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'Healthy' food labels: Which ones offer more hype than help?

August 30, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
These days, food packaging promises everything from lowering cholesterol to supporting your immune system. But making sense of these claims isn't easy. We teamed up with Consumer Reports to decode which ones offer more hype than help.

You may be tempted to toss things in your shopping cart, like a butter blend that "helps block cholesterol," candy and soda touting antioxidants, and plenty of foods that say they're "natural." But Consumer Reports ShopSmart says not so fast.

"Natural may sound good, but when it comes to snacks and cereal, there's no standard definition," said Jody Rohlena with Consumer Reports ShopSmart. "The Kix box says it contains 'all natural corn,' but the company admits that it may contain genetically modified corn and sugar."

As for one butter blend, Smart Balance makes the claim it helps block cholesterol because it has added plant sterols. But how much would you need to eat to potentially lower your risk of heart disease?

"You'd have to eat a minimum of 13 tablespoons every day. That's practically this whole tub, and that much Smart Balance has 1,300 calories," said Rohlena.

What about 7UP Cherry soda and Raisinets that tout antioxidants? Well, these treats also serve up a hefty seven to nine teaspoons of sugar in a serving.

"One of the most misleading labels is not on processed food. It's on chicken. To earn the 'free range' label, producers can give chickens access to open air for as little as five minutes a day and still meet the requirement. That's just sad," said Rohlena.

There are some labels worth their salt. For instance, "USDA Organic" means 95 percent of the ingredients were produced without synthetic fertilizers and most industrial pesticides. And on meat and poultry, the claim "raised without antibiotics" means the animal should never have been given antibiotics.

General Mills, which makes Kix, says if you'd like to avoid genetic modified food then you should buy its certified organic products. Consumer Reports also contacted the manufacturers of Smart Balance about its claim that added plant sterols blocked cholesterol, but the company declined to comment.


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