How to Decipher Product Labels
When choosing among the hundreds of products on supermarket shelves, many of us use labels as a guide, selecting an "all-natural" cereal over one that's not, or the mouthwash that promises to remove plaque and promote healthy gums--perhaps even saving us a trip to the dentist--over one that merely freshens breath. Unfortunately, many of these labels exaggerate health benefits or are downright deceptive.
In late September, the
"We're starting to see a government crackdown on products with misleading labels," says
Oddly enough, some of the labels on supermarket products have strict legal definitions, such as "organic," while others, such as "all-natural," don't. You'd need to read the label, for example, to know whether an "all-natural" tomato sauce really has no artificial ingredients.
Here's a guide to common label claims and whether they're likely to be deceptive:
"Supports immune system" or "for brain development."
These are medical claims that the
Last year, the
"Good source of vitamins."
Any product, regardless of its sugar, salt, and fat content, can carry a vitamin claim if it contains a certain amount of fortification. "Excellent source" means a product has more than 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance of that vitamin; "good source" means it has more than 10 percent but less than 20 percent; and "fortified" means it has at least 10 percent, according to the
"Zero trans fats."
This doesn't mean a product is completely free of trans fatty acids, a type of fat known to be the worst kind for your heart. It just means that a product can't contain more than half a gram of trans fats per serving.
"The kicker is that many of us eat more than a serving at a time," says Silverglade, like that large blueberry muffin that contains two or three government-standardized servings. "We also see products high in saturated fat that are labeled 'no trans fats,' and this is misleading, since saturated fats are nearly as bad for your heart as trans fats," he says. Bottom line: Read the label to check for saturated fat content and scan the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats.
This is supposed to mean that a product contains no artificial ingredients and is minimally processed, but that's not always the case. Products with the "all-natural" label that contain meat or poultry are legally required to meet this definition, says Silverglade, since they're regulated by the
Because the government has established a single legal definition for "organic" that applies to all food products, this is a "trustworthy" label, says Silverglade. It means a product can't be manufactured from synthetic ingredients that involved the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, animal drugs, or genetic engineering. The methods used to produce the product must minimize pollution from air, soil, and water, and generally be environmentally safe. That doesn't mean that an organic cookie is more nutritious than a non-organic one.
To use the "light" label, the
Available at Amazon.com:
- Fruit and Vegetables: Americans Fall Short
- How to Properly Eat Your Veggies
- Healthy Eating Tips for a Busy Lifestyle
- Top 10 Surprising Facts About Smiling
- Bad Habits That Are Good for You
- How to Decipher Product Labels
- New Applications Turning Cell Phones Into Medical Devices
- The Virtual Therapist Will See You Now
- New Findings Turning Coffee Into A 'Health Food'
- Food Allergies: When Food Bites Back
- Healthy Hot Drinks Avoid Caffeine and Sugar
- Have Glowing Skin for All Seasons
- Best Health Advice I Ever Got
- The Serious Hazards of Soda
- How to Turn Setbacks into Bounce-backs
- Stay Healthy When Everyone Else Is Sick
- How Personality Affects Your Health
- A Sensitive Issue: Salt Restriction
- Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?
- Should I Stop Taking B12 Supplements?
- Tap Water Toxins: Fact or Fiction?
- Love Your Liver: Natural Liver Support
- Healthy Eating Guide to Cereal
- Load Up On Vitamin C
- Vitamins That Keep Your Brain Young
- 5 Superfoods You're Not Eating
- Boost Dental Health with Honey and Agave Syrup
- Oral Health Sweet Shocker
- Screening Tests That Can Save Your Life
- Eat Fiber and Feel Better
- The Worst and Best Sweets for Your Teeth
- The Truth About Extreme Smile Makeovers
- A Smart Guide to Dietary Supplements
- Beat the Bedbug Epidemic
- Healthy Eating All Day
- Recreational Drugs Go Straight
- Normal Weight Obesity - A Growing Concern
- How to Decipher Product Labels
- Hybrid Fruit: The New Super-food
- Is Indian Cuisine Healthy Cuisine?
- Is 'Ethnic' Cuisine Healthier?
- Is the H1N1 Flu Pandemic Over?
- 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System
- Surviving Cold Season: How Not to Get Sick
- 7 Healthy Habits in 7 Weeks
- Sleep More and Live Longer
- 4 Dangerous Health Emergencies: What to Do
- Heartburn-friendly Diet with Your Favorite Foods
- Put Brakes on Inflammation Through Diet and Lifestyle Strategies
- The Vibrant and Healthy Flavors of an Authentic Latin Diet
- Is It Hunger or Just Appetite?
- Stay Healthy the Easy Way
- The Importance of Dreams
- Boost Your Energy: Hour by Hour
- Stop Information Overload
- Breathe Like a Baby
- 5 Healthy Foods That Wreck Your Teeth
- Are You Falling for Dental Myths?
- Is Heart Attack Going Out of Style?
- Flu Season
- Preventive Care & Electronic Medical Records Guidelines Set
- Stone Age Diet Surprisingly Good For a Healthy Life Today
- New Tools Fuel Progress on Development of Genetically Engineered Farm Animals
- Beat Your Afternoon Energy Slump
- Small Healthy Habits With Big Health Benefits
- Relieve Stress and Uplift Spirits with Aromatherapy
- New Things To Try That Lift Your Spirits and Relieve Stress
- 5 Fast Breakfasts That Boost Your Health
- Much to Consider When Looking for a Primary Care Physician
- Apples Are the New Fish
- Watermelon: Summer's Antioxidant
- Prescription for Better Health: Go Alfresco?
