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7 Ways You Can Get Duped By Food Labels

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7 Ways You Can Get Duped By Food Labels

Why It's Important To Check For Hidden Sugars In Everything
Connie  Bennett
Connie Bennett More by this author
Aug 17, 2015 at 01:30 PM

Whenever I’m in a supermarket searching for healthy, wholesome, sugar-free products, I’m saddened to see people just grab appealingly packaged items such as low-fat yogurt, reduced-sugar soy milk or “All Natural” crackers without even looking at the labels that list their nutritional contents.

On the other hand, I’m pleased whenever I come across people carefully studying a food label before adding an item to their grocery carts. 

The good news:  Some 68% of us pay attention to nutrition information on food labels, according to a 2013 Gallup study. See full details here.

But here’s the catch. Even if you’re among the smart consumers reading food labels, you may be confused by what you find on them.

In short, when buying prepared foods in bottles, cans, jars or packages, it’s easy to make the wrong decisions about which foods are good for you—or at least better for you than other processed foods in nearby aisles. 

That’s why you need to become a Smart Food Detective and Savvy Sugar Sleuth.

Here are 7 Ways You Can Get Duped by Food Labels.

1)    If a food is labeled “sugar free,” it contains no sugar. False

Legally, food companies can tell white lies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration or FDA—which sets labeling guidelines—allows manufacturers to call foods “sugar free” if they contain trace amounts of sugar of less than .5 grams per serving. This means that any time you eat, say, vegetables topped in “sugar free” marinara sauce, you’re still getting roughly 1/8 of a teaspoon of sugar. (FYI, to arrive at this figure, divide the number of grams by four. That’s because 4 grams equals one teaspoon.) 

On the face of it, half a gram of sugar is a small amount, but bear in mind that many of you may go for seconds or even thirds of this ostensibly healthy food. Let’s say, for instance, that you find a tomato topping quite tasty—as I did recently—so, thinking it’s healthy and sugar-free, you help yourself to three or four servings of it. 

Without knowing it, you’re doing Sugar Overloading, and you can get sick, as happened with me, much to my horror! Now, repeat this process of eating other “sugar free” foods five to 10 or more times a day, and you’re flat out overdosing on hidden sugars. My Food has some very useful food labels guidelines.

2)    “No added sugar” and “unsweetened” mean the product contains no sweet additives.  Wrong again.

The FDA allows the phrase, “no added sugar” to be used for foods with naturally occurring sugars such as yogurt, milk, tomato sauce, jams, jellies, preserves, and some vegetables. But wait, food companies may then add other items, that don’t naturally occur, into their products. Huh?  For instance, “no added sugar” can include artificial sugars and sugar alcohols, which can cause bloating, digestive issues and other health issues. Meanwhile, products labeled “unsweetened” can contain naturally occurring sugar and sugar alcohols but not artificial sweeteners, according to the FDA. Confused? Of course you are! 

3)    “Reduced sugar” means the food doesn’t contain much sugar, if any. False.

I’ll try my best to explain this clearly. The FDA permits food companies to use the term “reduced sugar” on products that include “at least 25 percent less sugars” than leading brands. In other words, a reduced-sugar soda has 25 percent less sugar than a regular soda BUT it still contains 75 percent of the sugar that’s found in the original formula. Got that? Or are you baffled? I sure was and still am by this perplexing regulation. Here's another very useful food label glossary.

4)    Fruit juice concentrates are better for you than refined sugars. False.

That sounds so healthy, right? “Fruit” is even part of the name. Wake up to the sour truth. This phrase is just another label trap. Companies—not Mother Nature—bring you fruit juice concentrates by stripping the fruit of its fiber and water. So what do you have left? Sugar! What irks me is that the products still can boldly proclaim, “No Sugar Added.” But fruit juice concentrates are metabolized like refined sugars. Let me repeat. Fruit juice concentrate is NOT a nice name for fruit; rather, fruit juice concentrate is sugar in disguise. 

5)    Fruit juice is a great way to get concentrated vitamins, minerals and fiber. Not so.

Many of us health professionals get frustrated because many of you are being so deceived. Without fruit’s fiber, many juices are is no better for you than sugary soft drinks. Your best bet is to go for the whole fruit, which contains nutrients and fiber that slow down your body’s absorption of the natural sugars. Also make sure to choose low-sugar fruits such as my favorites, raspberries and blueberries.

6)    If foods are labeled “All Natural,” they’re healthier for you. I wish this were true.

This is another misleading term that can easily dupe you. A food is natural if it comes from nature, off a tree or from the ground, right? But processed foods found in packages are anything but natural! You need to know that, at this writing, there’s no legal standard for using the term “natural” under U.S. food law. This means companies can call foods “natural” even if they aren’t. 

This is how the FDA explains it: “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is `natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Interesting, isn’t it?  

7)    Low-fat and fat-free foods are better for you. Plus, those phrases mean the foods are sugar-free. False.
This is another labeling ploy that can easily fool you. Sure, that low-fat yogurt may seem like a healthy choice, but in all likelihood, it contains as much or more sugar than its high-fat counterpart. Your best bet is to take out your glasses or pocket magnifier before buying anything that’s touted as “low-fat” or “fat-free.” 

You’ve now taken some important first steps to reading food labels. But other misleading terms may dupe you, too. 

Now you understand why it’s easier and healthier to eat fresh, live vegetables and fruits that grow out of the ground or on trees rather than those that come in packages.
Stay tuned for more help to Crack Food-Label Misconceptions on my Sugar Shock Blog at or read more in my book, Beyond Sugar Shock.

About Author
Connie  Bennett
Connie Bennett is a former sugar-addicted journalist, whose 44 baffling ailments vanished after she quit sugar on doctor’s orders in 1998. Now, she’s a sought-after transformational speaker, author of the bestselling books, Sugar Shock Continue reading