How to make smarter supermarket choices

Do you read the labels, are you influenced by the health claims on labels as they can be very misleading.

Here is a list of some of the most misleading phrases that manufacturers use on food labels.

All natural

Natural foods can not contain added colors, artificial flavors, or “synthetic substances.” However, a food labeled natural may contain preservatives or be injected with sodium, as in the case of raw chicken. Somenatural products will have high fructose corn syrup added which although from corn is basically sugar.


When shopping for healthy bread and crackers, look for the words whole grain or 100% whole wheat. Foods that say multigrain or made with whole grain have less fiber and other nutrients than whole grains. They will have been refined which is a process that strips away the healthiest portions of the grain. Some darker breads or crackers have caramel coloring and are no healthier than highly refined white breads.


No sugar added

In an attempt to cut down on sugar and calories you may choose “no sugar added “products, but this does not mean a product is calorie- or carbohydrate-free.

Some foods, including fruit, milk, cereals, and vegetables naturally contain sugar. So although these products may not have added sugar they still contain natural sugars. “No sugar added ” products still usually contain added ingredients like maltodextrin, or sweeteners such as asparatime, sacharrin, stevia, sucralose.

Sugar free

Sugar free doesn’t mean a product has fewer calories than the regular version. Sugar-free products have less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving, but they still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources.

These products often contain sugar alcohols, which are lower in calories (roughly 2 calories per gram, compared to 4 per gram for sugar), but compare labels to see if the sugar-free version is any better than the regular version. (Common sugar alcohols are mannitol, xylitol, or sorbitol). They also can cause diarrhea.

Zero trans fat

Products that say no trans fat can actually contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. So if you were to have several servings then you would get a good amount added to your diet.”

Check for hydrogenated oils and shortening, which do contain trans fat.


Free range

Animals have access to the outdoors for at least part of their life. There are EU regulations about what free-range means for laying hens and broilers (meat chickens) but there are no EU regulations for free-range pork and so pigs could be indoors for some of their lives.

Fat free

This is a notoriously misleading label. When the dangers of saturated and trans fat became clear, the market was flooded with products that were fat-free. However, they often contain nearly as many calories as full-fat versions. The products are usually loaded with sugar.



A food label may say a product, such as olive oil, is light, but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor rather than the ingredients. To be considered a light product, the fat content has to be 50% less than the amount found in comparable products.

Gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat or rye and it can cause  problems to those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Gluten-free products are rapidly increasing in number, but, gluten-free whole grains may have less fiber than the regular version. They are often also highly processed. As gluten free is becoming a ‘buzz’ word it is put on packages.

Made with real fruit

Products that claim to be made with real fruit may not contain very much at all, or none of the type pictured on the box.

While companies must list the amount of nutrients they contain, such as fat and cholesterol, they do not have to disclose the percentage of ingredients, such as fruits and whole grain.



There are currently nine different organisations who can give organic certification in the Uk. They do so to differing levels above the governments minimum standards.

Organic food does not necessarily mean healthy food. It can still be packed in fat, calories, and sugar. “Companies like to add words to products to make you think it’s healthy.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids come in three main types: Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA) and a type called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which doesn’t have the proven benefit for the heart as EPA and DHA.

Some foods are higher in ALA, such as flax seeds, than EPA and DHA. Eggs may contain omega-3 if chickens are fed flax seed or fish oil,

“If you are looking for a good source of omega-3, stick to fish and seaweed products. Some “manufacturers will sprinkle flax on their food so that they can use the omega-3 label on the product.”


Make sure you know what you are really eating & check out those food  labels next time that you are at the Supermarket.

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