Monday, December 17, 2007

How to Read a Food Label

Diet and nutrition experts are the first to recommend reading the labels on food items. But they don't tell you what to read, and what not to. Here's a great example of how the marketing content on a food label can distort the truth about a product.

See? Just another friggin' cookie with refined white flour and natural fats and sweeteners in place of hydrogenated oils and HFCS. Here are some easy instructions to help you avoid being deceived.

Step 1: Read only the ingredient list and nutrition information.
Step 2: Pay close attention to the serving size.
Step 3: Ignore all the b.s. on the label

The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists a few similar "food frauds" on their site. One example mentioned is from a Kellogg's Special K Label:

"[Special K Fruit and Yogurt cereal] combines the crunch of whole grain goodness, the smooth creaminess of yogurt and the sweet taste of berries.”

The cereal contains none or nearly none of these items. However, it is LEGAL for them to place such claims because of the way it is worded:

  • crunch of wholegrain goodness not actual content of wholegrain
  • creaminess of yogurt, but not actual yogurt
  • taste of berries, not actual berries.
See how that works? Deceptive, and yet legal. And totally undetectable in your five seconds to view the label on a hurried shopping trip.

The food industry, like so many other entities (Bush administration for example) are counting on you just scanning the great big print and making an incorrect, if implied assumption.

You can read the list of the worst of these nutritional innuendos at the CSPI site.


mpg said...

I'm with you - it takes me so long to get through the cereal aisle these days that I have to leave extra time.

The worst experience I ever had with a label was dried blueberries from Costco. I assumed that they were just dried fruit. Later, when I looked at the lable, they contained corn syrup AND hfcs. Unreal.

Shaping Youth said...

Love this visual depiction...a picture is worth a thousand words.

As one who has written 'why to buys' and branded product line extensions up the gump stump, (I specialized in 'name generation' and new product development for non-food items primarily) I always advise consumers to bypass the packaging snipes and catchy names to flip straight to the side of the box, ESPECIALLY with food marketing that sounds like it has 'healthy origins.'

Expat Chef, this is exactly how we demo label lingo to kids in our hands-on counter-marketing games at Shaping Youth, by doing an ingredient/additive scavenger hunt, reinforced in 'beverage Bingo' gameshow style...

"Who has any Red 2? yellow 6? HFCS?"--(any wrappers from lunch recess will work impromptu, it's great for counter-marketing during rainy day recess)

Or, stage it at home when your kids are beggin' for junk that their peers have...flaming hot cheetos come to mind, though your commenter above (mpg) makes a good point with those 'dried blueberries' being a classic 'healthy foods that aren't' positioning...(our next pilot study!)

We also use the pbs kids interactive site where children get to design cereal boxes online to learn label literacy too, per this piece I wrote on "Teaching Kids Media Literacy & Label Lingo"

Anyway, thanks for the great post and reinforcement of the messages that we point out time and again in our counter-marketing sessions.

p.s. Another effective one that plays to your "right to know" headline (on the eat local blog) is showing kids blue Powerade and blue Windex, exact same color...

Pour it in a clear cup and offer a quickly blurt out, "I'm not gonna put THAT in my body, it could be poison! How do I know what it is???"

Ahhhhh...Precisely, my dears. Precisely... ;-)

Gotta love those 'aha' moments!

katiez said...

The last time I was in the U.S. I picked up a Snickers bar at a gas station. I check the calorie count (as I always do as a deterrent) Didn't seem too bad, 250(?) calories per serving. THEN I saw that there were 4, count'em, FOUR servings in the candy bar. 4 servings! In ONE candy bar!
I'm still astounded....

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