In the United States, we have to be so careful about the foods we shop for. Below is an aggregation of deceptive or tricky food labels I’ve encountered. If you have any to add, let me know in the comments. I’ll try to update this list from time to time.
Juice: The label should say 100% juice. If it doesn’t, you’re getting mostly sugar water. “Juice drink”, “juice beverage”, “made with real juice” and the like are guarantees there’s not much real fruit.
Even if it’s 100% juice, it’s still a little tricky. If you see something like “Cranberry Juice with another juice”, that other juice is apple juice, always. And apple juice will be the greatest percentage of the juice mix, because it’s inexpensive. Unfortunately, it’s not much healthier than sugar water. (Most other juices have greater health benefits.)
Made with [healthy ingredient]: It contains a pitiful amount of the healthy ingredient, just enough so it can legally put on the label. A specific example is bread (which is REALLY confusing); you don’t want “made with whole wheat”, you want “100% whole wheat”.
Reduced Fat: The sugar and/or salt have been increased. Similarly, reduced sugar or salt likely means an increase in something else bad. Compare the nutrition labels to the regular version of the product to see what changed.
No trans fats: Almost always an unhealthy food that’s high in fat, sugar and/or salt.
Deceptive ingredient labels: The ingredient label must be listed in order of descending composition (so the product contains the highest percentage of the first ingredient). A Smuckers strawberry jelly label had “strawberries” as the first ingredient. Sounds good, right? Problem is that the next 4 ingredients were simply different forms of sugar (corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and something else). In reality, there’s much more sugar than fruit, but the label is deceptive.
Made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup: Somehow, the food industry has turned sugar into a health food. In terms of calories, sugar is equal to high fructose corn syrup. If you actually prefer sugar to HFCS, that’s fine, but the change won’t help you shed pounds. And the food itself is probably not that healthy.
Diet: Read the label to make sure you’re getting what you’re expecting. Sometimes it’s OK, but sometimes there are nasty surprises. A low calorie, but high sodium food is a common offender.
Organic: It does not mean “healthy”. Regular rules apply.
Natural: It also does not mean “healthy”. Regular rules apply.