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Beacon Senior News

Don’t be duped by food labels

Apr 04, 2022 01:04PM ● By Wendell Fowler

In marketing, product packaging and labeling play a vital role in increasing brand visibility and communicating the product’s value to shoppers. As consumers, they help us make more informed choices about the food we buy and the best way to store it. 

Based on survey results, National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 52.5 percent consumers do not read the ingredients on food labels, and the half that do don’t necessarily understand what they’re reading. 

While food labels are the most valuable tools consumers have, they can also be misleading. Here are some tips for reading the ingredients on food and beverage labels, the truth about expiration dates, and how to identify marketing ploys. 


Ingredients list

Product ingredients are listed by quantity—from highest to lowest amount. Healthline.com states a good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, as they make up the largest part of what you're eating. 

If an ingredients list is longer than three lines, you can assume the product is likely highly processed. When in doubt, if you can’t pronounce it, denounce it!


Servings, calories and protein

The number of servings is not a recommendation of how much we should eat or drink, just the typical amount people do eat or drink.

Pay close attention to the amount of protein and the number of calories in a serving. Adult men need about 56 grams of protein a day and adult women need about 46 grams daily. 

Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of a particular food. The number of servings consumed determines calories eaten. The number of calories you should consume largely depends on the quality of the calories, as well as your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level.


The truth about expiration dates

The expiration dates on packaged food are typically guidelines, not rules.

The New York Times reports, “Food product dating is completely voluntary for all products. It has nothing to do with safety. It acts solely as the manufacturer’s best guess as to when its product will no longer be at peak quality. Food manufacturers tend to be conservative with those dates.” 

Insider.com states that although it’s still important to check the packaging for expired dates, there are quite a few foods where the date has no significance. Dry, boxed pasta, for example, can last for quite some time if unopened. Oftentimes, expired bread is fine to eat if you don't see mold. Dried beans and lentils will remain safe to eat for years after purchase.

When it comes to oils, follow your nose. Old oil will start to develop metallic, soapy, or in some cases (such as with canola oil), fishy smells. 

Misleading marketing

Consumer Reports reported that 62 percent of shoppers look for foods labeled “natural” because they believe them to be healthier, when in fact, there’s no universal definition or regulation for the word in product marketing. This may mislead consumers to believing that foods labeled as natural have no artificial ingredients, chemicals or pesticides, and hasn’t been genetically modified, which isn’t always the case.

Similarly, just because the packaging reads “no added sugar” doesn’t mean the product is sugar-free. If no sugar or sugar-containing products were added during processing, then a product can be labeled as such, even though it still may contain natural sugars, artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. 

Containers of pure honey, pure maple syrup, or packages of pure sugar are not required to declare grams of added sugars in a serving, NIH states, but they must still include a declaration of the percent daily value (%DV) for each nutrient or vitamin in a serving, which references amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed daily.


The problem with plastic 

As a rule, metal lasts longer than glass, which lasts longer than plastic. Most plastic water bottles and canned food containers contain Bisphenol A or S (BPA or BPS), which are known causes of cancer.