Have you heard about the lawsuit over Cheerios Protein? General Mills is being sued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest because Cheerios Protein doesn’t actually contain as much protein as the front of the package claims. Not to mention, when you eat cheerios Protein you also get a lot more sugar and calories. Sometimes we are tempted to buy a product just based on that front of the box health claim, but often times those claims are misleading. Here are five food labels you should think twice about.
1. Protein. We are a nation obsessed with protein. I also bought that box of Cheerios Protein because I figured, hey, Cheerios are good, Cheerios with a little more protein must be better, right? Wrong! The problem is that when foods have protein added to them they don’t taste good. And no one wants to eat bad tasting food, no matter what health claim it has. Enter our lovely friend’s sugar and salt. In order to mask that yucky synthetic protein taste, General Mills adds sugar, and lots of it. I’m talking 17 grams of sugar versus one (in original Cheerios). I’m not trying to hate on General Mills, I actually love cereal. I’m simply saying that you shouldn’t buy a product just because it is high in protein (because it is likely high in other things too).
2. Clean-Eating. Health nuts love to eat “clean.” They also love to talk about clean eating and post pictures on Instagram of their #cleaneating #paleo meals. While I do appreciate healthy eating, I do not appreciate calling your food clean. Your kitchen counter should be clean, not your food. Sally at Real Mom Nutrition understands exactly how I feel about this subject. Check out her post “Why I don’t Love the Term Clean Eating.”
3. Hormone-Free. If you see the label hormone-free on chicken you are being tricked. All chicken in the United States is free of added hormones (of course, chickens produce their own hormones in a similar way as humans). Additive hormones are banned by the FDA in poultry and have been for the last fifty years. Yes chickens are far bigger than they were 50 years ago but this is primarily due to selective breeding (1).
4. Natural. I have written about the problem with the natural label before, and I will probably write about it again. There is no standard definition of what natural is or isn’t. To me, an apple picked off of a tree is natural, but to others, grape flavored aspartame water is natural. You decide. But I implore you, do not let the front of the package decide for you.
5. Sugar-free. If something is labeled as sugar-free they likely are not deceiving you. The problem is sugar-free products are usually heavy in artificial sweeteners. There is a lot of mixed research on artificial sweeteners (2). Some studies claim they can be an effective weight loss aid, while many conclude the exact opposite. My take on artificial sweeteners is proceed with caution. It is important to remember that just because something is labeled sugar-free does not give you the green light for an all-out binge.
What do you look for on the label? Have you been fooled by any of these products or claims? I would love to hear from you!