5 On Your Side

Look at food labels when considering healthy food options

Posted January 16, 2018 5:54 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2018 5:57 p.m. EST

— The start of the new year has many people looking for healthier food options, and food labels could draw more scrutiny as consumers search for healthier choices.

But Consumer Reports says labels that tout things such as "no artificial flavors," "natural" or "good source of calcium" can be misleading.

For the calcium label, FDA rules say a food must contain at least 10 percent of the recommended daily intake.

On yogurt, the label makes sense.

"But it may not make sense when you see it on a cookie," said Trisha Calvo, the Consumer Reports Health and Food editor. "And when you see it on cookie it doesn't necessarily mean that all of a sudden that cookie is healthier for you."

Sometimes the health message is in the product's name, such as Simply Lay's Sea Salted potato chips.

For consumers who compare labels, the sodium content is almost identical to that of their Classic chips.

"There's no difference between sea salt and regular salt nutritionally," Calvo said. "You're still going to be getting the sodium from it and it's still a potato chip."

When it comes to real ingredients, the key is how much of the ingredient is contained in the food.

For example, the label on Brach's Candy Corn boasts that it's "made with real honey."

Said Calvo: "But take a look at the ingredients list and you'll see that honey is the last ingredient on the list, which means there's very little of it in the product."

The same goes for packaging that tells you what is not included.

The label on Log Cabin Syrup says "no high fructose corn syrup," but the three main ingredients are corn syrup, water and sugar.

Consumer Reports says one of the most important ways to know if a food fits a diet is to check the label, by examining calories, fiber and sodium. Consumers should also rely on their common sense when making purchasing decisions.

"Nothing is going to make a candy bar or lollipop healthy," Calvo said. "That doesn't mean that you can't eat those foods. But just don't be fooled into thinking that you are doing something good for your body."