Trust Health Claims?

If you believe everything you read at the grocery store, you’re likely to believe that the answer to all your health problems lies in a box of breakfast cereal. We know better, though, don’t we? Sometimes the FDA gets involved and forces companies to retract or discontinue advertising foods falsely, but there is still some gray area; loopholes, if you will.

Here are some of the top food claims to be aware of when navigating through your local grocer’s aisles:

  1. Zero Calories! This one may come in different forms. The label may read, “Calorie Free,” “No Calories” or “Without Calories.” Are these foods really calorie free? Maybe not. Foods marked with this label may have as many as five calories per serving. Misleading, isn’t it? By the way, anything between six and 40 calories per serving can be labeled as “Low in Calories.” That’s a little more accurate.
  2. Reduced Calories! In order to make this claim, the product must contain at least 25% fewer calories per serving than the original version. Caveat? Of course, there’s one. The original product doesn’t have to be low calorie. It may have 1,000 calories per serving with the new version boasting 750 calories. Hardly a diet food. Anything over 400 calories is considered a high-calorie food.
  3. Light! Foods that are labeled “Light” or “Lite” must either be low in calories or low in fat. They don’t have to be both, so a light food might be high in calories or high in fat – just not both.
  4. Fat Free! Also known as “Zero Fat,” “No Fat” and “Without Fat.” If you’ve read number one, you can probably guess where this is headed. These foods may have as much as 0.5 grams per serving.

So, now we know that foods that are labeled fat or calorie free don’t actually have to be fat or calorie free. The same hold true for sugar, sodium and cholesterol. All foods that claim not to have any amount of these things may actually have a little. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t blindly trust marketing claims. Always read the label and find out for yourself.


If you see the message, “See nutrition facts for…” on the front of any package, keep moving. It means that the food exceeds a reasonable quantity of whatever is specified. For example, anything that contains 13 grams per serving of fat or more must display the following message on the front of the package, “See nutrition facts for fat content.” If you see this message, don’t bother checking the label. This food has way too much fat. The same goes for sodium, sugar and cholesterol.

Surprisingly enough, a food may have one of the health claims listed above and one of these warnings.

Just because a food is “Fat Free” doesn’t mean it isn’t loaded with sodium or sugar. If a food is “Zero Calorie,” it could still have 13 grams or more of fat. Don’t believe the hype.

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