I do what everyone recommends — I shop the perimeter, and I study food labels. That should be enough to keep me healthy.
But reading food labels can be deceiving.
On the surface what may “appear” to be healthy, can actually be anything but …
How can you decipher the truth?
It helps if you know the tricks.
Here are 3 common ways food labels lie. And how to decode these lies so you can truly eat healthy.
Label lie #1: Only 100 calories per serving!
The number of calories per serving is probably the first thing you look at on a food label, right? But are you looking at how big that serving size is? Or how many servings the food package contains?
For example, many cans of soda, juice or iced tea — which most of us assume is a single serving — are actually 2, sometimes even 3 “servings.” In 1 can.
Same drill for cereals. Although the amount per serving is listed on the label (in weight and volume), it’s seldom in the realm of reality.
So you can pour what you think is a single serving into a bowl, while in reality that’s actually 3 or 4 times the amount (and calories) listed on the label. This is particularly true when it comes to small, dense cereals.
And chips? Forget about it. A serving size is usually 1 ounce … which, depending on the size of the chips, could be as few as 8 to 10 chips.
When’s the last time you ate only 8 chips at a time?
And can we talk salad dressing? Many easily contain 100 calories per serving, which is usually only about 2 tablespoons. Do you know how easy it is to pour 6 or even 8 tablespoons of dressing on your salad?
That’s a lot of calories!
Turn it around:
Always look at the serving size of your favorite drink or snack and dole yourself out 1 serving.
As for salad dressing, instead of that packaged trash, make yourself a nice mix of olive oil and vinegar for a dose of healthy fat.
Label lie #2: Made with whole grains!
Researchers have found that replacing refined grains with whole grains may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
And they help fill you up and keep you feeling full so you’re less likely to reach for that bag of potato chips sitting on the back of the top shelf.
The problem is that while a package may say it contains whole grains, it may also contain refined flour and added sugar; not your best choice when trying to eat healthy and stay lean.
Turn it around:
Don’t be duped by food manufacturers! Check the ingredients list before you buy. Steer clear if you see these ingredients listed:
- enriched wheat flour
- durhum wheat
- oat flour
Look instead for:
- stone-ground whole wheat
- whole or rolled oats
- whole-grain brown rice
- whole-grain corn
That means the product is most likely all whole grain.
If you want to be 100% confident the product is whole grain, look for the 100% whole-grain stamp, which means the product contains only whole grains.
Label lie #3: Cholesterol-free!
Everyone’s watching their cholesterol. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease.
But cholesterol is a product made by the liver. So it can only be found in animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs and butter.
So a bag of honey mustard pretzels or gummy worms screaming “No cholesterol!” is like saying the sun will come out tomorrow.
As my 9-year-old son would say … “No duh.”
Many of us do need to keep an eye on how much cholesterol we are taking in, since diets high in cholesterol can increase your blood cholesterol levels; but only about 1 in 3 people are susceptible to the effects of cholesterol in food.
The more important dietary risk factors are saturated and trans fats, which are well-known cholesterol boosters.
And even if a food contains 0 grams of cholesterol, if it contains saturated or trans fats, it can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood stream, which can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
Turn it around:
Aim to keep your daily intake of cholesterol at or below 300 mg. More important, your intake of saturated fat should be less than 10% of your total calories and ideally less than 7%, which may further reduce your risk of heart disease.
So, if you consume a 1,800- to 2,000-calorie diet, that would be about 130–140 calories or about 14–15 grams of saturated fat daily.
The bottom line
Although the packaging might say …
Only 100 calories per serving!
Made with whole grains!
Or any other healthy claim …
Make sure to read between the lines, and remember the “turn-arounds.”