Thursday, October 27, 2005

Get Smart about Food Labels!

Today the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called for the FDA to enforce labeling guideline rules on manufacturers that label foods in a misleading way.

In a letter to acting FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, CSPI said that FDA's Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements (ONPLDS), does not have any plan to identify and remedy misleading labeling.

In their press release, Crackdown on Fraudulent Food Labels Urged, CSPI highlighted how many food manufacturers create labels that "exaggerate the presence of healthful ingredients" and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't have "the will to stop deceptive labeling and typically does nothing even when flagrantly fraudulent labels are brought to its attention."

This is an issue I myself have written about here at Weight of the Evidence when I've found labels that are misleading or deceptive. Many may recall my disgust at the finger-food, Gerber Veggie Wagon Wheels Carrot, that I pointed out in Infant Feeding Myths that are mostly refined corn, contain trans-fats from partially hydrogenated oils, and have no carrots listed in the ingredients! Yet this is a product touted by Gerber, on their website, as "puffed grains made with real fruits or vegetables," and a "good source of iron and zinc" along with "no artificial colors." And take a look at that picture...Yup, real carrots are included in the graphic marketing online!

Here are the ingredients:
Corn Flour, Sunflower Oil, Cheese Seasoning (Whey, Nonfat Milk, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Cheddar Cheese {Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes}, Buttermilk, Maltodextrin, Salt, Lactose, Sodium Caseinate, Sodium Phosphates, Butterfat, Dipotassium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Lactic Acid, Sunflower Oil), Carrot Powder, Dicalcium Phosphate, Salt, Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Sulfate and Electrolytic Iron.

So, "carrot powder" counts as "real vegetables"?

You couldn't pay me to feed these to my child....he can have some real carrots instead.

CSPI points to a number of products to illustrate how pervasive the problem with labeling really is:
  • Gerber Graduates for Toddlers Fruit Juice Snacks -- the package is decorated with pictures of oranges, cherries, and strawberries, but the leading ingredients are corn syrup and sugar. "You can guess why Gerber doesn't call these things Corn Syrup Snacks-no parent would buy them," says Silverglade. "This is candy, not fruit juice."
  • Betty Crocker Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix -- the box depicts what appear to be pieces of carrot, but the only carrot ingredient is "carrot powder," which is the 19th ingredient listed, behind artificial color, salt, and dicalcium phosphate.
  • Smucker's Simply 100% Fruit -- the strawberry version of this "100% fruit" spread contains 30 percent strawberries; the blueberry version contains only 43 percent blueberries. Both have more fruit syrup than fruit-syrup that comes not from berries but from less-expensive apple, pineapple, or pear juice concentrate.
  • Kellogg's Eggo Nutri-Grain Pancakes -- the label boasts that these pancakes are "Made with Whole Wheat and Whole Grain," but the pancakes are made primarily with white flour and have more high-fructose corn syrup than whole wheat or other whole grain. CSPI says that foods labeled "whole grain" should have whole grain flour as their flour constituent, as is the requirement for whole wheat bread.
  • General Mills' Yoplait Light Fat Free Yogurt -- the label claims to "burn more fat" and help dieters lose weight if they consume three servings of milk, cheese, or yogurt daily. However, the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has called the evidence on dairy products and weight loss inconclusive.
  • Quaker Oats Pasta Roni -- the label boasts White Cheddar & Broccoli in large letters and displays a picture of pasta with pieces of broccoli. Although broccoli appears on the fourth line of a 14-line ingredient list, there are only small specks of broccoli in the actual package.
Each of these products are highly processed and things you really don't need in your diet. Your best defense is to be vigilant in reading labels - not just the package claims on the front, but the back of the package where you'll find the ingredients and nutrition facts panel. In both the nutrition facts panel and the ingredients, manufactures are strictly regulated by law to be straight forward and without claims.

A good rule of thumb if you are looking at packaged foods is this - if it contains ingredients you cannot readily purchase yourself, or ingredients that you do not use to prepare your food, skip it and make it yourself with real, whole ingredients instead.

Think about it - do you want to eat or give your children "carrot powder" or carrots?

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