Friday, December 30, 2011

Make It Your Resolution: Stop Being Fooled By Labels and Other Hype

Working at a supermarket allows me to get a feel for what types of labels can really fool a customer. One of the most common mistakes I see is depicted in the photo above (this was a gift from my friend Cathy. It opens up to a pad of paper. I love it!) Here are some more tips for you, based on what I've seen at work.

"Agave Light" and "Light Olive Oil" does not have less calories or fat
The word "light" or "lite" used on labels for sugars and/or oils most often means means the product is light in color. Sometimes it could means light texture.

Multigrain, nine-grain, whatever.... isn't necessarily whole grain, and isn't necessarily the best choice
Look on the ingredient list for "whole grains", such as oats, whole wheat flour, quinoa, amaranth, etc. You want these to be close to the top of the list, which would mean they are more prevalent in the product. If they aren't listed towards the top, look for another product.

Rye bread is most often not 100% whole grain (or even 100% rye)
Many people mistakenly believe that rye bread is 100% whole grain bread. Check out the rye bread in your store's bread aisle and you will see that most rye breads have enriched wheat flour listed as the first ingredient. The rye flour is typically somewhere towards the bottom of the list. So there may be some whole grains in the bread, but it's certainly not 100% whole grain (or rye!). Don't be fooled.

"Hazelnut spread with a hint of cocoa and skim milk" isn't good for you
I won't list the name of the product, but I am willing to bet you know what I'm talking about. I can't believe how many people think this "chocolate hazelnut spread" is actually good for them. Check out the sugar on the ingredient list, it's almost one full day's worth in one tiny serving size!

Peanut butter "with no cholesterol" isn't any better than any other peanut butter
News flash! You will never find cholesterol in any peanut butter, or other nut butter for that matter. Why? Because cholesterol is only found in animal products. Don't be fooled into thinking that a peanut butter that says "no cholesterol" on the label is any better for you than others. And let's not forget, chips are cholesterol free too...are they beneficial to your health? Not necessarily.

Extra crunchy peanut butter isn't necessarily any better for you than smooth, and neither is "Natural" peanut butter
I don't know what it is about the extra "crunch" in peanut and almond butters that make people think it's better for them...perhaps it's the perception of more fiber? I don't know, but crunchy or smooth, both varieties have the same nutrition facts (if they are the same brand).

And "natural" peanut butter isn't necessarily any better for you than "unnatural" peanut butter. It could still have added sugars and fats such as palm oil (so can organic nut butters!). The best type of nut butter, in my opinion, is one that is simply the nut and perhaps a bit of salt.

Just because the label says "Dark Chocolate" doesn't necessarily mean it has the health benefits of real dark chocolate
"Dark chocolate", also called "plain chocolate" or "black chocolate", is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa. It is chocolate with zero or much less milk than milk chocolate. The U.S. has no official definition for dark chocolate but European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids.[2] <---- Wikepedia definition

So in other words, companies can call anything dark chocolate. Many companies will just darken their chocolate and call it "dark". I like to look for a percentage of cocoa, specifically 65% or more. And don't worry if you've been fooled in the past, I was consuming "Dark Chocolate unsweetened cocoa powder" for quite a long time until I read this (below).

Greek yogurt isn't always better, and all brands certainly aren't the same!
I like to recommend Greek yogurt to my clients because it's higher in protein and lower in sugar. That is....most of the time.

I was once fooled in the grocery store when I bought the Greek yogurt pictured above. It was definitely lower in sugar (most regular yogurts have at least 12 grams of sugar) but the protein was lower than most regular yogurts! I was bummed. Also, the calcium was low (I look for at least 20% DV) and there was zero vitamin D. Boo.

All margarine is not bad, and butter isn't always superior
This is a question I get quite often, "which is better, butter or margarine?". In my opinion there is no right answer. Butter is made from cream, therefore it contains cholesterol and saturated fat. Margarine is made from oil, therefore it's cholesterol free, but it does contain saturated fat. Something else that some margarines contain are trans fats, but they do not all contain them (look on the ingredient list and make sure there are zero partially hydrogenated fats). I typically say use whichever one you like best! They both contain fat and calories, and should be used in moderation, so choose base on your taste preference. And of course there are plenty of butter and margarine products out there that are lower in fat and calories, but that just requires a bit of research.

