In an ideal world, we would only eat whole foods for optimal health. It might be common knowledge that most processed foods are not ideal for our health. These foods are often chock-full of artificial additives that can cause all sorts of negative side-effects on our body. But with such easy access to food nowadays, even the most mindful eaters among us would rely on a few packaged foods to accommodate our modern jam-packed schedules. For example, yogurt, butter, granola and shelf-stable broth provides some rare nutrients (yogurt for probiotic cultures, butter for vitamin K2) and a great convenience.
You can look at the back of a food package and identify these synthetic ingredients easily, as most are long names that you can hardly pronounce. But as consumers are becoming more health conscious than ever, food manufacturers are pushing the limits of what is considered truth and use misleading phrases to persuade you to buy their ‘healthy’ products. Obviously, the best way to avoid getting misled by these labels is to avoid processed foods altogether and opt for whole foods.
Here, we briefly explain how to read food labels, to identify the “healthy foods” that are really junk food in disguise.
1. Misleading ‘Organic’ Claims
As consumer awareness in organic products continues to rise, greedy food manufacturers are raking in profits by using false, deceptive organic labelling. To be labeled as organic, products must be certified in accordance with the requirements from the respective organic certification bodies, for example, USDA or Ecocert.
For USDA, there are 4 labelling categories for certified organic food products—100% organic, organic, made with organic and specific organic ingredients. The following information is sourced from OTA:
In Indonesia, for farms, producer groups, processors, packers, traders and importers who have met the organic standards and regulations of SNI 6729:2016, Permentan No. 64/2013 and Perka BPOM No.1/2017 certification requirements have the right to promote their achievements and market their products using the label ORGANIK Indonesia.
2. Check The Ingredient List
Ingredients are listed by the order of weight, so the first items of the list make up the bulk of the food. A common rule of thumb would be to study the first 3 ingredients, as they are the largest part of what you will be eating. If it contains refined grains, sugar, hydrogenated oils, or some hard-to-pronounce name, you should just put the product back to the shelf. Another good rule of thumb is to find products with ingredient list no longer than 2-3 lines. Lengthy lists are usually a sign that the product is highly processed and contain unnecessary additives.
You can check our post on the ingredients we avoid, but mobile apps such as Ingredio (only available on Android for now) is really convenient to quickly scan for hazardous ingredients at the store.
3. Sugar Have Different Names
It’s not always easy to spot sugar on the ingredient list, as it can show up under many different unrecognizable names. Manufacturers use tricky names to hide the sugar content of the foods.
To understand the names of sugar better, the following is sourced from Health Line:
If you spot these names at the top of the ingredient list, or found several throughout the list, you can assume that the product is high in added sugar, and should be avoided or kept to a minimum.
4. Don’t Believe the Health Claims on the Front Package
One good rule of thumb is simply to ignore the health claims displayed on the front of the packaging. Food manufacturers use misleading or downright false claims to persuade you into purchasing their ‘healthy’ products.
A good brief explanation on these claims, is sourced from Health Line:
Despite these seemingly ‘healthy’ foods, there are many products that are actually healthy, organic and natural in the market, as seen on our webstore. It is good to note that some of the healthiest food may not have health claims, because they do not need those claims to prove themselves!
5. Look at Serving Size & Calorie Count
Nutrition facts labels show how many calories and nutrients are in a single serving of the product. However, these serving sizes are usually unrealistic and much smaller than what people generally eat in one serving. Brands are legally allowed to set their serving sizes, but it is in this way that food manufacturers disguise the actual calories and sugar amount, deceiving consumers into believing that the food has fewer calories and less sugar. You have to multiply all the amounts listed with the serving size to get a picture of how many calories or sugar is in one package. You will be shocked at how easy you can exceed your daily intake of calories, sugars, simple carbohydrates and saturated fats when you indulge in that bag of chips!