- Are All Omega-3 Fats The Same?
- Sample a Semi-Vegetarian Lifestyle With a Flexitarian Diet
- Milk: When the First Food May Be the Best Food
- Foraging is Green Eating at Its Purest
- How to Lose Weight Safely
- Colleges Joining Effort to Turn Around Skyrocketing Obesity Rates
- Medical Claims for Marijauna - Just Blowing Smoke?
- The Hidden Health Benefits of Adult Braces
- 5 Things Your Dental Insurance Will Not Cover
- 4 Effortless Steps to Whiter Teeth
- 5 First-aid Tricks You Need to Know
- Heat Can Beat the Heart
- Eating for Your Blood Type -- Truth or Fiction?
- Salt Sensitivity Issue: Salt Restriction
- 5 Tips to Bulldoze a Bad Mood
- Genetically Engineered Foods Update: More Common Than You Think
- 5 Celebrity Trends That Could Harm Your Health
- Should You Travel Abroad for a Dental Procedure
- Super Foods to Boost Your Dental Health
- The Fight Escalates Against Fake Drugs
- Fermented Foods Are Making a Comeback
- Wean Yourself Off Processed Foods in 7 Steps
- An Update on Soy: It's Just So-So
- Is it OK to Take Ibuprofen P.M.?
- Colonoscopy: Is It Time to Go Virtual Colonoscopy
- Sleep Better Tonight (Fight Fatigue Tomorrow)
- Do-it-yourself Sunburn Remedies
- Take the Germ Quiz
- Healthy Mouth Equals Healthy Body
- 5 Biggest Flossing Mistakes
- Health Threat of Nitrates: Nitrites in Cured Meats
- Stop Dry Mouth Now
- Best Ways to Keep Your Teeth
- 5 Instant Ways to Stress Less and Smile More
- Be Suntan Savvy
- 4 Ways to Sneak in Sunblock
- Can Aspirin Do That, Too?
- A Natural Approach to Sweet Slumber
- Boost Your Brainpower
- Seeds of Life: Chia, Flax, Hemp and Pumpkin
- Microgreens Become Macro Trend to Follow
- Eat Your Way to a Healthy Smile
- Why and How to Get More Vitamin D
- Better Alternatives to Silver Fillings
- 5 Beach Safety Tips
- Traveling Light: Healthy Eating for Business Junketeers
- Healthy Snacks for Energy
- Shape-Shifting 'Tube Robot' Could Aid Heart Surgery
- Better Ways to Get Your Produce
- Cutting-Edge Cuisine Engages Senses Beyond Taste
- Eat for Your Eyesight
- Is It Better to Stop Smoking Abruptly or Gradually?
- Relieve Stress in 5 Minutes or Less
- Best Ways to Soothe Sensitive Teeth
- Turn a Clean Home Into a Healthy Home
- Largest Ever Cell Phone Cancer Study is Inconclusive
- Treating Early-Stage Esophageal Cancer
- TNF Inhibitors Offer Relief to Those With Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Advances in Breast Cancer Screening Helping to Fine-Tune Diagnosis
- First Aid for Summer
- The Microscopic World of Food Nanotechnology
- Screening Plays Key Role in Detecting Polyps Before They Become Cancerous
- Learn How to Read Supplement Labels
- Compression-Only CPR Can Replace Conventional CPR in Many Circumstances
- Diabetes: Could You Have Diabetes and Not Know It
- Fighting Inflammation with Food
- Bad Health Habits Rob Years From Life Span
- Beating Back Pandemics is a Cooperative Crusade
- The Importance of Decreasing Dietary Sodium
- Chocolate Reduces Inflammation Associated with Heart Disease
- Healthy Eating Tips for a Busy Lifestyle
- Olive Oil and Health
- Push for Healthier Diets Means Big Changes for the Food Industry
- How to Identify Suicide Risk Before It's Too Late
- Tips for Natural Allergy Relief
- Inflammation May Play Role in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Longevity Revolution Will Restructure Life Around the World
- Maximum Fitness: CrossFit Training
- Tests to Optimize Treatment of Breast Cancer
- Enjoy the Health Benefits of Tea
- Can Your Toothbrush Make You Sick?
- Sunscreen Facts You Need to Know
- When does Knee Replacement Surgery Make Sense
- Is Hefty the New Healthy?
- Best Way to Take Heartburn Medication
- Aerobics Without Heartburn
- Stress Less: Ten Strategies That Work
- Paralyzed Limbs Revived by Hacking Into Nerves
- Take the Work Out of Workout
- Cultivate a Nutrient-Rich Approach to Eating for Life
- Treadmill Test Can Reveal Hidden Problems in Heart
- Researchers Break Through to Unconscious Patients
- Key Factors Related to Heart Attack Risk
- Type 2 Diabetes Increases Risk for Cardiovascular Problems
- Middle-Age Spread and How to Avoid It
- Fiber and Weight Loss: Learn the Secrets
- Hypochondria: The Impossible Illness
- Get the Lead Out: The Less Exposure to This Toxic Metal the Better
- Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sugar
- Cultivate a Healthy Brain Lifestyle As You Age
- Regular Exercise Helps Protect Aging Brains
- Surgeries Can be Combined But May Not be Necessary
Copyright © 2010 U.S. News and World Report. All rights reserved.