Don’t spend extra money buying into marketing hype and misinformation. Look for food claims and labels you can trust.
By Emily Main
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Front-of-Package Labeling Systems
The lie: The 20, mostly industry-created, front-of-package labeling systems that have been launched in the past few years aren't trying to make finding healthy food easy for you, says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, author of Eat Drink Vote. They're a tool for selling, not buying, she says, and often highlight good nutrients (levels of fiber, vitamins, and minerals) while ignoring the bad stuff you should be concerned about (fat, sodium, and added sugar). Two years ago, the FDA tried to rein in all these systems and asked an independent (nonindustry) advisory board to come up with a better one. That board recommended that packages highlight added sugar, fat, salt, and calories and accompany those with a star system to rate products based on healthfulness. Before those recommendations could be adopted, however, the food industry came up with yet another labeling system: "Facts Up Front," a label that lists total sugar, calories, saturated fat, and sodium (without any rating system that puts these numbers in perspective), along with "nutrients to encourage," such as fiber and vitamins—whose focus, say scholars at the Harvard School of Public Health, simply gives companies an incentive to fortify unhealthy foods to make them seem healthier than they really are.
To get the real thing: Since Nutrition Facts panels can be unreliable measures of things you should be concerned about—fat, added sugar, calories and salt—your best bet is to avoid packaged foods altogether and opt for whole foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unprocessed meats.