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10 ways to avoid health-washing on nutrition labels

Have you ever wondered what allows a product to print labels like the “Health Check” label on its package?

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Have you ever wondered what allows a product to print labels like the “Health Check” label on its package?

Health-washing is a term used when a company or group positions themselves as a leader in healthy eating or ideas, while actually engaging in practices that may be contributing to our poor health. A good product, campaign or service stands on their own goodness, not on a claim, and offers full disclosure of all ingredients. (If it’s a product on the shelves, it’s always best to judge something by what’s in the box, not by what’s promised across the outside.) The bigger the claim, the more the product has usually been health-washed.

10 tips to avoid health-washing:

1. Avoid peculiarly coloured packaged food, no matter what the claim. There is no such thing as “natural colouring.”

2. Just because a product is natural or organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy (and now rarely means 100-percent natural or organic).

3. Avoid “natural flavours.” I don’t believe there is anything natural about natural flavours.

4. The flashier the health claim, the greater the chance the product has been health-washed.

5. Just because it’s in the natural-food aisle or in a health-food store does not mean it’s healthy. This also goes for specialty foods like gluten-free, kosher, dairy-free, etc.

6. Ensure that most of your diet doesn’t come from packages that have a claim on them. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, organic and naturally raised animal foods are best.

7. Ignore the nutrition label. In most cases, if good oils are present, you are better off eating a food with more calories from fat than from carbs/sugar. The serving sizes are usually about enough to feed a small kitten, which means you’ll probably eat triple. Nutrition labels are useless. Trust me.

8. If a food carries a claim recognized by a government organization — stay away.

9. The only part of a label that’s worth reading is the ingredient list. Read it!  If it’s too small to read, if there are too many items on the ingredient list,  or if you’re not able to buy each of the ingredients on the list and make the item yourself in your kitchen, then walk away.

10. If an item says whole, natural or organic,  the ingredient label should confirm it. Watch out for sneaky tricks like an asterisk that says: on certain ingredients with small print below, ingredient items that likely have their own list of ingredients.

Bonus extra important rule: Beware of ingredient splitting. This is when a company splits up certain ingredients so they don’t appear first in the ingredient list. Ingredients on a label are listed by weight. Food companies will often split sugar into glucose, fructose, cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, barley malt, molasses, etc. They use any number of names, and use a few different ones so that sugar won’t appear first on the ingredient list.

Related links:
How to make over your kitchen cupboard
10 health-boosting spices
Reduce sugar cravings with PGX Softgels
More healthy recipes on SweetFit

Holistic nutritionist Meghan Telpner is the most fun healthy living has ever seen! With a daily blog, Making Love In The Kitchen, a downtown Toronto cooking school, inspired health retreats, a collection of entertaining guides on health and public appearances across the country, Meghan is changing the way people look at health