ShopSmart Decodes Tricky Food Labels

What those health claims on food and beverage really mean; plus, those consumers can trust

YONKERS, N.Y., Aug. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The package says "heart healthy," "reduces cholesterol," or "maintains digestive health." But what do these food labels really mean? The full report on tricky food labels is available in the September 2013 issue of ShopSmart.

"Promises of better health, weight-loss and more can be enticing, but claims can be misleading and you may not be doing yourself any favors buying foods that make these types of promises," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart.

Recent research shows that most people say they never or only sometimes trust nutritional claims on food labels. By not purchasing packaged foods that promise better health, the consumer might be doing themselves a favor, since some claims can be misleading.  ShopSmart reveals the truth behind 7 popular food claims:

1. HEART HEALTHY: No one food will cut one's risk of heart disease, but foods can claim a reduced heart-disease risk legally if they are low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.  To display the American Heart Association's (AHA) heart-check mark on packaging, a product must be low in fats, have no more than 480 milligrams of sodium and 20mg of cholesterol, and have 10 percent or more of the recommended daily value of one of six specified nutrients. 

2. SUPPORTS IMMUNITY AND DIGESTIVE HEALTH:  Eating probiotics because they are healthy is fine, but it doesn't mean they fix or prevent specific health problems. The Food & Drug Administration has not approved food packaging claims that probiotics can do anything to improve digestion, immunity, or general health.

3. BLOCKS OR LOWERS CHOLESTEROL: Research shows that plant sterols ― natural substances found in nuts and legumes, for example – may help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and the FDA says they may help reduce the risk of heart disease. But plant sterols seem to be more effective when eaten at least twice a day. And while trying to consume enough sterols, you might also be loading up on calories or sugars. Eating soluble fiber is a good way to keep cholesterol levels in check.

4. ANTIOXIDANTS: Most people associate antioxidants with building a stronger immune system, which is what manufacturers are banking on. The FDA allows foods to make antioxidant nutrient claims if they contain proven antioxidants for which there is a Reference Daily Intake (RDI) such as vitamins C and E. Whether it boosts a person's immune response or not, depends on what he or she is already consuming. There's not enough in a single food product to make much of a difference.

5. HELPS YOU CONTROL WEIGHT: Foods promoted as "diet" choices tend to be higher in protein and fiber, which when consumed, might reduce feelings of hunger. But feeling full doesn't guarantee weight-loss. 

Claims Consumers Can Count On

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these common label claims; here's what they mean:

  • CALORIE FREE: Fewer than 5 calories per serving.
  • FAT FREE/SUGAR FREE:  Less than 0.5 grams of fat or sugars per serving.
  • LOW CALORIE:  40 calories or fewer per serving.
  • LOW CHOLESTEROL: 20 milligrams or less and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • LOW SODIUM: 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • REDUCED: At least 25 percent less than the usual product.

For the complete list of popular food health claims, check out the September 2013 issue of ShopSmart, on newsstands now. And for more trustworthy food label information, check out www.greenerchoices.org and click on Eco-Labels.

About Consumer Reports:
Consumer Reports is the world's largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

About ShopSmart magazine:
Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumer Reports, ShopSmart draws upon the publication's celebrated tradition of accepting no advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. ShopSmart features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and "best of the best" lists. It's ideal for busy shoppers who place a premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $4.99 and is available nationwide at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, Publix and Target. ShopSmart is available by subscription at www.ShopSmartmag.org.

ShopSmart is available 10 times a year. Subscribe at www.ShopSmartmag.org.

SOURCE ShopSmart



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