How to better understand healthy food labels

SAN ANTONIO – Shopping for groceries, you see all kinds of claims on the food labels -- like "natural" or "no artificial flavors."

A lot of the claims may make you think a product is good for you, or at least make you feel better about buying it. 

But package labels may have little to do with the nutrition inside.

Take the claim “good source of calcium.” According to the Food and Drug Administration rules, food must contain at least 10 percent of the recommended daily intake to make that claim. On yogurt, the label would make sense.

"But it may not make sense when you see it on a cookie,” Consumer Reports health and food editor Trisha Calvo said. “When you see it on a cookie, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of a sudden that cookie is healthier for you."

Sometimes the health message is in the product's name. Take, for example, Simply Lay's Sea Salted Potato Chips.

Do a little digging and you will see the sodium content is almost identical to that in the Classic Lay’s Chips.

"There is no difference between sea salt and regular salt, nutritionally,” Calvo said. “You're still going to be getting the sodium from it and it's still a potato chip."

Even if a product does contain real ingredients, the key is how much. Brach’s Candy Corn boasts is made with real honey, but "take a look at the ingredients list and you'll see that honey like the last ingredient on the list, which means there's very little of it in the product," Calvo said.

The same goes for packaging that won’t tell you what's not inside.

Log Cabin Syrup proclaims “no high fructose corn syrup"; however, the three main ingredients are still corn syrup, water and sugar.

Calvo said the only real way to know if a food fits your diet is to flip the box over to see the content that matters: like calories, fiber and sodium.

"Nothing is going to make that candy bar healthy. Nothing is going to make that lollipop healthy,” she said. "That doesn't mean you can't eat those foods, but just don’t be fooled into thinking that you are doing something good for your body."

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