Top 5 Label Tricks and How To Avoid Them

by in Dining Out, Food News, Healthy Tips, June 15, 2011
Sports Drinks Vs. Soda
Smoothies are better than milkshakes, right? Well, not always -- read on to learn about this and 4 more food naming tricks.

Food labels are carefully worded to entice shoppers to choose certain items. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found dieters often fall for simple labeling tricks that make them believe certain foods are healthier than they are. Find out the top 5 traps people fell into and how to avoid them.

#1:  Fruit Chew vs. Candy Chew
The same food labeled with the word “fruit” verses “candy” had dieters opting for the fruit-labeled boxes with identical chews inside.  If it doesn’t contain real fruit, it’s probably the same product with different flavoring. Check the ingredients before you buy!

#2: Pasta vs. Salads
Diners watching their calories often jump to the salad section over pasta, since that seems like the healthier choice. But not always: Toppings like avocado, cheese, beans, croutons, fried chicken or too much dressing drive salad calories sky-high (that’s why they made our top 9 “healthy” foods to skip). Ask the server how the salad is prepared, and if any of the toppings or dressings are optional. Get our tips for swapping out high-cal salad toppings >>

#3: Flavored Water vs. Juice
Find yourself grabbing the “flavored” water because it seems like the healthier choice?  That’s what the Journal of Consumer research study found their subjects did. Water seems harmless, but many varieties are nothing more than sugar water. If sugar isn’t added, then oftentimes artificial sweeteners are. A glass of freshly squeezed juice may contain natural sugar called fructose, but also a variety of vitamins and minerals. If in doubt, real, unadulterated water is always a great choice.

#4: Veggie Chips vs. Potato Chips
Think veggie chips are healthier than potato chips? Think again: Aren’t potatoes vegetables?!? Any vegetable fried and made to look like a chip can be labeled a veggie chip, so don’t fall for that labeling trick! If you want chips (whether veggie or potato), be sure to stick to a reasonable portion (about 15 chips).

#5: Smoothies vs. Milkshakes
Milkshakes are loaded with fat and calories, but slap on a label that says “smoothie” and dieters feel they’ve made a healthier decision. Be sure to inquire about the ingredients that go into that smoothie, and keep the portion size reasonable. Get our tips for a healthier smoothie >>

Bottom Line: Don’t fall into the naming trap — if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Do some investigating by reading food label ingredient lists and nutrition facts. If you’re dining out, don’t be shy! Ask the wait staff about menu items.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Were you shocked when you read the ingredient list on a favorite food? What food label questions do you have? Tell us in the comments below.

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Comments (20)

  1. Tara Burner says:

    Great info and so true to marketing trying to fool people.

    • Sharon says:

      I make my own smoothies. Use 1/2 cup Tropicana "50" O.J. 1 scoop whey protein powder and mix. Then add my own fresh frozen strawberries about 4-6 depending on size, (antioxidants) a small handful of fresh frozen pineapple m( excellent for bones and joints) and depending on your taste a banana (potassium) I prefer to eat mine. Mix until well blended. Makes about 16-20 ozs. So thick I eat with a spoon. Delicious and filling.

      • Label Reader says:

        Be careful with Whey protein. It can be difficult to digest and isn't the best protein for your body. Vegetable based proteins are a better choice.

      • Flamingo60 says:

        I make a filling and satisfying frozen capichino with my magic bullet. Fill the large blender cup with crushed ice, fill with black brewed coffee about 3/4 full, add skim milk to the top. Add stevia or other sweetner and blend until perfectly slushy. Tastes great unless you are used to the real ones with a gajillion calories from starbucks or mickey Ds. I am not afraid of caffeine or artificial sweetness, so I am loving these summer months with my almost no-calorie frozen drink!

  2. sile confort says:

    Potatoes are not a vegetable. they are starch, like pasta , rice or bread.

    • Adam says:

      potatoes are very much a vegetable, a starchy one yes, but still a vegetable.. they're part of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.. pasta, rice, and bread are grains

  3. Tracy says:

    It's a little off topic, but I was shocked to see the high sodium content on many organic "healthy" soups and wraps!

  4. Mari says:

    Here is my smoothie: 1 frozen banana, 1 cup of spinage, 1 cup unsweeten soy milk, 1 tbl honey, 1 tbl natural peanut butter or almond butter. Blend and drink.

  5. JK11 says:

    Yes, a potato is a vegetable. And animal protein (example: whey protein) is a "complete" protein. Vegetables are not complete proteins. You must pair them with something else to make it a complete protein, for example beans and rice makes a complete protein.

    • Adam says:

      It's a myth that you need to combine certain plant foods together in one meal to create complete proteins.. as long as you're eating a varied diet of vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, your body takes care of creating the proteins you need

      Although complete vegetable-based proteins do in fact exist.. soy, hemp, and quinoa are all plant sources of complete proteins

      Plant-based protein is also more easily digested by our bodies as opposed to animal-based protein, which is acidic-forming, causing infammation and making our bodies work harder to break it down

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