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Label Lies
How Food Companies Twist the Truth for Profit

Having No HFCS Does NOT Make This Healthy!

When you're shopping for packaged food, how do you decide which of those 40,000 items in the supermarket are good for you?

Remember this simple rule. The front of the package is used for MARKETING. To get the real story, you have to read the nutrition label and sometimes the ingredient list.

Believing what you see on the front of a box is like trusting the cigarette companies when they said nicotine wasn't addictive. Their job is to sell you something, not worry about what it might do to your body.

Here are four sneaky ways food companies use the front of the package to trick you into buying unhealthy food.

1. No Benefit ingredient swapping.

Pick up a bottle of Log Cabin Original Syrup and right across the top it says, "Now! NO High Fructose Corn Syrup!" All they did was replace one sugar (high fructose corn syrup) with another.

The problem is 1/4 cup still has 33 grams of sugar in it. The average American should limit what they eat to between 45 and 60 grams of sugar a day. Eat some Log Cabin syrup and you've already eaten more than half your daily allowance.

Snack foods like peanuts have started using this trick. Instead of regular salt, many cans now advertise they're made with "sea salt." It sounds good until you realize there are only two differences between traditional salt and sea salt. Those differences are the shape of the crystals and the level of cleaning or "processing" the salt goes through. Both have exactly the same levels of sodium.

If you're trying to eat less salt, changing from one type to another won't do you a bit of good.

Sometimes swapping out ingredients is healthy, like when you replace white bread with 100% whole wheat because you get the extra fiber. But exchanging one type of sugar for another or one type of salt for another doesn't make it any healthier. It just lets the food company PRETEND it's better for you on the front of the package.

2. Selling "Organic" as the better choice.

Del Monte Beans

If you had two products that were nutritionally the same, buying the one made organically is generally better for the planet. But organic on the label doesn't guarantee it's healthier for YOU.

For example, Del Monte sells a can of cut green beans that's labeled organic. Compare it side-by-side to their regular can of fresh-cut green beans and the nutrition labels are identical. There's just one problem. Both cans have 1,365 milligrams of sodium in them. The average American is supposed to eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium in an entire day. That can of healthy-sounding organic beans has more than half your daily supply of salt!

Look a little longer and you'll also find Del Monte sells a can of cut green beans with "No Salt Added." That can has only 35 milligrams of sodium in it and is a far healthier choice, even though it's not the one labeled organic.

3. Claiming "Sugar-Free" or "Fat-Free" when it's not.

Sugar Free Cool Whip There's a giant loophole in the law that allows products to claim things that simply aren't true. Kraft sells a container of Sugar-Free Cool Whip. If you're trying to cut down on sugar, it looks like a great option...until you read the label. The first ingredient is water, the second is a type of sugar called corn syrup. An 8 oz. container of "sugar-free" Cool Whip can actually have up to 12.5 grams of sugar.

The way the law is written, if a serving size has less than half a gram of sugar or fat in it, they can claim to be "free" of that ingredient.

Smart Balance Milk Some products don't even bother trying to stay within the legal boundaries. Smart Balance says right on the front of the package, "Fat-Free Milk." But if you read the nutrition label, it says there are 1.5 grams of fat per serving.

You must check to make sure sugar and fat aren't hiding in the nutrition label or in the ingredient list even when a product claims to be "free."

4. Pretend Ingredients used on the front of the package only.

Krusteaz Blueberry To save money, some companies don't even use the foods they show on the package. A clever use of this deception is a box of Krusteaz Blueberry Pancake Mix.

It's a beautiful blue box with the word Blueberry in brilliant white type the same size as the brand name. In the middle of the title is a picture of seven plump blueberries. There's even a tag near the bottom of the box that proclaims, "Bursting with Blueberry Flavor."

So how many blueberries do you get in a box?

None. Look closely and you'll notice skinny letters in blue, on a blue background that says "ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED." The "blueberries" in that Krusteaz box are actually "dextrose, fractional palm kernel oil, enriched bleached flour, citric acid, cellulose gum, maltodextrin, artificial flavor, red 40, blue 1 and blue 2." YUMMY! I guess a picture of cellulose gum being injected with blue 1 and 2 doesn't look as good as fresh blueberries.

Just because there's a picture on the front, doesn't mean the food is in the box. Read the label to make sure you aren't being fooled.

If you'd like more tips like these, watch our Food Label Secrets videos online.

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Updated 2/23/2015