Misleading Food Labels

By JoAnne Romanelli, CHHC, AADP
Board Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach

The food industry spends millions of dollars a year advertising to us; making claims that are enticing to health conscious consumers. With so many food companies making claims, it’s easy to see how a simple trip to the grocery store ends with confusion and frustration. The first step to making better food choices is becoming an avid food label reader. Let’s take a look at the top food labels and what they really mean.

 “Whole Grains”: A product is truly a whole grain food if the very first ingredient has the word WHOLE in it like whole grain flour, whole oat flour, etc. If it says enriched wheat flour or white flour, it is not a whole grain food no matter what the label says.

“All Natural”: The FDA and the USDA has very vague rules when it comes to this term. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most abused marketing claims. If a product contains things like artificial food dyes, artificial flavors and artificial sweeteners, it is far from natural.

“Made from real fruit”: Most products that have this label actually do not contain any fruit at all! In fact, in 2010, the FDA started cracking down on some companies using this claim. Some products do have fruit, but very little. The majority of the ingredients are usually fruit concentrate, artificial food dyes and sugar.

“Low Fat”: Don’t just read the fat content on the label. Products that are labeled as low fat usually have double the sugar and sodium content!

“Low Sugar” and “Lightly Sweetened”: This is a perfect example of how reading serving sizes is key to determining if this product is truly low in sugar. For example, a yogurt might say only six grams of sugar. However, the serving size is only half the container. And really, who only eats half a yogurt container? So if you are like most people who finish the small container of yogurt, you are getting twelve grams of sugar. Not very “low sugar” at all.

“Supports the Immune System”:  These claims confuse the consumer into believing this product does something out of the ordinary to help them. Many times, companies will add extra Vitamin C in a very processed food in order to boost this claim. Remember, fortified foods are less superior than fresh foods that have naturally occurring vitamins.

“High Fiber”:  Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains have intact fiber that your body needs. “High Fiber” foods like fiber bars and cereals have isolated fiber powders, which do not have the same health benefits. Stick to the natural fiber.

Although the FDA has recently started cracking down on individual companies using false claims, they have yet to set up a clear and concise standard for all food labeling. In the meantime, be weary of claims on food products. Instead, focus on serving sizes, ingredients and nutrition facts to make sure you are making healthier choices.


JoAnne Romanelli, Getting Real Health, and Nicole Zaybak Drepaniotis and the AFRP are not acting in the capacity of a doctor, licensed dietician-nutritionist, psychologist, other licensed or registered professional, personal trainer or any other certified exercise specialist/health exercise adviser. Our purpose is advising and recommendations.

The information received should not be seen as medical or nursing advice and is certainly not meant to take the place of your seeing licensed health professionals.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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