Don’t Be Deceived: How Food Labels Mislead

People with diabetes have to be very conscientious about the foods they eat. This can sometimes be tricky in the world of 24/7 advertisements, fast-food billboards and commercials, and temptation around every corner.

Marketers and food conglomerates will try anything to appeal to an audience, even people with very specific nutritional needs, including people with diabetes.

The following food labels may be true, but they’re definitely deceiving. Next time you’re shopping or placing your takeaway order, be wary.

Gluten-Free

The explosion of gluten-free foods on the market has been a godsend for people living with Celiac disease. And because Celiac tends to affect people living with type 1 diabetes at higher rates, this is especially applicable to this population. There are, however, many misconceptions around gluten-free food.

Something being gluten-free doesn’t automatically make it “healthier” or even lower-carbohydrate. It simply means that the food was prepared without wheat proteins, a group of seed storage proteins found in certain cereal grains.

Prepackaged gluten-free foods can sometimes even have higher carbohydrate counts than foods containing gluten.

For example, Domino’s gluten-free pizza crust clocks in at 75 carbs (for a small pizza), whereas their crunchy thin crust pizza (for a small pizza) is only 67 carbs. If you’re Celiac, that’s great, but if you think going gluten-free will mean you’re automatically a low-carbohydrate eater, guess again.

Additionally, Domino’s gluten-free pizza dough contains the following ingredients: water, modified rice starch, rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, olive oil, potato flour, evaporated cane sugar, fresh yeast, honey, avicel (a “fat replacer”), salt, calcium propionate. These ingredients are not exactly the healthiest nor the cleanest.

No Sugar Added

A few years ago, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) overhauled their food label protocol by adding more nuance to the “sugar” category. Now foods will be broken down into two categories:

  1. Total sugars
  2. Added sugars

There is no Daily (recommended) Value on food labels for total sugars because no official recommendation has been made for the total amount to eat in a day.

The Daily (recommended) Value for added sugars is 50 grams per day based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet.

This can be helpful for people with diabetes when they’re trying to decide what and how much to eat. It also distinguishes natural sugars, like those naturally found in fruit, milk, and vegetables, from added sugars, like the sugar, dextrose, or glucose added to popular children’s breakfast cereals, baked goods, and other sweets.

It’s healthier to choose a banana rather than two bowls of Cap’n Crunch, even if they have the same number of total sugar. But don’t be fooled! Just because something doesn’t have any added sugar doesn’t mean that it has no sugar (or no carbohydrates), and it definitely does not make it a low-carbohydrate food.

Fortified

If a food label says it’s been fortified or enriched, it simply means that nutrients have been artificially added to the product. For example, Vitamin D is often added to orange juice and milk, B Vitamins and Iron are often added to refined bread and granolas, and puddings, ice cream, and other children’s snacks are often fortified with Calcium.

But this doesn’t make any of these products inherently healthy. Be careful to read food labels and (especially) ingredient lists closely to make sure the “fortified” food you’re buying is worth it. You can always take a supplement of the Vitamin or Mineral you’re aiming to get, without the junk food accompanying it.

Organic

The organic food trend has hit the United States by storm, and as of February 2021, organic foods make up over 4% of overall food sales in the country. “Organic food” can be a few things:

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.”

“As for organic meat, regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.”

Organic may mean more natural, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a food is healthier. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories. For example, organic sugar is still sugar. An organic cookie might taste self-righteously good, but it’s still a cookie (and you’ll definitely still need to bolus for it).

Natural

One of the most misleading food claims is stating that something is “natural”. This is because there is no official guideline or definition from the FDA for what “natural” actually is, although the agency loosely has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food (like artificial food coloring).

The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefits.

“Natural” simply means that at one point, the manufacturer or food-processing plant worked with a natural source like soybeans, corn, or rice, all of which can be heavily processed and turned into unhealthy versions of themselves (most notably, types of digestible sugars!).

Some “natural” yet not the healthiest foods include:

  • Natural fruit juices
  • All-natural ice-cream
  • Natural dried fruits
  • Natural potato chips

Be careful not to correlate the word “natural” with “healthy,” especially if you have diabetes.

The Bottom Line

The easiest way to avoid being misled by food labels is to avoid processed foods altogether, and to enjoy whole foods (that have no ingredient lists!) instead. If you choose to eat packaged foods, have a keen eye for the ingredient list, know how to properly read the nutritional label, and be wary of deceiving food labels and trendy terms. Bon appétit!

Source: diabetesdaily.com

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