How to read food labels – avoid being tricked by misleading food marketing claims!

Published on October 28, 2020 by Cori Grămescu


To avoid being tricked by misleading information coming from big food marketing departments, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to read food labels. You can also find a further guide on hot to shop based on food labels. strongly recommends that you eat as many whole, unprocessed foods, as the basis for a healthy, long lasting dietary change. But we all know that while this is the heathiest alternative, in our modern-day society it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to completely avoid processed foods.

Reading only what matters from the food package label

Since food regulations are complex and often vary across different countries, we must grow into the habit of carefully reading the food labels and choosing the best options available.

NEVER read the front side of the package, it is often packed with marketing-driven claims, created by teams of specialists focused on increasing sales. Always go for the small ingredient-based label on the back, that’s where you will find the truth about the quality of your choice.

With people being more and more interested in improving their health comes increased interest to promoting so-called “health claims” on processed foods, in order to make them more alluring to consumers.

Some of the most misleading claims are “natural”, “multi-grain”, “low fat”, “fruit-flavored”, “zero trans fats” and so on. Here’s a list of the most misleading claims and what usually lies behind them.

Key words explained

Natural does mean that at some point in the manufacturing process some of the ingredients used came from a natural source. Concentrated fruit juice benefits from this claim, because initially was produced from apples, even though it eventually became a low-fiber, high in sugars, low vitamin beverage.

Multi-grain or made with whole grains or gluten free – these claims refer to cereals and they are often quite misleading. Multi-grain may sound healthy, but it usually means that the product is made with two or more cereals, usually refined grains. Made with whole grains refers to the fact that the product contains some unprocessed cereals, but it doesn’t say anything about the amount of simple sugars or dietary fibers that the product contains.

Gluten free refers to the fact that the product does not contain wheat, rye, spelt or barley and nothing more.

Low fat or zero trans fats are misleading claims regarding fat content. Usually, when in a processed food fat is removed from its ingredients list means that sugar or other highly processed ingredients have been added. Zero trans fats refers to the amount of trans fats in the serving of food, so we should always check the serving size. Often, it is unrealistically small (see serving size for potato chips – who eats that little?) and the product actually contains trans fats.

Low carb, no added sugar or fruit-flavored refer to carbs and tend to be super misleading. With the increased awareness people build regarding simple carbs excess, there’s no wonder big food companies try to lure us to buy products that are not necessarily healthy.

Low carb means that the amount of carbohydrate in a product falls in the low range, but it says nothing about whether or not the food in question is highly processed or does contain non-caloric sweeteners to substitute for the low carb content (it usually does).

No added sugar means that sugar was not added to the product, but since this applies to foods that are naturally high in sugar (like dry fruits for example) you should not assume that the food in question IS low carb. Also, since the food industry uses a huge variety of sugar-alternatives, you may be surprised to find out that one product may indeed not contain added sugar, but might contain molasses or agave syrup, which is pretty much the same thing – simple, refined sugars.

Fruit-flavored is another super misleading food claim, that says nothing about the ingredient quality. Fruit-flavored usually means that a bunch of chemicals that taste like fruit are added to the product, without any actual fruit addition.

These are just a few of the food claims that can lure you into buying foods that look like being a good choice, without actually being one. So don’t let yourself be fooled by the food industry, educate yourself to avoid these nutritional traps!

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