Misleading Ingredient Labels: How Food Companies Deceive You

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Misleading Ingredient Labels

In 1973, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) began mandating that food manufacturers place nutrition labels on their products. Now, almost 50 years later, you can look at the label on a jar of peanut butter, a bag of cookies, or a loaf of bread and learn about their nutritional content. This includes ingredients such as cholesterol, sodium, fat, and sugar. However, if a product contains unhealthy or even dangerous ingredients, the manufacturer may manipulate the labeling so that the customer believes the food is harmless.

Deciphering these labels can be confusing. It’s challenging to understand what is healthy and what isn’t. Check out this list of 10 of the most misleading ingredient labels so that you can recognize them and choose a healthier alternative.

1. Changing the Names of Ingredients

“Yeast additive” is actually a harmful flavor enhancer called MSG (monosodium glutamate). “Isinglass,” which sounds like a flower from The Sound of Music, is really a clarifying substance for wine and beer extracted from fish bladders. “Barley malt” is sugar. And the pleasantly named “carmine” food dye? It’s really crushed bugs called cochineal beetles. Manufacturers put a pretty face on these ingredients so that consumers won’t be scared to buy their products.

2. Zero Trans Fat

Just because a label says that a product contains zero trans fat doesn’t make it so. It’s still legal for foods to contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. So if you eat several servings, you’ll still be consuming a substantial amount of trans fat. Manufacturers also sneak trans fats into their products in the form of shortening and hydrogenated oils.

3. Free Range Chicken

Yes, these chickens are allowed to freely roam outdoors. However, there are no requirements as to how long they’re outside, how often, or if it’s quality time. Free range simply means that they have some contact with the outdoors.

4. Maple Syrup

That syrup you’re slathering on your pancakes and waffles isn’t the genuine maple syrup tapped from a genuine tree. It’s actually a witch’s brew of artificial flavors, artificial colors, and high-fructose corn syrup. These ingredients could trigger numerous serious health conditions. Manufacturers count on consumers overlooking the ingredients label before buying maple syrup.

5. Whole Grain Wheat Bread

Don’t take a loaf of bread at face value if it’s touted as whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat. When a bread label only lists enriched flour, wheat flour, bran, and wheat germ, put it back on the shelf. The ingredients on the label of real whole grain should include “whole grain,” (and the name of the grain), “whole wheat,” or “whole” (and the name of another grain).

Also, be wary of the loaf’s color. A darker bread isn’t necessarily healthier. Brown bread, unless it’s produced with whole grains, is simply caramel-colored, extremely refined, unhealthy white bread.

6. Lightly Sweetened

These two words together could be a dieter’s idea of heaven. However, there’s trouble in paradise. Although the FDA has strict definitions for “no added sugar” and “reduced sugar,” it doesn’t have any for “lightly sweetened.” Manufacturers wanted to market their sugar-laden products with a healthier sounding, misleading name that sidestepped the FDA, so they concocted “lightly sweetened.”

7. Light or Lite

You may think that “light” means fewer calories, but without explicitly saying so, the manufacturer can be referring to the flavor. So, if a product’s label says “light,” it may still be chock-full of calories. In order to qualify as “light,” a food must only contain less fat than its original version or of a similar product. This means that a manufacturer may eliminate a few grams of fat and compensate for the diminished flavor by boosting its sugar content.

8. Made with Real Fruit or Real Fruit Juice

Manufacturers can easily twist the FDA’s vague rules about real fruit and real fruit juice to their advantage. The organization classifies anything containing a minuscule amount of these substances as made from real fruit. Astonishingly, the fruit listed on the label doesn’t even have to be the fruit in the product. That pomegranate-flavored juice you’re sipping may actually be made from strawberries.

9. Pesticide-Free

The FDA has no regulation for making this claim. Yet, they allow pesticide residues to be present. So, companies can freely toss around pesticide-free buzzwords, making consumers believe that the foods are untainted by chemicals.

10. Fat-Free

Watch out for this one. Fat-free foods may sound like miracle foods, but what they lack in fat, they more than make up for in sugar. As a matter of fact, they may contain as many calories as their full-fat counterparts. Conversely, products promoted as sugar-free could be crammed with fat.

Unfortunately, many food production companies are more interested in making a profit than protecting consumers’ health. Because of this, they conceal detrimental ingredients behind appetizing, innocent-sounding descriptions. Beware of the 10 food labels above so you can make safer choices during your next shopping trip and avoid those misleading ingredient labels.


Jamie Wilkinson

Hey! My name is Jamie and welcome to Surviving the Day. I'm a jack of all trades but master of none. I love learning new things and living a healthy lifestyle. Hopefully, you'll find some of the information I share useful to you and your family. Feel free to drop me a line and I'll be sure to respond!

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