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What the Healthy Diet Claims on Packaged Food Really Mean

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If you’ve been to the grocery store lately – which I’m guessing most of us have – you’ll have noticed all sorts of health claims on packaged foods trying to convince you why the product is great for you and what kind of value It adds to your healthy diet.

In some cases, the information is very useful and valid. But sometimes, food packaging claims can feel like a magician is trying to get us to look the other way while performing the trick with the other hand. When it comes to healthy eating, there are definitely some claims we should all be wary of. The four big culprits are:

  1. Sugar-free or with no added sugar
  2. Low-fat or fat-free
  3. Low Sodium
  4. Source of essential vitamins and/or minerals
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Well, in some cases, the product’s bold claims about health benefits are true, but most major food companies don’t fall into that category. This is how they manage to print these healthy eating claims without getting caught.

Sugar-free or with no added sugar

When they are told something is sugar-free or that no sugar has been added to the product, what they really mean is that they added artificial sugar instead. Artificial sugars require their own discussion, according to Food Police, and since these aren’t considered real sugars, manufacturers are allowed to tell you their product doesn’t contain any added sugar.

To combat these tactics and stay in control of your healthy eating, look for anything ending in “ose” — like glucose, fructose, or sucralose — for your sugar levels. Also, saccharin, glucine, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium are all artificial culprits.

Low-fat or fat-free

With most North Americans and much of the world currently in a low-fat craze, you’re likely to see more than most other claims about low-fat and non-fat foods that claim to be part of a healthy diet. Since fat is one of the six essential nutrients our bodies need, I have no idea why we should stop eating it. Just like anything, you want to eat the good fats. You can find many of these fats in avocado, almonds, salmon or tuna, as well as certain nut butters. Stick to these and you’ll have a hard time going wrong.

Something I would challenge you to do the next time you buy a fat-free or low-fat product is to ask yourself, “If you took out something you needed, what did you put back in instead?”

Low Sodium

I personally have no problem reducing the amount of salt consumed, but try to keep in mind that when something has been removed from the food, it usually means they are putting a chemical compound in the place of what was removed. Children have a maximum recommended daily dose of 1500 mg per day, and adults can take up to 2300 mg per day without risking too much. If you’re trying to reduce your sodium intake for a healthier diet, consider making your own salad dressings and checking the sodium content per serving on food labels before you buy them to make sure it’s not outrageous.

Source of essential vitamins and/or minerals

Well, in my opinion, there’s usually nothing wrong with the added vitamins or minerals, but it usually boils down to putting those in the food to distract you from what’s wrong with it. If it’s a juice loaded with sugar, don’t let the healthy eating claims fool you.

My suggestion is to stick to whole foods. This way you can completely avoid many of these false claims and easily eat healthy without really trying. Try to shop in the outer ring of the grocery store and spend as little time in the aisles as possible, and the next time you pick up those packaged groceries, be aware of what the label is trying to distract you from.

Thanks to Maria E Schmidt

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