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How To Spot Health Food Imposters


By 2nd Lt. Anna Cardenas

WRNMMC Dietetic Intern

In today’s world, we know how important healthy eating is – and so does the food industry. Food companies use terms like “all-natural” and “simple” to attract shoppers. A prime example is a popular hazelnut spread commercial that boasts their spread is made of “simple, quality ingredients like skim milk, hazelnuts, and a hint of cocoa,” while adding that it is made with no artificial colors or preservatives. The reality is that the product is far from healthy - more than 55 percent of it is made from sugar and the second ingredient is palm oil, which is high in saturated fat.

So how can you tell if a food is actually healthy? The answer is by looking at the ingredients and nutrition facts label. The order that ingredients are listed on the label is important, too. Ingredients are listed from highest to lowest amount.
Food companies also like to promote that their products contain something “healthy.” One example is whole grains such as oats, whole wheat, barley and rye, which lower the risk of several diseases and help with weight maintenance. Just because a product is “made with whole grain,” however, does not mean it is fully whole grain. If it has ingredients like whole wheat, rye or barley, and there is not any sort of enriched flour, then the product can be considered whole grain.
Food companies also like to advertise when their products are free of something “bad” by using terms such as “sugar-free,” “cholesterol-free” or “fat-free.” However, the unwanted ingredient is often replaced by something else unhealthy, or something that was not in the food to begin with. For example, foods like breakfast toaster pastries tout “cholesterol-free” on the label. Cholesterol is only found in animal products though, so this does not mean the product is healthy, just that it does not contain animal products.
For more information, please contact a registered dietitian in Outpatient Clinical Nutrition Services, your go-to expert for evidence-based nutrition advice, at 301-295-4065.