When you walk down the aisle at the grocery store, you more than likely see a ton of claims on products you pass by–claims like, “Reduced Fat!” or “Fortified with vitamin D!” But have you stopped to think what, exactly, that means? Well, luckily for us, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has! A large number of health claims are regulated, so companies can only use them if their product meets certain standards. For example, to label something as “Healthy”, foods must have a specific maximum amount of fat, sodium, and other nutrients per serving. If you’re interested in knowing those amounts (though it is some rough reading), some information can be found here: FDA Content Claims Regulations.
So it’s good that companies can’t blatantly misrepresent some aspects of their food, but what they commonly do is not give you ALL the facts! Let’s look at some classic cereal boxes as an example–the one to the right here claims at the top, “Good Source of Vitamin D” (especially when served with Vitamin D milk!). However, what they’re not telling you is that Frosted Flakes is also very high in sugar and calories. So what would be a better choice to get your Vitamin D? Eat a bowl of sugary cereal, or just drink a glass of milk? The second, of course! So, when you look at a claim on something in the store, take a second to ask yourself, “What are they NOT telling me here?” Starting to think critically about the foods that you eat is the first step to making solid, healthy choices!
Next week, I’ll cover another related aspect in food advertising–misleading and unregulated words!