What if the foods you've started eating to lose weight aren't any healthier than the ones you've stopped eating? What if there's more fat than you've been led to believe? Or less fat, but it's been replaced with sugar? What if there are more calories than the label says?
Although we treat nutrition labels as fact, in the U.S. a nutrition label must be off by more than 20 percent to be in violation of federal law. This means that an item labeled 100 calories can legally contain anywhere between 80 and 120 calories. So when eating packaged foods, consider the label to be giving only ballpark figures.
The text we read on food packaging can be very misleading, too. Take "no added sugar" as an example. It's going to catch your eye and make you think the product is sugar free. In fact, "sugar free" can only appear on products containing less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving. But "no added sugar" frequently appears on products naturally high in sugars -- and calories.
Claims such as "fat-free" and "0 grams trans fats" can also be misleading. Just as we saw that products labeled "sugar free" can actually contain sugar, the same is true for fats. The only way to be sure of what a product contains is to read the list of ingredients. And remember that the ingredients are listed in order by weight, from most to least.
Statements such as "90% fat free" seem to be designed to deceive. Logically, you would think that out of 100 calories of such a product, only 10 of them would come from fat. But the trick is that the statement is based on weight, not calories. If a "90% fat free" food weighs 100 grams, 10 grams or 90 calories (1 gram of fat equals 9 calories) will come from fat.
Because package labeling (advertising, really) can be so misleading, you need to learn to look at the nutrition facts label and list of ingredients to be sure of what you are getting. It's worth a few extra minutes to guard your health, and your waistline.
Megan Porter, RD