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'Healthy' food labels that can be misleading

May 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
With so much information on food packaging, you would think it would be easy to understand what you are getting. But consumers are more confused than ever. Labels might not be lying, but they can color up nutrition facts with tricky terminology.

Most of us know that food manufacturers are in business to make money, and they know that health sells. Natural is a biggy. There is no legal Food and Drug Administration regulation for it, but the government does say the food should not contain artificial color or additives, yet a natural product can contain ample sugar, salt and fat.

And did you know that 'light' can mean loads of things - lighter in calories, fat, or sodium, lighter in color or flavor or, simply, lighter than the original, which doesn't say much.

Multigrain is a big sell when it comes to baked goods, but it doesn't mean whole grain. Whole grain is the health food term here, because it is product made with the entire grain. But multigrain can have different refined flours that are often low in fiber and nutrients.

"Made with real fruit" - you'll find this term used in fruit roll-ups, juices, and sweet baked goods. They often contain fruit in the form of grape concentrate, which is very often nutritionally low. You might also find a host of other sweeteners along with that "real" fruit.

When buying burger meat, 80 percent lean sounds pretty skinny, but you can expect to get at least 23 grams of fat - almost 100 fat calories per quarter pounder.

And if you happen to see hormone-free on your poultry, experts say that term is meaningless because current laws do not allow poultry farms to use growth hormones.

Then there's gluten-free. It's necessary for those who are gluten intolerant, but keep in mind, there are products using this term that never had any gluten to begin with.

One of the labels that can really get you is Trans fat-free. That's because the government allows that term to be used if there is half a gram or less per serving. But if you get more than the suggested serving size, you most likely can get a gram or more of Trans fat, and that is the kind of fat that nobody needs.

See photos of tricky food terms on packages.

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