Updated April 27th, 2024 at 07:50 IST

The Truth About 'Healthy' Food Labels: How to Spot Misleading Claims?

It's easy to get caught up in the attractive health claims displayed on the front of food packages. These claims are strategically placed to catch the eye.

Packaged foods | Image: Freepik
Advertisement

In today's health-conscious world, the maze of food labels has become a common struggle for consumers globally. While packaging may showcase enticing health claims, these assertions are not always straightforward. Many food manufacturers deploy clever marketing tactics that can mislead consumers into purchasing products that are less healthy than advertised.

Understanding food labelling is essential as these regulations can be intricate and confusing. This guide aims to empower consumers to make informed choices by shedding light on common misleading practices and offering tips on how to truly assess the healthiness of a product.

Advertisement

Look beyond the front-label claims

It's easy to get caught up in the attractive health claims displayed on the front of food packages. These claims are strategically placed to catch the eye and make the product appear healthier. Research indicates that products with health claims on their front labels are often perceived as healthier than similar products without such claims, thus influencing shopper decisions.

Advertisement

However, these front-of-package claims may not always hold up under scrutiny. For instance, products like certain high-sugar cereals may claim to be made with whole grains, yet they often contain large amounts of sugar and minimal whole grains. This disconnect between the packaging claims and the actual nutritional content can mislead even the most vigilant shoppers.

Deciphering the ingredients list

A more reliable method for assessing a product’s healthiness is to study its ingredients list, which is ordered by quantity from highest to lowest. A good rule of thumb is to examine the first three ingredients. If these include refined grains, sugars, or hydrogenated oils, the product likely leans towards being unhealthy. Conversely, a product whose top ingredients are whole foods is generally a better option. Additionally, a lengthy ingredient list usually indicates a high level of processing.

Image credit: Unsplash
Image credit: Unsplash

Be wary of serving sizes

Another area where consumers can be misled is serving sizes. Nutrition labels show the number of calories and nutrients per serving, but these servings are often much smaller than what a typical person might consume. For example, the listed serving size might represent only a fraction of a package that a person would reasonably eat in one sitting, thereby understating the amount of calories and sugar.

Image  credit: Unsplash
Image  credit: Unsplash

Understanding common misleading claims

When it comes to health claims, here are a few common terms that can be misleading:

Light: These products may have reduced calories or fat but could be watered down or have added sugars.

Advertisement

Multigrain: This implies the inclusion of multiple types of grains, yet these are often refined rather than whole grains.

Natural: This term merely indicates that at some point, the product involved a natural source, which doesn't necessarily relate to the final product's health value.

Advertisement

Organic: While organic foods must meet certain production standards, organic status alone does not imply a product is healthy — organic sugar is still sugar.

No added sugar: Products can naturally be high in sugar; the absence of added sugars does not automatically confer health benefits, and unhealthy sugar substitutes might be used instead

Advertisement

Published April 26th, 2024 at 22:46 IST