I don’t know about you, but I don’t have tons of money to waste on groceries, especially when product companies beef up their marketing campaigns to get you to buy, buy, buy.
When I was a kid I remembered ogling boxes of cereal in the breakfast aisle because of the toys that were often included. Back then, kids and toys were used as a money making strategy. Now, companies are ‘toying’ with your emotions regarding your health.
The problem is that some of what you see on package labels does sound really healthy…
- all natural
- gluten free
- probiotic formula
- high in fiber from whole grains
- high in antioxidants
- low in calories
- reduced fat
In reality, these labels make the item sound really healthy, but in most cases, the labels truly mean nothing. And it especially doesn’t mean that the product is actually good for you!
Here are 10 tips on how to be a smarter, healthier, more conscious shopper:
1. Don’t fall for the pretty shiny things. I have found that the “prettier” the box, the worse the ingredients. If a product needs to showcase every health label up front and center like the lights of Las Vegas, then I am guessing that there is a reason for this. And not a good reason.
2. Don’t take the label at face value. Grass is “all natural” too, but that doesn’t mean that I want to eat it. Also, just because companies claim to add something good doesn’t mean that they took away the bad. A minuscule of pomegranate juice added to your favorite cola and marketed as “chock full of antioxidants” doesn’t make the 38 grams of sugar in a single serving any better for you.
3. Read the ingredients. This tells you what is in there. No big, fancy label is going to change that. (Did you know that some companies use all caps in their ingredient list because all caps are harder to read? Hmmm…)
4. Know that food label regulations are pretty lax and not well regulated, especially the more general terms such as “all natural”, “high fiber”, “made from whole grains”, etc. So take what it says with a grain of salt. Rules are a little more stringent for “gluten free”, “organic”, and “grass-fed” but still are never guaranteed 100%. (Just a note, I still trust “organic” labels more than conventional ones based on experience from reading and comparing ingredients.)
5. Don’t assume “gluten free” means healthier. This one deserved a number in itself because for some reason, people associate “gluten free” with “better for you”. Most packaged gluten free products are made with rice flours and other fillers to make up for the loss of gluten (which is essentially used to bind ingredients). Rice flour digests very rapidly as sugar in the bloodstream and again, leaving all the other additives in there such as corn syrup and soy protein isolate makes this just as processed as any other boxed food.
6. “100% whole grain” essentially means nothing unless you are buying a bag of uncooked rice, quinoa, or buckwheat (the latter two are actually seeds). First of all, grains are not the proclaimed health food they are chalked up to be. They are very hard to digest and often tear up your intestinal lining, which ultimately can lead to health problems. (It is not so much the grain in many cases, it is how much we eat of it.. but this is a whole other blog post.) And any grain that is ground and packaged is still processed. I am sure it was indeed, 100% whole grain, at some point or another.
7. Calories are calories, yes. But 100 calories of cookies are NOT equal nutrient wise to 100 calories of scrambled eggs with spinach. If you think calories are a determining factor of your overall health, you have your head buried in the sand.
8. “High fiber” can actually mean “high filler”. High fiber doesn’t mean that the fiber is actually from real grains, fruits, and vegetables. Maltodextrin, oat fiber, wheat fiber, and oat hull fiber are good examples of faux fiber.
9. Reduced fat = more sugar added. Hopefully people are starting to get over the low fat craze which just resulted in the highest obesity rates ever.
10. Yes, probiotics are good for you. But if it is a packaged product sitting on a shelf, you can bet that any happy, helpful bacteria in there are quite dead. Pasteurization also kills happy bacteria, so any kind of commercial milk products or sauerkraut has lost the majority of their probiotic benefits. You may want to save your dollars for a good probiotic supplement that is found in the refrigerated section of your health food store.
Share your label reading tips below!