Food & Diet

9 Biggest Red Flags on Food Labels 

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Living healthy has become such a global phenomenon and it has gotten all of us to be more conscious about the decisions we make in the supermarket. But the clever marketing ploys of most food companies are playing into your sensibilities and misleading you more than you know.

Here are some of the red flags on food labels that you have to look out for and avoid:

  • ‘Flavored’

Whether the label says naturally or artificially flavored, the fact that the food manufacturer had to add more flavoring to your food really should say something. Both types of flavoring are synthesized in the lab except that the USFDA defines natural flavoring as: “Natural flavor is the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis which contains the flavoring constituents from a spice, fruit or fruit juice…” and artificial flavoring is anything that does not meet the definition.

What is not mentioned in the definition is the specific way in which these flavors are extracted (which goes as far as producing it from bugs).

  • ‘Nectar’

The word ‘nectar’ sounds awfully wholesome, doesn’t it? Like nectar of the gods or like nectar of bees or something like that. Well the fruit nectar sold in supermarkets is anything but wholesome. The FDA states that the term ‘nectar’ is generally used for fruit concentrates that may contain fruit juice concentrate or puree, water and may contain sweeteners. The most common sweeteners in these sorts of products, sadly, would be high fructose corn syrup.

  • ‘Pure’

Don’t be fooled by that authoritative looking stamp on the juice box. Just because it says pure doesn’t mean it’s not a cocktail of chemicals and flavoring. If you’ve ever had freshly squeezed orange juice, you would know that nothing that comes in a box tastes nearly as fresh and light as the freshly squeezed type. Well, that’s mostly because the “pure” orange juice you just bought needs chemicals and preservatives for a longer shelf life.

  • ‘Fat-Free’

Fat is flavor, I think we can all agree to that, so what do food manufacturers do with the food once they’ve taken out all the fat? Well, for one thing they add loads and loads of artificial flavoring and sugar to make up for the loss in taste. Second, we actually need some fat to round out a healthy diet. Besides, the fat-free versions of most processed foods usually taste really bad. Instead of picking a tub of fat-free ice cream, just buy the regular ones and portion control instead. 

  • ‘All-Natural’

The only real way to get all-natural food is to steer clear of any processed food and head to the whole foods section. So if you spot an ‘all-natural’ label on processed food, don’t be fooled. All-natural means nothing. According to the FDA there’s no standard as to what constitutes as all-natural, and so the term is widely open for imaginative interpretation. The only place where this stamp matters is when you are purchasing meat and poultry. All natural meat and poultry means that the meat has no artificial flavors, colors or chemical preservatives.

  • ‘Fortified’

We’re not going to deny how helpful fortified food has been in the battle against malnutrition, especially in developing countries, but a lot of the fortified foods on the market tend to be extremely processed. The nutrients added into these processed foods are nearly always synthetic too and may do more harm than good to your body. A lot of times these vitamins are not even really that high in bioavailability as compared to high quality protein and produce.

  • ‘Sugar-Free’

The moment you see ‘sugar-free on a label you can be sure that the food was sweetened artificially. Sugar-free food is usually flavored with artificial (read chemical) sweeteners. The most common of which is aspartame, a type of sweetener that is often linked to certain types of cancer.

  • ‘Cholesterol-Free’

Cholesterol is something that is only found in meat products. So it is both surprising and deceptive to find this label on plant based food that would typically not have cholesterol anyway. This is a sneaky marketing ploy that will have you eating more of something that is not really any healthier than all the other brands on the market that don’t have the same stamp, thinking that it is somehow a healthier alternative.

  • ‘Reduced/Low Sodium’

This is another one of those cases where it’s really all about marketing. Just because it has reduced sodium levels doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy. The labels can mean anywhere between 25-50% less sodium, but if the food product in question contains 250% of your daily sodium requirements, a reduction of 50% doesn’t really make a difference. To really crack down on your sodium intake, eat less processed food and make more of your food at home so that you can control the amounts of sodium you put in.