
MADE WITH REAL FRUIT!
Here’s the thing with this one, you can make some pretty unhealthy ingredients out of fruit.
Often when a package has this label claim, they are referring to the fruit puree from concentrate, fruit powder or evaporated fruit juice, which is all really just code for straight up sugar.
The “fruit” that is present in many of these products has been highly processed, turned into something very far from real fruit in it’s whole form and stripped of any nutritional value. This isn’t true in all cases but again, read your labels! If it says banana is an ingredient, then great! If fruit powder is the only thing that resembles a fruit in the ingredients list… I just wouldn’t count that as a healthy serving.
Same goes for claims like, “Made with Real Cheese” or “Real Honey”. These are often highly processed by-products of what was once a real food. Example: The notoriously harmful Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 are made from cheese so some products using these like to claim they’re made from real cheese. Funny 'cause I don't really see how "real cheese" is anything to be excited about anyway. Cheese ain't all that good for you in the first place -- but that is a whole other blog post!
It gets worse when we start to consider health claims like “Immune Support!” or “Heart Healthy!” Knowing what we know about how they process foods until they’re unrecognizable and then claim that the real food is somehow still in there being as healthy for you as ever, it becomes clear that these unregulated promotions are based on shady manipulations of the truth.
Basically, these claims usually mean that the product was either made from something that once had health promoting benefits or that it was fortified with some artificial vitamins so that they can make a claim.
Keep in mind that when they add these artificial vitamins, they are likely the cheapest versions, making them difficult for your body to absorb and use or the manufacturing processes destroy them entirely.
BOTTOM LINE: Please don’t bank on Kool-Aid Jammers to provide immune support and a healthy serving of fruit.
Another one that is not fully regulated so that food producers can boast whole grains, even if it doesn’t live up to the standards of the Whole Grains Council.
The Whole Grains Council requires that the product contain at least 51% whole grain ingredients per serving. Products that live up to that standard will be stamped with their signature logo. Keep in mind this means that the other 49% can still be highly processed white flour but at least you can be sure you’re getting something out of it. They also have more specific stamps that tell you if it is 100% whole grain and some that specify exactly how many grams per serving so look closely!
Again, many products that make the claim without the Council’s stamp are made of primarily unbleached wheat flour, while whole wheat flour is much further down the list. Another good reason to read the ingredients list! REMEMBER: Ingredients are listed in order by weight so if the whole grain is the last on the list there isn’t a heck of a lot in there.
BOTTOM LINE: Look for the Whole Grains Council stamp to know it contains at least 51% whole grains, and always evaluate the ingredients list for yourself.
Similar to whole grains, this statement is not properly regulated except by a third party certification.
If it simply states it on the packaging, it may not have had to prove it at all. The likelihood of the product containing GMO is higher than even the manufacturer may believe, seeing as many farmers who intend to stay GMO-free are becoming more and more contaminated by nearby crops.
However, the Non-GMO Project Verified is a non-profit, independent organization for third part testing and labeling for Non-GMO foods. Products with their stamp are guaranteed to have gone through a rigorous verification process for GMO avoidance.
Unless certified organic or Non-GMO, crops such as corn and soy are nearly 100% GMO. Other common GMO crops include tomatoes, potatoes, canola, sugar cane, sugar beets and rice.
BOTTOM LINE: Unless it’s got the stamp, you just can’t know for sure. Assume that the soy and corn ingredients are GMO unless specifically verified.
This is another case where, unless the product is certified by the USDA or Canada Organic, it is very hard to know what standards the product is actually held to.
Without these certifications, the claim is largely unregulated. However, it can also be an expensive and grueling process to actually receive the certification so many farmers or products that are following organic practices simply can’t afford to be certified.
Unfortunately, there are also companies that make this claim even though their product would not stand up to certification standards.
If you really want to know the standards a product is being held to in terms of organic, you kind of have to do a bit of digging yourself. Talk to local farms, stores, or contact companies yourself.
Luckily, you can rest easy when it is certified.
USDA and Canada Organic certifications require crops to be free from irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (So, yes! Organic does also mean GMO-free, for real!).
In terms of livestock, they require producers to meat animal health and welfare standards, use no antibiotics or growth hormones, use 100% organic feed, and provide animals with access to the outdoors.
For multi-ingredient products the certifications guarantee that it contains at least 9% certified organic ingredients.
BOTTOM LINE: Look for that stamp of approval, or do some digging of your own! It’s kind of a case by case thing.
Sorry, I don’t mean to stress you out but there is a lot of ambiguity and manipulation going on out there in terms of these kinds of nutrition claims. They’re all over packages for truly unhealthy products trying to get you to open your wallets for false promises. I just don’t want them to get away with tricking you into thinking they’re really gonna help you! You deserve better.
It’s so easy to remember that your doctor said to avoid sugar and to then grab a “reduced sugar” package thinking that means its good for you, meanwhile it still has a wack of sugar, just not as much as the original product that had a mountain of it. You see my point?
I mean, we shouldn't really be eating processed foods that come in boxes and have these claims stamped on them anyways... especially when they're brightly coloured and have pictures of overly enthusiastic honey bees on them.
But again, I’m all for being realistic so if you’re gonna enjoy Honey Nut Cheerios from time to time, go for it! Just, please don’t think it’s going to cure you of heart disease. It might just be a tiny bit more complicated than that.
I just hope this helps you a little bit to navigate through the bull***t so that you have the ability to take care of your own health, should you choose to do so.
Please leave comments or message me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions! I know sometimes these posts can just spark more questions than you had before, but it's important to get curious! Lets talk about it!