5 facts labels don’t tell you

Savvy shoppers know that checking food labels is a key to helping your family eat healthy. The bad news? “They’re incomplete,” says Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

1 How much sugar.

“If a cookie uses different types of sugars—high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, etc.—the label can show these as individual ingredients,” says Silverglade. “If they were grouped together, ‘sugar’ could very well be first.” Labels also do not separate out added sugars from natural ones (think of the innate sweetness of applesauce), and offer no guidance on how much to consume: For fat, sodium, etc., labels show a clear “% daily value” based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet—but not for sugar. “There should be one,” Silverglade says. What to do: The CSPI suggests limiting sugar to 40 grams per day and scanning ingredients for sugar’s aliases.

2 The whole story on whole grains.

“The government recommends we eat more whole grains, but sets no rules on how much whole grain a food must have to be described as ‘made with whole grain,’” says Silverglade. “It could be a dusting.” CSPI favors labels that show clearly what percentage of grains are whole. What to do: For now, look for products for which the first listed ingredient begins with the word “whole.”

3 Caffeine quantities.

The CSPI says these should be required. “A bottle of Starbucks vanilla Frappuccino contains 96 milligrams, more than many brands of coffee have in a 6-ounce cup,” says Silverglade. Even Dannon’s coffee yogurt packs in 30 milligrams. What to do: Exercise moderation until labeling information improves.


4 Where the ‘trans fats’ have gone.

Many  food packages today boast “0 trans fats.” But in some cases, says Silverglade, “the company has added plain old saturated fat to replace the trans fat, making the product just as bad as, or worse than, the original.” CSPI says a redesigned label should categorize these fat levels as “High,” “Medium” or “Low,” with red ink calling attention to “High” levels. What to do: Don’t be swayed by “trans fat” claims alone—judge each product after examining “saturated fats” too.

5 The ‘true’ fiber content.

The CSPI says “dietary fiber” should be termed simply “fiber” and include “only intact fiber from whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit and other foods.” Today the FDA also permits the inclusion of such “faux-fiber” additives as malto-dextrin and polydextrose. “It’s unlikely that they lower blood cholesterol or blood sugar,” says Silverglade. “Companies are basically padding the product to up the numbers.” What to do: Keep an eye out for fiber additives and try to get most of your fiber from natural sources.

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