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7 Food Labeling Tricks, Gimmicks, and Lies to Watch Out For

by Sammy Nickalls

While walking down the aisles at the grocery store, how often do you see snacks and drinks with big grand claims on them, like “made with whole grains”, “fat-free” or “zero calories“?

If your favorite chips are fat-free, they have to be pretty good for you, right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, the food industry wants you to fall for these tricks because they want you to buy their products.

Watch out for these food labeling tricks, gimmicks, and downright lies that the food industry feeds you—and don’t fall for them during your next shopping trip.

food labeling

7 Food Labeling “Lies” To Watch Out For

1. “Low-Fat” or “Fat-Free”

Just because something is labeled low-fat or fat-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy—in fact, quite the opposite. A huge myth is that fat makes you fat. According to “Dietitian Cassie,” a registered, licensed dietitian and a health coach, taking the fat out of foods makes it taste like cardboard, so the food companies replace it with something else to give it some taste.

What do they replace it with? Refined vegetable oils, sugar, refined carbs, and artificial sweeteners. This stuff will likely make you fatter than fat itself.

Related: 7 Steps to Fat Loss

2. “Made with Whole Grains!”

Sure, maybe that box of processed crackers is made with whole grains, but that doesn’t make them healthy. The reason for that is pulverizing grains into a ground flour – which is common practice – makes the grain almost instantly soluble in the body, which leads to blood sugar spikes—making them just as unhealthy as eating a big slice of white bread or a spoonful of sugar, according to Dr. Corey M Pavitt.

3. “Gluten-Free”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally for a gluten-free lifestyle, being gluten-free myself. However, often, gluten-free snacks are much like fat-free snacks—there might not be any gluten, but there’s plenty of other unhealthy stuff to improve the taste that actually makes it even worse for you.

According to fitness expert Rebecca Black (not that girl who sings “Friday”), gluten-free snacks are the “ultimate empty calorie” as they are usually high in calories and fat but low in fiber.

Related: Healthy Eating 101 – The Benefits of Real Food

4. “Sugar-Free”

For sure, avoid sugar when you can. However, beverages and snacks labeled “sugar-free” often use artificial sweeteners instead, which may be low-calorie and sugar-free but are often loaded with chemicals. This is the case with many popular diet beverages, such as Diet Coke. In fact, in one study, participants who consumed more than 21 diet beverages per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese.

Related: 6 Health Benefits of Not Drinking Soda

5. “Only ___ Calories per Serving!”

That bag of baked chips might claim that it’s “only 50 calories per serving,” but always remember to inspect it a little further before putting it in your cart. Check the number of serving sizes in the bag, and the number of chips per serving; often, a “serving” is considerably smaller than the amount you’d eat in a sitting.

This is often the case with candy bars; it might say 100 calories a serving, but if there are two servings in a bar, are you really going to stop eating halfway through?

6. “Contains Vitamins!”

Often, a snack or beverage will claim to have vitamins A-X, which may make it seem more tempting since vitamins are often associated with good health. However, this is just another food labeling marketing tool companies use to make you feel better about eating that sugary cereal.

It might have some vitamins, but very little—and those vitamins are not worth the sugar, chemicals, and calories. This is why health experts call these foods “fortified junk food.”

7. “All Natural”

Let me start off by pointing out that Ben & Jerry’s has 53 “All Natural” flavors. Why can fatty ice cream containing incredibly unnatural ingredients like corn syrup and fake vanilla tote itself as “all-natural?”

The reason is that the FDA has no definition for it. It actually claims on its site that a portion of food may call itself “all-natural” if it “does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Not too many requirements there.

Now don’t get me wrong: if a truly all-natural food is marketed as all-natural, that’s great. But what you want to avoid are “food products” that are manufactured in a processing plant, packed with junk, and then labeled “all-natural” when really they’re filled with stuff that was made in a lab, not from nature. To be safe, check the ingredient list.

Related: Healthy Living Tips – 9 Ways to Stay Healthy For Life

The Takeaway

It’s important to remember that the goal of food labeling is to sell a product, not to protect your health. Today, meals are mass-produced as efficiently as possible, which means that they’re full of fillers, chemicals, and all sorts of nasty stuff. But with a more health-conscious consumer base, food companies make claims on their packaging to get you to buy their snacks and drinks.

Don’t fall for the food labeling gimmicks. Be wary of phrases like “made with whole grains,” “contains vitamins,” “all-natural” and anything ending in “-free.” Use your head, check the ingredients and nutrition facts, and keep note of the serving size. Or, be extra safe, and steer away from the products with lots of marketing gimmicks on the label.

After all, when was the last time you saw an apple try to sell itself?


Sammy NickallsSammy Nickalls is the Content Manager at She is an avid health nut and a lover of all things avocado. Follow her on Twitter or Pinterest.

Photo by oskay

Originally published 11/13 and updated 11/14.

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