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Take claims on food labels with a pinch of salt
Posted by Linda Casey
January 29, 2014
3 Min Read
Al Bawaba Ltd. -- Although food labels are supposed to tell us exactly what's in the food we're buying, marketers have created a language all their own to make foods sound more healthful than they really are. Today's Consumer Ally column on AOL's WalletPop site explores misleading food-label lingo, noting that some commonly used phrases have "almost no meaning.
Empty claims like "Made with Natural Goodness," "Kid Approved" and " Doctor Recommended" have become as common as those with legal definitions.
Today, even regulated terms like "Healthy" and " Contains Antioxidants"have become muddied.
Consumer Ally columnist Mitch Lipka points to the 158-page of Food Labelling Chaos report from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest that identifies several misleading Labelling tactics used by food companies.
Here are six common but misleading claims included in the CSPI report.
Lightly-sweetened: Cereal packages often contain the phrase "lightly sweetened" to suggest less sugar.
The Food and Drug Administration has regulations concerning the use of "sugar free" and "no added sugars" but nothing governing the claims "low sugar" or "lightly sweetened." "Whether Kellogg's Frosted Mini- Wheats Bite Size is lightly sweetened should be determined by federal rules, not the marketing executives of a manufacturer," says the CSPI report.
A good source of fiber: A number of food marketers now claim their products are a good source of fibre, but CSPI notes that often the fibre doesn't come from traditional sources - whole grains, bean, vegetables or fruit - known to have health benefits.
Instead, food makers are adding something called "isolated fibres" made from chicory root or purified powders of polydextrose and other substances that haven't been shown to lower blood sugar or cholesterol.
Strengthens your immune system: Through "clever wordsmithing," food companies can skirt FDA rules about health claims and give consumers the impression that a product will ward off disease, notes the CSPI report.
Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice claims to "strengthen your immune system with a daily dose of vitamin C." Green Giant offers an "immunity blend" of frozen vegetables. Nestle's Carnation Instant Breakfast says it contains "Antioxidants to help support the immune system." Made with real fruit: Often the "real fruit" is found in small quantities and isn't even the same kind of fruit pictured on the package.
Tropical fruit flavored Gerber Graduates Fruit Juice Treats show pictures of fresh oranges and pineapple.But the main ingredients are corn syrup, sugar and white grape juice concentrate.
Betty Crocker's Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers don't contain strawberries -just pear concentrate.
Made with whole grains: Many products make a whole grain claim even though they often contain refined flour as the first ingredient and the amount of whole grains are minimal.
The CSPI reports that the package of Keebler s Townhouse Bistro Multigrain Crackers boasts they are made with "toasted whole wheat," but the ingredient label shows the crackers contain more sugar than whole wheat.
All natural: Although the FDA has issued several warning letters to firms making misleading "all natural" claims, the agency has never issued formal rules about the term, CSPI says.
As a result, some products containing high fructose corn syrup claim to be "all natural." One example is Minute Maid Premium All Natural Flavors Berry Punch. "Though glucose and fructose certainly occur in nature, the chemical conversions of cornstarch should not be considered natural," writes CSPI.
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