Beware! These 7 misleading “healthy” food labels are actually quite unhealthy

Updated on:17 November 2019, 21:55pm IST
All that glitters isn’t gold and all that says “diet”, “low-carb”, or “-free” isn’t your weight-loss companion
Sonakshi Kohli
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Trick or treat–are these so called food labels really healthy? Image courtesy: Shutterstock

I remember attending a birthday party as a hopeful kid, waiting impatiently for my friend’s brother to burst a large balloon hanging from the ceiling, apparently filled with exotic sweets. Its humongous size and the prospect of taking home those hidden treats made me forget all about exhausting my permitted party hours. When the moment finally arrived, my birthday hat, which I had smartly used as a collection tool, was filled to the brim with—thermocol balls (and a few erasers)!

Keeping the miserliness of the hosts aside, let’s just focus on the lesson here: what we see can be misleading. Unfortunately, this holds particularly true in the case of food. Many a time, the food industry’s advertisements fool us into believing that they care for our health and wellness, thanks to a few labels on their packets. 

Here’s revealing the truth about seven of those labels:

1. Low carb

Myth: Most of us are staunch believers of the “carbohydrates make you fat” movement. Enter the food industry’s low-carb alternatives to make you think you’ve got it under control and that you’re not digressing from your weight-loss path–because you’re obviously cutting down on the so-called ‘enemy of weight loss’—carbohydrates.

Reality: Suppose, there’s a packet of normal, high-carb chips with say, 500 calories. And suddenly its healthier version with a bright ‘low-carb’ label hits the market–you think you’re covered. But what if this version has 450 calories and the label, which was possibly meant to mention “lower carbs” instead of “low carbs” is just thriving on the reduction of mere 50 calories from its original version? 

Not to mention, the processing of the food and the addition of certain harmful ingredients to compensate for the lost taste in a bid to cut down calories are doing you more harm than good. 

2. Gluten-free

Myth: Oh! This particular sauce or biscuit doesn’t contain any gluten and now you won’t gain weight or have to deal with the consequences of gluten intolerance.

Reality: Yes, gluten is resistant to the action of protease enzymes in the body and may trigger an immune response in the body resulting in swollen intestines. However, expecting barley biscuits and soy sauce containing wheat extracts to not have any traces of gluten is a little unrealistic. In fact, in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found traces of gluten in many products with the gluten-free label and laid out strict standards for this label to be used in future. 

3. Fat-free/no trans fat

Myth: No fat on the label, no fat on your waist. Let me laugh out loud before I start giving you a reality check. 

Reality: Look at it as that playboy in your life, who led you to believe he had eyes just for you. Just like that philanderer, the artery-clogging trans fats are a bigger danger than the other type of fats. So firstly, when a product claims to have no trans-fat, it may contain other fats. And secondly, by the law of the FDA, anyone can use this label despite containing the permissible amount of trans fat per serving. So you’re not entirely out of danger there, smartass. 

As for the label’s “no-fat”/ “low-fat” cousins, remember, there’s always some compensation happening with the use of unhealthy ingredients like sugars, salt, and masalas to keep up the taste. 

4. Cholesterol-free

Myth: Your arteries won’t get blocked and your heart is safe because the food’s got no cholesterol. 

Reality: Foods containing less than two mg of cholesterol and less than 20 mg per serving can blatantly call themselves ‘zero cholesterol’ and ‘low cholesterol’ respectively. Nope, you’re not actually safe there. 

5. Sugar-free/No added sugar

Myth: No/less sugar equals low calories and a smaller waistline. 

Reality: Sugar-free products don’t guarantee fewer calories. They just mean that the product contains artificial sweeteners instead of sugar with no guarantee of the other ingredients being healthy and non-fattening. “No added sugar” on the other hand might be an indication that all the ingredients together had so much sugar that there wasn’t any need to add additional sugar or artificial sweeteners.

6. Multigrain

Myth: It’s packed with the goodness of different whole grains and fibre.

Reality: It basically means that the product contains different types of grains that may or may not be whole. So you really can’t be sure of how much real fibre you’re getting there.

7. High protein

Myth: You’re not far away from your body-building dream if you have a packet of ‘high protein’ soya chips in your kitchen.

Reality: More often than not, the proteins in such products aren’t derived from healthy sources like animal products or nuts. Rather, the protein thus used might just be synthetic and made at a lab. 

Sonakshi Kohli Sonakshi Kohli

Twenty kilos down and struggling to maintain the weight loss by preaching healthy eating, while eating unhealthy every now and then.