These days many people are very intentional about selecting healthy and nutritious foods for themselves and their families. And yet even the most conscientious may be fooled by fancy food labels that cleverly make consumers think they are getting something better than they are. Some tricks have been around for a long time. Here are some described in the April 2011 issue of Nutrition Action HealthLetter.

  • Fruit drink. Fruit drink labeled with “100% vitamin C” may have plenty of vitamin C, but what else? If a juice is fruit-flavored sugar water or just a little fruit juice, it is missing many bonuses of 100-percent fruit juice. Orange juice, for example, has vitamin C, as well as calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.
  • Whole grains. Marketers know that health-conscious consumers are looking for whole grains. At a glance, the package may say in big bright letters “Whole Grain,” but the ingredients show the whole grain as second or third on the list. Ingredients are listed by weight, with the most abundant by weight listed first, so there may be less whole grain than what one might think. However, the claim is not a lie. The package itself says, in fine print, “made with.” 
  • Real fruit. “Made with real fruit” is a claim made on cereals boxes and other breakfast foods. Looking at the ingredient list can reveal that there is fruit in the product, but it may be listed fifth or sixth, so there's not as much as the shopper might hope. A better choice might be to select the whole-grain cereal or pancake and top it with fresh, frozen or canned fruit to ensure the quantity that is desired.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These are ones that can help lower the risk of heart disease — but not all omega-3s are created equal. EPA and DHA are the two omega-3 fats that research indicates play the largest part in heart health. ALA, a third kind of omega-3 fat, is the one most often added to foods and touted on the label. Choose to eat fatty fish to get their EPA and DHA.

To make the best choices, read food packages carefully and look at the ingredient lists.