Six Meaningless Claims on Food LabelsPosted: January 24, 2011
Thomas McDonald for The New York Times
By TARA PARKER-POPE in The New York Times
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 “Food Labeling Chaos” report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that identifies several misleading labeling tactics used by food companies. Here are six common but misleading claims included in the C.S.P.I. 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 C.S.P.I. report.
A good source of fiber: A number of food marketers now claim their products are a good source of fiber, but C.S.P.I. notes that often the fiber 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 fibers” 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 F.D.A. rules about health claims and give consumers the impression that a product will ward off disease, notes the C.S.P.I. 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. Nestlé’s Carnation Instant Breakfastsays 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 C.S.P.I. 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 F.D.A. has issued several warning letters to firms making misleading “all natural” claims, the agency has never issued formal rules about the term, C.S.P.I. 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 C.S.P.I.
You can read more about label confusion on the WalletPop blog, or click here for a detailed summary of the C.S.P.I. report as well as a link to the full 158 page document.
From Millie; I say it’s better to buy real food that doesn’t come from boxes and cans, hence needs no labels…you can tell what’s in a avocado. It needs no label! Breakfast cereals are toxic to humans, we are not grain eaters…we need fats, proteins, vegetables and fruits.