Understanding Health Claims on Food Labels

After having Bariatric Surgery, maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging. The dietary recommendations after surgery are specific and it can be confusing when you are trying to make the best choices at the grocery store. For example, if a food label for a protein bar states that the food is “carb conscious”, does that mean it is a good, healthful choice? What if the label claims that the food is “healthy” does that necessarily mean that it is?

It is important to be aware that food companies are trying to sell foods. More and more food companies are using “healthy” as a marketing technique to sell foods that may not be in the consumer’s best interest. Getting back to our example. The protein bar labeled as “carb conscious” in fact contained 36 grams of carbohydrates. Be careful! Words like “natural”, “conscious”, and “low” often do not mean what you think they mean. If you are not reading the fine print (the nutritional facts), your “low cal” or “all natural” snack may be preventing the weight reduction that you’re looking for.

The following are a few of the misleading terms to watch out for:

  • *Light- can mean several things. It may mean a third fewer calories or it may be referring to a lighter color or texture. This latter reference of course would not affect the nutritional content of the food.
  • *Natural- This means that there can not be any artificial ingredients in the food. It must be noted that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are “natural” ingredients.
  • *Real fruit flavor- This is common in cereals to make them sound healthier. Many cereals made with “fruit flavors” are made up of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and hydrogenated oils along with dyes and artificial flavors that make the food taste like fruit.
  • *Fat free-Keep in mind that when food manufacturers reduce the fat content in foods, the flavor is reduced as well. In order to compensate for that, sugar is added.

Some common foods that are marketed as healthy, but could sabotage your diet include the following:

  1. Trail Mix and Granola. These products tend to be listed in very small amounts and are still loaded with calories, fat, and sugar. You are generally better off snacking on nutrient rich foods such as vegetables or fruit.
  2. Tuna Salad or Chicken Salad. The word “salad” can be very confusing. The tuna or chicken alone is a great choice for a lean protein. Adding the mayonnaise, especially when prepared in restaurants or supermarkets, will load on the fat and calories as well.
  3. Dried Fruit. Although they contain healthy nutrients such as fiber, they also contain large amounts of sugar.
  4. Veggie Chips. These are usually glorified potato chips with little if any nutritional value.

What is the bottom line? Food labels can be misleading with questionable food choices masquerading as healthy ones. We, the consumers, must carefully read the nutritional facts on the back of the food label to make sure that the food actually measures up to your healthy food standards.

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