FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It isn't easy to stay healthy. Not only is it often pricier and more time-consuming to eat nutritious meals, it can also be exceedingly difficult to determine just what foods are nutritious in the first place. These brands and products don't make the process any easier by subtly trying to shape consumers' perceptions with bogus nutritional claims.
'FREE RANGE' MEANS ANIMALS ROAM FREELY
Most consumers want their meat products to come from animals that were treated humanely, and the common label of "free range" gives the impression that the animals were allowed to roam free in open fields their whole lives. In reality, the phrase only means the animal was allowed access to the outdoors — not necessarily that they ever actually went outside. To tell which meat products are truly free range, one must research the company making the claim.
INCREASED IMMUNITY TO ILLNESS
In 2011, the Kellogg Co. paid $5 million back to consumers for making the common claim that its Rice and Cocoa Krispies can help a child's immune system, shortly after a similar settlement concerning its Frosted Mini-Wheats. Kellogg's was dinged in part for aiming its claims at children, but many products — including other cereals — can still make similarly dubious claims as long as they don't say they'll prevent or cure diseases.
'ORGANIC' MEANS HEALTHY
The term "organic" is more reliable than most labels since any food labeled as such must contain at least 95% organic sources free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But organic doesn't make an unhealthy food suddenly nutritious, which means the organic version of popular foods like Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese can still contain plenty of fat, calories, and sugars.
'WHOLE GRAIN' MEANS MORE FIBER
Another dubious claim about many snacks and breads is that they're "made with whole grain," so buyers may think they're eating healthier by consuming fiber-rich whole flour rather than enriched flour. As with Cheez-Itz and other products, even the whole wheat Ritz Crackers are made with primarily refined flour and contain only a measly 1 gram of fiber per serving.
'GOOD SOURCE OF FIBER' MEANS A LOT OF FIBER
Like many other foods, cans of baked beans may be touted as a "good source of fiber," which means they must contain at least 10% of the recommended daily value, but that doesn't mean that food is necessarily healthy. Ten percent isn't really all that much, and it doesn't counteract the added sugar and sodium present in baked beans.
'NATURAL' MEANS STRAIGHT FROM NATURE
Minute Maid is one of many companies that take advantage of the Food and Drug Administration's "lack of restrictions on the term natural" to make consumers think its products are healthy. It often boasts that its lemonades are made with "100% natural flavors," but they still include high-fructose corn syrup, which is made by extracting starch from corn and treating it with multiple enzymes.
'MADE WITH REAL FRUIT' MEANS NO ARTIFICIAL SUGARS
When Gushers, a Betty Crocker product, and other "natural" fruit snacks advertise being "made with real fruit," it doesn't mean the product doesn't contain added artificial sugarsthat compromise whatever health benefits come with the fruits, which, in the case of Gushers, are all from concentrate.
'REDUCED FAT' MEANS HEALTHIER
Peanut butter contains a lot of fat per serving, but the reduced-fat versions remove a small amount of healthy monounsaturated fat, which promotes weight loss and healthy cholesterol, only to replace it with added sugar and sodium. The reduced-fat version of Jif's creamy peanut butter takes away 4 grams of fat but adds an extra 1 gram of sugar and 115 milligrams of sodium.
'GLUTEN-FREE' ALSO MEANS NUTRITIOUS
The FDA allows any product to make claims of being "gluten-free" as long as one serving contains less 20 parts per million of gluten. And while gluten-free foods are useful for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, this buzzword doesn't guarantee nutrition, since many gluten-free foodshave less fiber than the standard versions.
ZERO CALORIES + ZERO SUGAR = HEALTHIER
Diet sodas tout zero calories and zero sugar, but that should send up red flags. The main source of sweetness is aspartame, an artificial sweetenerlinked to weight gain in studies, along with other bad side effects. The sweetness runs the risk of confusing the body into thinking it is eating sugar, which prompts a surge of insulin. Unused, that can cause problems and even lead to or worsen long-term blood sugar issues such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
PROTEIN BARS ARE DIET FRIENDLY
Protein bars are marketed as a dieter's best friend, but most are glorified candy bars full of sugar, carbs, and fat. What's worse, added protein makes their taste and texture funky, so it's basically like eating a candy bar that doesn't even taste good.
'NONFAT' OR 'FAT FREE' MEANS NOT FATTENING
Most people think frozen yogurt is healthier than ice cream because it is lower in fat. But when one ingredient lacks, it is generally replaced with an overabundance of something else — in this case with Stonyfield Fat Free Frozen Yogurt, extra sugar and sodium, leading to a higher carbohydrate load for each serving. Once again, those concerned with losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are better off with a full-fat dairy version for a more balanced nutritional profile.
ACAI HELPS WITH WEIGHT LOSS
The acai berry from South America has a lot of things going for it. It has loads of fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats. But helping with weight loss isn’t among its attributes, and several companies together have paid millions of dollars in settlements with the FTC for making such claims.
CEREAL WITH NO ARTIFICIAL COLORING IS HEALTHIER
In 2016, General Mills made good on a commitment to cut artificial dyes and preservatives from sugary cereals like Trix, whose new box showed the more muted colors and touts the new lack of artificial ingredients. That might have made parents feel better about letting their children eat Trix, but it didn't alter the cereal's high levels of sugar. (Eventually, the company brought back the artificial colors in response to consumer complaints.)