Thinking that phrases like, “sugar free” and “fat free” sound a little too good to be true? Then you’re ahead of the vast consumer curve out there. Food companies and marketing execs the world over take note of trends—that’s their job—and as people have turned in the last decade or so toward high-protein, fat-free, sugar-free, no-sugar-added, low-carb foods, more and more options have become available for purchase. But are those products all that they seem? Thankfully, consumers have taken a turn toward the healthy side of street, but buzzwords and nutrition don’t always go hand in hand.
Take the term “all natural,” for example. Are you thinking this means that your chips were fresh potatoes, cut up and dropped into a vat of pure vegetable oil (or other oil), and fried, cooled and packed off to you without so much as a preservative to tarnish their “all natural” state? Think again. These days, “all natural” can mean all sorts of things because the FDA hasn’t yet come up with a hard and fast rule on what exactly “all natural” should mean. It doesn’t seem like such a hard question, does it? Apparently, it is because today “all natural” can mean that your food still has preservatives and genetically modified ingredients in it. Want to stay away from some of those things? Read the labels and stay away from foods that stray from whole ingredients that you readily recognize.
Another term that seems to be applied fairly liberally these days is “zero trans fats.” One would think that zero still means nothing, but apparently today zero can equal amounts like 0.5%, which may be a small number but is still greater than zero. Lots of foods have the words “zero trans fats” stamped right on the front for all the world to see, but they still slip some trans fat in there and call their product(s) “trans fat free” (unless you look closely at the nutrition information). Sure, you’re still getting a lot less fat than a Super Value Meal at McDonald’s, but over time, those trans fats can build up and cause health problems, like high cholesterol.
If you’re thinking that “high protein” and “low carb” are the key words for any food you want to eat, than don’t go gently into that ingredient list. Take a long look for words like “soy protein isolate,” for example. Sure, soy is high in protein, but you’d do better to get your protein from edamame rather than the manipulated and processed form available in “high protein” packaged foods. Try chicken, lean beef, fish, quinoa, or beans to get a pure source of protein. And who says sky-high levels of protein are good for you, anyway? Too much protein can kick your kidneys into hyper-space. Carbs are not demons, they are part of a healthy, balanced diet, and when you eat “low-carb” processed foods, you’re getting artificial sweeteners and processed sources of fiber which can never compare nutritionally to the pure fiber of bananas, oatmeal and raspberries (to name just a few sources).
“I do not think that means what you think it means,” says Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. He may have been referring to the continued misuse of the word “inconceivable,” but his words should be at the forefront of your mind when it comes to food labeling. Truth in advertising very often doesn’t apply to processed, packaged foods. Look at all of the lawsuits against food companies, if you don’t believe us. At Brown Bag, we believe in healthy, fresh food, made from scratch and sourced locally whenever possible. If you are what you eat, don’t you want to be the best and most healthful food you can be?