Nutrition facts and ingredient information are meant to help you make informed decisions that cater to your dietary needs. Of course, what is meant to happen doesnt always happen, or happens in a weird sort of way.
We have food labels, but what do they really mean? It turns out that plain English can be just as confusing as scientific jargon. Find out what your food labels really mean here:
1. Gluten-Free/ No Gluten/ Free of Gluten/ Without Gluten
Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye, barley, and crossbreeds of these grains. Foods that usually contain gluten include breads, cakes, cereals and pastas.
According to FDA regulations, an ingredient derived from a gluten-containing grain can be labeled gluten-free if it has been processed to remove gluten and the resulting process includes less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in the food. Basically, many gluten-free labelled products arent completely gluten-free.
Why 20 ppm? This is the lowest level of gluten that can be reliably detected in foods using scientifically validated methods. The FDA states that most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods with very small amounts of gluten in them.
In fact, many truly gluten-free foods have no gluten-free label at all because they have no gluten by nature, rather than by process. Foods that are completely gluten free include fruits, vegetables and eggs.
Furthermore, the FDA does not endorse, accredit or recommend any third-party gluten-free certification program. So, dont let certified gluten-free labels be the determining factor in whether you purchase a product or not.
Under the Code of Federal Regulations, fresh is defined as food that is unprocessed and has not been frozen. This is expected. What you may not know is that foods can still be labelled fresh if they are covered in approved waxes/coating, sprayed with pesticides post-harvest, treated with ionizing radiation, and/or rinsed with a mild chlorine wash or mild acid wash.
Under this law, foods in their raw state can still be labelled fresh if theyve been stored in a refrigerator for days prior to sale.
3. Low or Free:
Foods that make these claims can have a misleading health angle because whatever the food is low in or free from usually contains an equally unhealthy substitute for what it took out.
For example, a food item that is low in fat may instead be high in sugar. Make sure to read the food labels carefully.
As long as a product has less than five grams of fat per serving, the fat amount is rounded to the nearest 0.5 grams. Thus, if a food has less than 0.5 grams per serving, it can be labelled fat-free. This is why you might see fat-free advertised on cooking sprays even though oil naturally has fat in it!
5. Serving Size
This brings us to what many people overlook: serving size. When were in the grocery aisle, trying to compare similar products to choose our preferred option, the serving size can really throw off everything because the serving sizes of similar products are not always consistent across the board, and the nutritional information is adjusted to the serving size.
In summary, you could be comparing nutrition per 30 chips in one brand, with nutrition per 20 chips from another! That bag of chips that seemed to be the better option no longer seems so appealing does it?
Most of us understand imitation to mean something that is like something else in appearance, but according to the FDA, a new food that resembles a traditional food is labelled an imitation only if it has less protein or less of an essential vitamin or mineral than the traditional food.
As long as the proteins and nutrients are the same, you can end up not buying the real thing and not even knowing it!
7. Fruit and Vegetable Juice
The other day I enjoyed a mango nectar drink from a can. The front of the can made it a point to tell me that mangos were a natural source of vitamin A, but the nutrition guide on the can revealed that there was no vitamin A in the can! Who knows what I was really drinking.
Of course, it was never mentioned that my beverage was a good source of vitamin A, and that tricky wording is how many companies take advantage of the booming health industry.
According to the FDA, a beverage can claim to contain fruit or vegetable juice regardless of whether it is carbonated or non-carbonated, full strength or diluted. A beverage can even be considered fruit and vegetable juice if it contains color and flavor that gives the appearance and taste of fruit or vegetable juice!
Keep in mind that some labelling laws vary from state to state. Check your states labeling laws for more specific regulations.