Are product labels misleading?

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My favourite peanut butter contains only 2 ingrdients, peanuts and sea salt.


The other day my husband decided to buy some peanuts. He was bewildered when he came home with the peanuts and I told him they were the wrong peanuts. “How many kinds of peanuts are there?” he asked. He went on to say that peanuts are peanuts, and the ones he brought home actually looked like the peanuts I usually buy. He was right, the peanut containers looked the same and the labels were very similar. Then I showed him the ingredients part of the label. There was a long list of added ingredients. All I wanted was peanuts, not all the other added ingredients. The next time he was at the grocery store, he found my preferred peanuts. They had just two ingredients on the label, peanuts and sea salt.


Most of us are used to buying the same brand of products without paying close attention to product labels. That’s how I used to shop. I would buy the same brand of let’s say whole milk, peanut butter, cooking oil, and bread, and would not stop to take a closer look at the product labels. And if I did, I had no clue what most of the things written on the product labels meant. The only thing I was sure to look out for was the expiration date or use by date. Things changed when I started paying attention to what I ate after I started my weight loss journey. This became an eye-opening experience.


The food labels are designed to influence us to buy the product. They give us all the information to positively influence us to purchase the products while disguising the information that might make us hesitate to make the purchase. I sometimes wish the food product labels were like medicine labels that say, “This medicine will help you with your symptoms but may cause nausea, dizziness, blindness or death”. That way we know what to expect before we consume food products especially if we have some food sensitivities.It is easy to find what we are looking for in food product labels than what we are trying to avoid.


There are things on the label that are clearly written like nutrition facts which list calories, nutrition daily values of the macronutrients like fats, carbs, sugar, fiber, and protein. Some also list other ingredients like sodium, cholesterol, potassium etc. Others will say: contains no nitrites, hormones or preservatives etc. All these give us useful information about food products.


Some other useful information includes;

  • Food allergen, like peanuts, wheat, and soy.
  • The number of servings per package.
  • The calories, which are usually listed per serving.
  • How to store the products to retain its quality. It will say, keep refrigerated, refrigerate after opening or store away from direct light, etc. Smoke point, which is important when you are buying fats and oils. Oils with a high smoke point can withstand high heat without going up in smoke. When the oil starts smoking it is an indication that it cannot handle the heat it is exposed to and it starts to oxidize, affecting the quality of the food cooked in it.
  • Ingredients. This gives you a list of what is actually in the food product. Some of the ingredients are hard to pronounce and I have no idea what they are. This is why I used to ignore this part of the label until I started eliminating certain ingredients from my diet. This changed the way I looked at the product labels. I stopped getting distracted by the nice pictures and bright colored words on the front of the package and started reading and researching what the unfamiliar ingredients were.


When it came to looking at the product labels my approach changed after I started paying attention to what I ate. I needed to eliminate certain ingredients I was sensitive to. The more I paid attention to the ingredients, the more I realized there was a lot to learn. I stopped letting the bright colored words and beautiful picture on the labels distract me and I focused on eliminating the ingredients I did not want to consume.Here are a few things I learned;


  •  I started reading the ingredients listed. The list of ingredients is usually, found right below or next to the nutrition facts section. Ingredients are listed in order of the most occurring to the least. For example, if you see sugar, water, flour listed first on the ingredients, that product contains the highest percentage of that ingredient compared the rest of the ingredients. These ingredients are pretty easy to identify. The ingredients I find more difficult to interpret are the ingredients that follow, that I don’t know what they mean or can’t pronounce correctly. This is where I consult google. I have learned some ingredients have multiple names that may not be familiar, and if you are looking to avoid a certain ingredient, you may not recognize it under a different name. For example, a product may NOT list sugar as an ingredient but may use one of over 50 different names of sugar. Words like glucose, rice syrup, maltose, lactose, dextrose, dextrin, corn syrup, ethyl maltol etc.
  • When possible, I buy products with fewer ingredients. My daughter loves peanut butter and I get her peanut butter that has only two ingredients; peanuts, and sea salt. A common peanut butter brand has the following ingredients listed; Roasted Peanuts and Sugar, Contains 2% Or Less Of Molasses, Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed And Soybean), Mono And Diglycerides, Salt. If my goal is to feed my daughter peanut butter, I don’t feel the need to add all the other ingredients to her sandwich.
  • It’s a little tricky when it comes to buying olive oil, with all the fake olive oils in the market. You stand a better chance of getting real olive oil by not letting the words on the label distract you, and focusing on the authenticity seal, the source of olives and the date that the olives were processed. The Authenticity seal tells you that it’s a genuine olive oil and the process date tells you how long it’s been sitting on the shelf. The fresher the olive oil, the better it is. Most cheap olive oils are a blend of olives from several countries, while the expensive ones come from a single source.
  • Trying to avoid processed trans fats is another tricky one. Doctors say trans fats lower the good cholesterol and increase the bad cholesterol, making them unhealthy especially for the heart. These transfats are a by-product of the chemical process that gives vegetable oils a longer shelve life. In the USA, products with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat usually say they have 0 trans fat, but if you eat several of these 0 trans fat foods, the amount adds up. Some products with trans fats include delicious salty potato chips, baked goods like cookies and pastries, and margarine. These products have the perfect amount of salt and sugar which keeps us asking for more. The more of them we eat, thinking they have 0 trans fats, the more trans fats we are consuming.
  • I also found that different words mean different things. For example, you would think “cage-free” eggs means they were from pasture-raised chickens or chicken allowed or roam freely outdoors. It just means they were not raised in a cage, but they were still raised inside a building.


As I am still learning and finding out more about product labels, it’s becoming more and more evident that product labels are more than just what meets the eye.

The product labels may seem misleading, but are they? Are we just uninformed or are the marketing companies smarter than us?


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