Some food labels not telling the whole story

Posted at 11:05 PM, Jul 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-21 00:07:45-04

Food shopping these days can be confusing.  Companies are not only using labels that show what's in a product but now also what's *not.* So we decided to look into how more companies are trying to make money on the growing healthy and clean eating trends, and why it may be costing you more.

Some experts are now even questioning whether these "no list" foods are creating peace of mind or just more confusion.  

Brooke Taylor is a mom of two. She knows what she wants to feed her family and what she wants to avoid.  So Brooke pays attention at the grocery store.  "I mainly focus on fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, meats.  I just want it fresh cut from wherever it came from, as quick as possible from the butcher to the store."

And she's not alone. Marsha Kuhnke also looks for her favorite foods that have what she calls "good for you" ingredients.  "These are organic, and organic is sometimes attractive to me," she told us. "They just sounded healthier to me."

And finding better options should be easy since 'no' labels are everywhere.  Like "no added sugar," "Non-GMO," "0 grams transfat," "gluten free," and a whole lot more.

Nutrition expert Joan Salge Blake pointed out, "years ago it used to be positive messages on the front of the label. Something was high in fiber, high in calcium, high in vitamin D. Now, it seems to be more on the label is 'no.' "  Which Blake comment is great for people who have to avoid a specific nutrient for health reasons. But for the general public she said, "food should be delicious. We should enjoy it; it should be entertaining, but, if that negative label is making you scared we've gone, ya know, from fun foodies to fearful foodies and the 'no' really needs to go."

When it comes to regulations of the "no" food labels things can be confusing.  For example, we found packaging on some meat products with "gluten free" on the label, but meat, poultry, and seafood are naturally gluten free food groups.

The FDA told us "many claims that manufacturers choose to make about their products or certain ingredients in their products do not have specific regulations that govern their use."  Basically, the products are expected to be "truthful and non-misleading." Otherwise, the FDA can take action.

Blake would like to see a comprehensive guideline, "whenever there's a new term on the label it would be beneficial for the consumer if there was a guideline of that. So the consumer would understand that 'no' really means 'no'."  And she said people also need to realize if something's taken out of a product, a substitute is added in its place.  So if there's no high fructose corn syrup listed look to see if another sweetener is.

Brooke always takes the time to check the fact panel on the back and said she believes it can help people make an informed decision.

According to the nutrition expert we talked to labeling is also a money issue.  If a company redesigns its product labels, that cost is often passed on to the consumer.