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Grass-Fed, Free Range, Organic…Oh My!: 16 Tips On How To Read Food Labels For Real

Healthy v. Hype. Why are food labels so confusing? Eating healthy and rocket science seem to have more in common than ever. Nearly 59% of consumers admit to having a hard time understanding nutrition labels (based on a Nielsen survey). And we can’t forget marketing schemes – many manufactures make false claims in order to attract consumers. So while you may be amongst the confused and frustrated, fret no more RADicals. I’ve cracked the code on today’s “healthy” hype.

#1 Shoutout To Sugar & Her Slick Sisters

Americans are officially addicted to sugar – and we can blame the food industry for this for sure. Sugar is literally in everything, and since it goes by over 50+ names most folks don’t even know how much sugar they are consuming on a daily basis. So don’t let this slick ingredient fool you. Scan the ingredient list and if you see sugar (or her slick sisters) listed first – stop, drop and roll up out.

#2 Organic Overload

This term is regulated, however be clear – if a product has a USDA label that says “organic,” 95% or more of the ingredients must have been grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. But if it says “made with organic ingredients,” then a minimum of 70% of all it’s ingredients must meet the standard. Simply put organic doesn’t mean healthy – an organic cookie is still a cookie yo!

#3 Natural Is Naturally A Lie

While the FDA has defined the term “natural,” there is no objections to added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. So be weary of the claim “all natural” because this doesn’t mean a product is healthy. In fact Consumer Reports is calling for a ban on this misleading term being used on food packaging in the near future.

#4 Zero Trans Fats For Real

Zero means none right? Not exactly. When it comes to food labels, products marked as zero trans fat actually indicate it contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. Have more than one serving and pow – that’s 1 gram of trans fat. And hun sorry to tell you, but the daily allowance for trans fats is zero. As in the real zero you learned about way before kindergarten.

#5 Protein, Please

Yes products packing in the protein department are always a great choice – however please beware of products labeled as an “excellent source of protein” only. Which P.S. is a regulated term to denote a product contains 20% or more of the daily value (DV) of a nutrient. However often times this claim (especially when on cereals) can also mean that these food choices are high in calories, fat and/or sugar. So read on.

#6 Calcium Claims

Vitamin D is definitely a winner and manufacturers know we’re digging this dope source of calcium. So if something is calcium enriched or the word calcium is practically jumping off the box, flip the box over and peep the percentage. “Good source of calcium” is another regulated claim (must contain 10-19 percent of the daily value – which translates to 1,000 milligrams) so aim for around 15 percent per serving.

#7 Essential Vitamins, Duh

A product that toots their horn for having essential vitamins and minerals can sometimes be a “duh” moment. One prime example – cereal. Just about all cereals are fortified with nutrients, however since most cereal brands know that this claim is attractive to consumers what they aren’t posting is how high in sugar the cereal is. Most “provides essential vitamins and minerals claims” have more the 8 grams of sugar. Welp.

#8 The Multi Levels Of Multigrain

This one is the most misleading of all. When fiber became the cool kid on the block may consumers were buying multigrain everything to meet their daily fiber needs. However whole grain or 100% whole wheat are the words we should be looking for.

#9 Free Range Comes With A Price

Free range chicken is becoming more and more popular amongst health conscious poultry eaters. However while “free range” means your edible birdie was exposed to the outdoors, how long they were there and what the conditions were – now that’s not clear. So when consuming free range chicken be sure to scope out just what farm your little chickadee came from. Could be a hood chick. HA

#10 Big Fat Lie

Fat free used to fool us all back in the day. But truth is some of us are still falling for this big fat lie. First and foremost – we need fat in our diet. What kind of fat is the question. So before you opt for the fat free option all in the name of health take a look at the other ingredients. Most fat free products are loaded with sugar.

#11 So About That Sodium

“Low Sodium”: Translation: There’s less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving, which is important to know if you’re choosing foods that are often packed with salt, like frozen meals, soup, and bread. Just don’t confuse it with similar terms, like “light in sodium”—50 percent less sodium than the original product—or “reduced sodium,” which is simply 25 percent less sodium than the original.

#12 Dairy-Free v. Lactose-Free

FYI – the FDA hasn’t defined dairy or lactose-free. In general, dairy-free should not contain cow’s milk, while lactose-free products have had the lactose, or milk sugar, removed. So if you have milk allergies then it’s the milk protein that you need to watch out for – which is still present when lactose is removed. Also beware of added sugars. Even plain varieties of milk substitutes can contain up to 6 grams or more.

#13 Facts On Fiber

High fiber products mean there are at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Why does this matter? Well many of us fall short on fiber, which is practically essential in managing cholesterol and a healthy weight. But not all fiber is created equal. Mostly found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables – many manufacturers have started adding fiber where it doesn’t naturally occur. Think artificial sugar and yogurt. What the?!

#14 Gluten Free Gone Bad

Gluten free products are easier to find in your local grocery store and even on restaurant menus now. Which is great if you have a gluten intolerance. But if you’re going gluten free just because your bestie is then be clear – you may be missing out on fiber too. Most gluten free products are lacking in the fiber department so don’t swap out one alleged “healthy” by sacrificing another.

#15 Size It Up

Another trick in the streets is the size of food servings. To make a product look healthier many manufactures list information based on a tiny serving size. Plus these FDA recommendations are often times decades old. For example a serving of ice cream is a half cup. However many people are eating close to a pint per sitting. And hun that’s 4 servings.

#16 Careful Counting Calories

If you are crazy about counting calories understand that often times really healthy food choices may be higher in calories than say that 100 calorie snack pack. The deal in this case is quality over quantity. So instead of counting calories only, check out what those calories are made of too. If an item is loaded with nutrients, healthy fats, fiber etc. those extra calories aren’t worth passing it up for.

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