Health MATTERS – packaging claims and misdemeanours

Are grocery labels too promising?

label4You can hardly grocery shop without being bombarded by products promising you more vitamins, more fiber, more nutrients, more everything. Almost half of all new items that make their way to store shelves carry at least one health claim on their packaging. Below is a listing of reality-check lingo so you know exactly what you’re getting from your favourite foods.

Claim: with Omega-3s

Truth: don’t get too excited as heart-healthy omega-3s get top billing on everything from peanut butter to milk and breads.  Some products contain only 32 milligrams of the healthy fat per serving – one tenth the amount in a half ounce of salmon.  You’re better off following the American Heart Association’s guidelines, which recommend eating at least two weekly servings (3.5 ounces cooked) of fatty fish like salmon or trout to get the most omega-3s in your diet.

Claim: Good source of Antioxidants

Truth: Packaged foods need to contain only 10 percent of your daily intake of antioxidants, like vitamin A, C, and E, to be considered a “good source,” according to the Food and Drug Aministration.  Instead, consume a full spectrum of antioxidants from natural sources like fruits and vegetables.  One small carrot, for example, provides more than twice the amount of Vitamin A than a full serving of one antioxidant-enriched cereal does. Aim for four servings of fresh fruits and five servings of veggies per day – the more colourful they are, the higher the antioxidant levels.

 Claim: High in Fiber

Truth: Some loaves of bread, energy bars, and even waffles can deliver up to 35 percent of your daily fiber requirement per serving, but much of the added fiber can be man-made or extracted from plants.  And while studies have shown that a high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of heart disease, the research applies to naturally occurring fiber.  To meet your daily needs, stick to natural sources like bran, oats, berries, and broccoli.

 Claim: Made with Whole Grainslabel2

Truth: Crackers, breads, and cereals that carry this promise must offer some whole grains (higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their refined counterparts), but companies aren’t obligated to disclose the actual amount, and there’s no required minimum.  In fact, one popular brand of “whole-wheat” crackers contains a measly five grams of whole grains per serving – 1/16 of your recommended daily intake.  Avoid confusion in the bread aisle by choosing foods that say they’re “100 percent whole grain” – that label ensures that the product contains no refined flours.label3

Source: Johannah Sakimura for “O”