By KAITLYN ANDREWS and ANDREA CROSBY
You that read wrong. What else are you missing when you don’t read labels?
Reading labels is an “… absolute necessity,” said Julie Beaver, manager of Healthwise in Welland. “People always underestimate how much sugar and carbs they eat. They always overestimate how much fiber and protein they eat.”
“You become more consciously aware of what you’re eating and you become more aware of what’s in your food.”
There are several claims a majority of companies might use to “fool” consumers into thinking a product is nutritious: natural, no sugar added, low or zero fat, and made with real fruit.
Foods that are 100 per cent natural are rarely seen on the shelves. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there has been no objection “to use the term if the food does not contain added colour, artificial flavours, or synthetic substances.” However, these so-called “natural” foods still hold the possibility of containing alternatively processed sweeteners, flavours, additives and preservatives.
Foods labeled “no sugar added” usually do not mean the product is completely sugar free, it means the company itself did not add sugar to the recipe.
“We eat too much sugar, even though we always assume we’re not,” said Beaver.
This is when consumers need to check the label to see just how much sugar is in the product to begin with, as the sugar may be coming from fruit sources or other concentrates.
Beaver also warns people to be wary of your carbohydrate intake. “I think what some people don’t understand is that those carbohydrate grams are going to convert to sugar. So if you’re looking at a piece of bread or pastry that looks lower in sugar but has a net carbohydrate of 45g per serving, you’re going to be converting that into pure sugar in your bloodstream eventually.”
“Simple carbohydrates are becoming sugar in our bloodstream. Complex carbohydrates like fruit and vegetables are the ones we want to have an abundance of in our diet.”
When a manufacturer says its product has low or zero fat, it may not contain as much or any fat at all. In order to keep the flavour of the product, other ingredients are added, and, in some cases, it is usually more sugar.
“When you take something like fat out, you have to compensate with another ingredient,” said Joanna Cielen, nutrition professor at Niagara College.
Low fat or no fat does not necessarily mean it’s healthier. As a consumer, it is best to eat foods with full fat to ensure no extra preservatives or sugars are added. Consumers should not fear fat as it’s an important factor in the maintenance of an overall healthy body, but be aware of the right kinds of fat their body needs, like Omega fats, and avoid or eat little of saturated and trans fats.
The Government of Canada’s site, healthycanadians.gc.ca, states, “Keep in mind, because nutrient claims are optional and only highlight one nutrient, you still need to refer to the Nutrition Facts table to make food choices that are better for you.”
When reading food labels with the claim “made with real fruit”, you should check the ingredients for fructose, corn syrup and sugar, as companies tend to not use real fruit but rather processed because it is less expensive to manufacture.
“In my opinion, consumers need to research beyond marketing and label claims that the company makes,” said Dr. Kenneth Groves of Inspire Health in Niagara Falls. “They need to question the integrity and quality of food they’re putting into their bodies and it’s extremely unfortunate for consumers to be so deceived by inaccurate marketing claims.”