Food Labels - Friends or Foes?

Author: Christy Dean | 08 Oct 2011

Travel to the grocery store and it seems you are bombarded with labels such as: “Good Source of Vitamin C”, “Low glycemic index”, or my personal favorite “Made with natural ingredients”. It appears as though everything is good for you. Nowadays with health being such a dire concern, major food industry leaders have found misleading ways to cash in on the goldrush. Since there has been such a focus over the past few years on maintaining weight and staving off illness, many people are gradually trying to change their daily lifestyles.

A theory I like to carry in my back pocket (along with my grocery list), is if it’s not from the actual food source it’s derived from, it’s probably just a bunch of marketing hoo-hah. For instance, a package of cereal may state it’s made with “100% real fruit”, but in actuality it’s preserved with so much sugar that there is no nutritional value left. The other trick here is that some cereal ingredients do not even have to be listed. So even upon reading the label, still be wary. You may be better off having the real thing: orange, strawberries, blueberries. Smoothies are excellent options if you are not into eating the fruit raw.

A second issue with nutritional labeling is something known as the glycemic index. For those who are unfamiliar, the glycemic index is used to measure carbohydrates effects on blood sugar levels. It’s a process that has been used for decades, especially for those with diabetes. Some packaged foods appear to be convenient to someone following the index by listing how low or how high it is. While this may be true as it’s listed on the box, what it fails to tell you is that it varies with what else you eat it with. For example, a granola bar that has a glycemic index of 30 is okay to eat solely by itself. However, if you are pairing that bar with a piece of fruit or any other kind of food, the glycemic index will change. If you choose to abide by the glycemic index, it’s best to have a legitimate source, like a book or dietician, to verify at each meal.

Another alarming issue with mass market food labeling is the ease of wording when it comes to “natural” products. “Made with natural ingredients” may provide comfort to a consumer when browsing for healthier alternatives, but is there really truth there? For some packaged foods, this may mean the red dye was obtained from a beetle, qualifying it as all natural! So, that may actually be the only “natural ingredient” within the food, thus allowing the company to label as such. Instead, carefully look over all label ingredients. A good rule of thumb is if you cannot pronounce the ingredient, then toss it.

By carefully examining the foods we purchase, a step in the right direction is able to be made. Remember, just because something is labeled as “nutritious” does not mean it’s your food friend. Happy food sleuthing!


Paul said on: 11th October 2011, 7:47am

Hey thanks for the article - it is so easy to be 'lulled' into trusting advertising! It's great you're making everyone more aware. Same goes with the idea it's "Fresh" - I wonder just how many days in a coolroom that actually means.... :)