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Some food labels require a hefty dose of skepticism.
Don't let fancy labels cloud your diet Food marketers can tout 'real fruit,' 'whole grain' and 'cardioprotective' labels all they want. What matters is that smart eaters seek out nutrition boxes and ingredient lists before scarfing down that bag of nachos
With nutrition top of mind for most Canadians, it seems food marketers will go to any length to convince shoppers their products are healthy.
Chances are you've seen the claims: "made with whole grains," "contains real fruit," "boosts immunity," even "cardioprotective."
Food labels are designed to catch your eye and, ultimately, move that product off the shelf and into your shopping basket.
Walk down the aisles of the grocery store and you'll see what I mean: yogurt touted to "strengthen your body's natural defences," green tea beverages that "burn calories" and - get this - bottled water that's supposed to "cleanse and restore."
Don't get me wrong. Many food labels do point to information that can help you follow a healthy diet. But some are downright misleading.
Nutrient claims such as calorie-reduced, trans-fat-free and light and low in sodium are defined and regulated by Health Canada. But for some claims made on food packages, you can't always judge a book by its cover. And for some products, their very names conjure up the notion of health when the nutrition label and ingredient list implies otherwise.
The bottom line: You need to look past the front label and read the fine print - the Nutrition Facts box and ingredient list - to get the whole story. Here are just a few examples of products that aren't quite as healthy as they appear.
LITEHOUSE CHUNKY BLEU CHEESE
There's nothing "lite" about this salad dressing (ditto for Litehouse Ranch). Serving up 150 calories per two-tablespoon serving, or 30 millilitres, this dressing won't help much to take inches off your waistline. If you want to drizzle fewer calories over your greens, opt for calorie-reduced Litehouse dressings with less than half the calories. Better yet, make your own vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for a fraction of the calories - about 50 per two tablespoons.
DARE REALFRUIT GUMMIES
It seems the only real fruit is pictured on the front of the package. After three kinds of refined sugar and gelatin, fruit puree is listed as the fifth ingredient. That explains why one serving (seven candies) delivers four teaspoons of sugar and contributes zilch to your daily requirement for fibre and vitamins A and C. Hardly what you'd expect from real fruit. For a sweet snack that's void of refined sugar - and offers vitamins, minerals and fibre - reach for a handful of dried fruit.
It's not very smart at all. A three-cup serving, or 750 millilitres, delivers 270 calories, 16 grams of fat - nearly four grams as saturated plus trans fat - and 400 milligrams of sodium, thanks to the vegetable oil and white-cheddar seasoning. (That's assuming you don't eat more than one serving.) I suppose the four grams of fibre is some consolation, but why not have plain air-popped or microwave popcorn? Three cups of air-popped popcorn provides only 93 calories, one gram of fat and two milligrams of sodium along with its four grams of fibre.
TOSTITOS MULTIGRAIN TORTILLA CHIPS
It sounds like a healthier version of deep-fried corn chips. But read the ingredient list and you'll have to look beyond the first three ingredients - corn, vegetable oil and corn starch - to find buckwheat flour, whole-oat flour and whole-wheat flour. There's more refined starch than whole grain in this snack, which is why it delivers only an additional gram of fibre per serving than regular Tostitos. If you don't see a whole grain near the top of the ingredient list, you're probably getting only a little.
COMPLIMENTS VEGETABLE LASAGNA
Don't think you're getting a medley of vegetables by eating a serving of this frozen meal. Discounting the tomatoes (a blend of tomatoes, tomato juice, salt and preservatives), the rest of the vegetables -onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms and peppers - appear far down the ingredient list. And for a vegetable-based entree, its fibre and vitamin A content aren't stellar: One serving, or a quarter tray, supplies only 8 per cent of the daily value for vitamin A and 12 per cent for fibre. A daily value of 15 per cent or more is considered a high source of nutrients; 25 per cent or more means it's an excellent source.
KELLOGG'S SPECIAL K FRUIT AND YOGURT FLAVOUR
There's never been anything special about Special K; the original version is 100-per-cent refined, not whole-grain and contains no fibre. The box states the cereal combines "smooth yogurt " and "lively berry-flavoured clusters." Flavour seems to be the operative word. Instead of berries and yogurt, this cereal contains strawberry-flavoured apple pieces and a bit of yogurt powder. My advice: Mix a whole-grain cereal with real yogurt and a handful of berries.