Food label collageHave you ever bought something you thought was healthy and good for you, only it turned out not to be?

Those are the tricks of marketers slap words like “all natural” and “fat-free” onto foods hoping that in your quest to eat healthy, you’ll buy them (and subconsciously you’ll eat more of them because you think they’re healthy).

I’m blowing the lid off that right now by decoding common nutritional buzzwords. Next time you reach for something you think is healthy, ignore the big bold label on the front, and really pay attention to what’s in the list of ingredients. Hint: if sugar or something you can’t pronounce is in the first five ingredients, put it back right now!

Natural

Just because the word “natural” is on a food label doesn’t instantly make it better or more wholesome. Foods labeled natural may still contain too much sugar or fat.

Organic

While some certified organic food may be quite good for you, organic food production is especially about environmentally sustainable production practices and humane treatment of animals. In the U.S., “organic” food must now be produced and handled according to USDA standards.

Fat-free

Beware that sometimes when fat is removed, additional sugar is added leaving the food still high in calories and low in nutrients.

Sugar-free

Contains less than 0.5g of sugar per serving. Keep in mind that sugar-free doesn’t always mean low calorie. Added starch can bump up the calorie count. Manufacturers also often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols such as lactitol, sorbitol and xylitol, which may act as laxatives.

Gluten-free

Just because a product is labeled gluten-free doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Manufacturers often use more sugar or fat to make these products more palatable, and some gluten-free products contain more calories than their regular counterparts.

Whole grain

This term is misleading because whole grains can contain various blends of grains that are refined. Avoid words like enriched and bleached on the ingredients label. You can only trust the term “100% whole grain” to be a healthy choice.

Multi-grain

This means there is more than one type of grain. Multi-grain has no proven health benefits, especially if all of those grains are refined, and they probably are (unless the ingredients list proves otherwise).

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