Empty Promises: Feeling misled by labels?

Empty Promises: Feeling misled by labels?

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What exactly are you getting in your 100 percent beef burgers, bottle of juice or "light" spread? It's hard to be sure. Screaming for your attention on most packaging are ingredient list, panels listing calories, fat and other nutritional information, and claims like “low fat” and “heart healthy”. While government guidelines regulate what manufacturers can say on packaging, the laws often allow ambiguous and, in some cases, downright misleading labels and claims.

So how can you know if the loaf of multigrain bread you're holding is worth your cash and calories? Here's how to make some sense of some of the most frequently used (and often abused) labeling jargon.

Multigrain Bread:

You think pure, unrefined, whole-wheat goodness.

What it really means:

Your loaf contains up to twelve different grains, such as oats, cracked wheat, buckwheat, barley and flax. But that does not mean it contains the “whole” grain, which is what you should be aiming for. Whole Grains include the whole seed, which is the germ, the bran and the endosperm sections, proving fiber, B vitamins, iron and zinc for controlled blood sugar and energy.

Get Smart:

Check the labels and look for the first, most plentiful ingredient. This is sometimes “enriched wheat flour” which, despite how good it sounds, means a lot of good stuff has been refined out of it. Watch the salt, too. More than 80% of our salt intake is hidden in processed foods, and breads is the single biggest culprit contributing up to a quarter of our average intake.


“Organic Salmon”:

You think pure as the Scottish lochs it frolicked in.

What it really means:

Organic farmed-salmon is merely a slightly less intensely farmed fish, and its contaminate levels are no lower than other farmed salmon. "The problem is that most organic farming revolves around soil and of course, it gets a bit more difficult with fish. It's about process rather than a product, and defining and controlling that process in water is absolutely problematic," says Cathy Collins, Chief Dietician at St George's hospital, London.

Get Smart:

“Firstly, all salmon is undoubtedly good for you. However, being confined means farmed raised salmon do not get the exercise of its wild brethren, making it around four times fatter. Also, it's pink because its fed artificial coloring, such as canthaxanthin, which has been linked to eye, defects in humans,” Collins says. “You're better off choosing wild, line caught salmon, but if money's an issue, the health benefits of eating farm-reared salmon - organic or not- far outweigh any health risk.”


“Light” Cream Cheese:

You think a low fat healthy form of the indulgent version.

What it really means:

Less fat than the regular version, but still 16 or more percent fat, over half of which is saturates. “Food branded 'light' or 'lite' can contain 7 times more fat than foods branded 'low fat,' which can to be under 3 percent fat according to the Food Standards Agency,” says Amanda Ursell, author of What Are You Really Eating? “Even Philadelphia Extra light has five percent fat.” a Consumer Association study found that foods with 'light' or 'lite' in the name varied from 4 to 22 percent fat.

Get Smart:

As well as looking at the overall fat content on the back, look at the breakdowns of those fats. It's recommended you get between 25 and 30 per cent of your daily energy from fats, but make sure you consume no more than 20g of artery-clogging fats a day or saturated fats.


Farm Fresh Eggs:

You think happy chickens wandering free laying eggs.

What it really means:

Your eggs are almost certainly from battery chickens. “Phrases like 'farm fresh' and 'country eggs' have no legal definition and are pretty much meaningless,” says Urrsell. 'Barn' eggs; however must come from chickens that have freer movement- nine birds per square meter- albeit inside a barn. Only 'free-range chickens must have continuous daytime access to open spaces, with no more than 2,500 per hectare (four per square meter). Organic eggs must come from hens kept to free-range standards on organic land and fed only organic feed.

Get Smart:

Hens that are fed more vegetables matter will produce darker colored eggs, rich in carotenoids, while those fed a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids (from flax) will produce eggs with higher levels of the omega-3 alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Just one egg provides 75% of your recommended daily allowance of omega-3s.


100% Beef Burgers:

You think patty shaped lean, minced rump.

What it really means:

While this does actually mean your burger contains some actual beef, it's often from slightly less appealing cuts then we are led to believe. "Burgers are potentially a fantastic source protein, iron and zinc, but it's the fat and salt content you really have to keep on eye on," says nutritionist Juliette Kellow. A recent study by the Food Commission, a charity that challenges the food industry and the government over health issues related to manufactured food, found that frozen burgers sold in major supermarket chains can contain more than 40% fat.

Getting Smarter:

Scrutinize the back of that pack. "Many burgers contain up to 40% non-meat fillers, such as water, rice or soya as well as pork rind, fat and cheap chicken. All of which have been listed in the ingredients," says Kellow. And even if it is 100% beef, make sure it contains 20% or less fat.