QUESTION: What was the last label or product that fooled you?
What are you doing for New Year's Eve? We still don't know, but all that matters is that I have an awesome outfit!


  1. So many things that I wish I could get across to people! Great post!

  2. you're so good at informing us! I had no idea about the dark chocolate- wow! tricky! thanks!

  3. Really insightful post!! That Greek yogurt label is surprising! 4gm protein?? Ick!
    My only small difference is....Butter is ALWAYS better in my moderation, of course!
    I love your little note pad, so cute!
    No NY plans yet...and my outfit is still yet to be determined,,but I 'm excited to see your!!!
    Happy New Year!!!!

  4. Having a stomach like I do has made me pretty good at decoding food labels- I do watch Eric get tricked often though and I feel like he is pretty smart about these kind of things... therefore clearly people who aren't are being tricked EVEN MORE often, scary!

  5. Very good points, as always!

    Have fun on New Year's Eve!!! We have no plans, and I'm pretty sure I won't stay up until midnight. I know. I'm old and boring... :)

  6. I have not been fooled recently.. but it has happened many time. I think the main gotcha was always the serving sizes.

    I think the very first time I had a shock was on a chicken pot pie (many years ago). It was just big enough for 1 person but I was shocked to see something like 500 calories per serving and this small little pie was 2 servings.

  7. This is exactly the kind of post I like to read here. I'd love to see more information on this type of thing. I think too often we are fooled by products because we don't take the time to read the labels. We should know that no cookie is healthy, but the package tells us otherwise.

  8. funny how they try to get ya! I'm not sure of the last label that fooled me, but I'm sure there's something in my pantry or fridge :) yea that hazelnut spread should only be for an occassional dessert treat, not breakfast! No new year's eve plans yet. Last year we fell asleep on the couch and probably this year too with a bike ride planned the next day in the morning. Have fun!!

  9. Serving sizes tend to sneak up on me, but my fav hidden ingredient is HFCS. I was floored to find it in a brand of bread I was used to buying. No longer buy that bread!

    NYE will be spent with friends, small, low-key party.

    Best wishes for happy, healthy and prosperous New Year

  10. this is so interesting! we're so easy to be fooled! whenever we see a claim on the label, we assume it's for our benefits! Great post Gina! You should desmystify more often! :)

    a busy weekend ahead: many gathering with friends and parties! :)

    happy new year!

  11. I had the same problem with that yogurt! I thought, low cals, but I discovered all the other yogurts and haven't gone back!

  12. Great post! These are all ones that drive me nuts. I found a healthy looking chip product in the deli section so I took it over to the diorites and compared it. For the same size serving they were practically identical in nutrition except the diorites had about 100 mg more sodium. I'm always very critical of labels. They are misleading and it sucks for the average consumer. My favorite from the other day was the chocolate chip cookies listed as all natural with no added preservatives. Really? So why were the last 3 ingredients soy lecithin, vit A and vit E (with of course 0% vit A therefore definitely not added for nutrition purposes). Happy new year Gina!

  13. Great post Gina. So true- I used to love doing grocery store tours. You've got a great job!

  14. I wish Nutella was good for you. It's just so friggin' addicting! Honestly, I don't really like it outside of eating it off a spoon (and the cookies I just posted), but that proves to be tasty enough. I can willingly stick to peanut butter though. At least it has some health benefits.

  15. I can totally be fooled especially when shopping in s rush. It's not so much the claims but ingredients that get slipped in. The Nutella example is a good one when writing something on nutella it's hard to even find their ingredients/nutrition facts on their site- a total red flag. Not so sure I'm with you on butter vrs marg but as you said that's a personal choice. Happy New year, seems like an exciting one in store for you.

  16. This is such a great post. I always love how simply you put things. My husband and I just had a discussion with my MIL over Christmas about PB and how she needs to read the ingredient label because all it needs to be is peanuts (and maybe a little salt). PB is definitely one of the health foods that isn't always healthy. So much more important to read the ingredient list rather than the labels. The labels are pure marketing, not facts.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR! LOVE the shoes!

  17. Loved this Gina...

  18. This is so informative and so true...thanks SO much for sharing all of this.

  19. Agreed on all points.. more people should read this post! Although I don't necessarily like the idea of hydrogenated oils in "unnatural" peanut butter