Consumers rely on products labels for accurate information so they can make informed buying decisions. But what if the label has misleading or false information? Even though there have been intermittent accounts of deceptive product labeling in the media, many consumers are unaware of how pervasive and systemic the problem is. We’ve highlighted 10 of the most common ‘healthy’ products labeling hoax for your knowledge and awareness.
Let’s dive in…
Words Such as ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ Can be Deceptive
Words such as ‘natural’ or all natural’ are our number one pick as they are widely used both on food and general household product labels to imply little or no processing and contain no chemical additives. According to a CBS news report, not only are these words misleading, but they can and have been clever marketing techniques employed by manufacturers and advertising companies to dupe consumers into thinking they are buying something healthy when in fact they are not.
Tip: Certifications like USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Vegan, Kosher and reading the ingredients lists are more reliable ways to help determine how natural a product is.
The Hidden Secrets of ‘natural flavors’
Not surprising, the ‘natural flavors’ hoax is quite similar to ‘natural’ and ‘all natural.’ This terminology as reported by a special CNN report can hide anywhere from 50-100 ingredients. What’s even more disturbing is some of these flavors are ad-ins created in a laboratory to enhance the taste of foods but even worse can trick your taste buds into expecting flavors that don’t exist in real life. Ever wondered why some people have a strong distaste for fruits and vegetables? One reason could be that their taste buds have been hoodwinked into accepting false flavors that’s been created in a lab and can no longer appreciate the taste of real foods.
Tip: Avoid natural flavors like the plague. Look for brands at most health food stores that do not include dubious ingredients like natural flavors. Better yet, have the family pitch in to help make wholesome and nutritious snacks and meals.
This next one blew me away:
Leading The Consumer with Wrong Information
Some scientists claim that small amounts of chemicals like formaldehyde in household and body care products are harmless. Increasing new data shows quite the opposite. Not only is formaldehyde toxic but it is carcinogenic – cancer causing – and some consumer safety advocates group have steadily pressured large manufacturing companies to phase out formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals especially from baby products.
Also joining the cause in raising public awareness on chemicals and how they affect our health, homes and places of work is the “Go Green Movement.” Some states like California are beginning to require pre-service training in eco-friendly practices to childcare providers so as to reduce children’s exposure to dangerous and toxic chemicals.
Help Is on The Way…
Indeed, consumers are increasingly opting for healthier brands of household and personal care products. The EPA is contributing to this new trend additionally by making it easier to find safer products through it’s “Safer Choice Label” initiative. When a product carries the “Safer Choice Label” the consumer can be assured every ingredient in the product has been evaluated for it’s safety and efficacy.
Tip: Select brands with the safer choice label or ones that use simple and safe ingredients in body care, household cleaning and disinfectant products. Some simple yet effective ingredients are: essential oils, vinegar, citrus oils, baking soda etc.
It is not always easy to know what’s the source of a particular ingredient in a product. The source could be animal, plant, insect or human. Consumers have a right to know this important information in light of allergic reactions which some ingredients can trigger, strict vegetarians who adhere to a plant-based diet and want to ensure they consume no hidden animal ingredient or individuals who has eliminated certain foods from their diet like pork based on their faith.
Attempts to find out this information from some manufacturers can be time consuming and frustrating. Be aware that one typical response can be that the product contains a propriety formula which cannot be divulged. At that point, I recommend the following:
Tip: “When in doubt, do without!”
Other Appealing Buzz Words
The use of appealing buzz words in food marketing is big business. People may make purchases solely based on certain words and the look of a product. Let’s face it, some people don’t even pay much attention to or properly read labels. Labels with words like, “organic,” “antioxidant,” and “wholegrain” can stretch across a package making consumers think they are buying a healthy product. But on closer scrutiny at the nutrition fact panel or ingredients list, it might reveal only one or two healthy ingredients among some others that are questionable.
Now for the Facts:
In 2014, the University of Houston did a study about the false sense of security regarding the health of foods because of certain key words used on the labels. As stated in the article, Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up – it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But it’s name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”
Tip: Just because a label makes a claim about a product don’t assume it accurately represents that food. The key is education. Educate yourself and your family in how to read nutritional labels and ingredients lists carefully.
The Renaming Strategy
Toxic ingredients like aldehyde found in some hair straighteners is in fact formaldehyde renamed. Another example is high fructose corn syrup renamed as simply corn syrup. Manufacturers are allowed to change the name of an ingredient usually to a lesser known sometimes scientific one an attempt to sidestep closer examination of the consumer, regulatory institutions and consumer product safety groups.
Tip: Again, if the words in the ingredients list are too long to pronounce, it doesn’t say the source for unfamiliar words, you don’t know what it is, it’s best to put it back on the shelf and opt for a healthier product with simpler ingredients.
Conventional Spices are Not Harmful
Adding spices to food can enhance the flavor, increase nutritional value and preserve freshness. So when a product lists ‘spices’ as an ingredient most people think no harm is associated with it. Believe it or not, consuming conventional spices can be harmful to your health. It is a known fact that conventional spices can pose harmful risks if they have been treated with chemicals, irradiated, have anti-caking agents or contain GMO’s.
Irradiation of foods, such as vegetables, fruits, spices have been in effect since the 1980’s. Spoilage ceases and ripening of fruits and vegetables slows down. Microbial organisms are destroyed and insects are sterilized so they cannot reproduce if entered into the food chain. This sounds beneficial for the public or is there more to the story?
When food is irradiated the quality diminishes and free radicals are released as a by-product – which can have carcinogenic results – and the nutritional content is reduced. The fear of irradiation-tolerant strains emerging into food farms is a continued threat. Yet, the FDA and other governmental agencies continue to claim there is no significant risk of eating irradiated foods such as spices.
Look for this sign, if it is included in the label, it as an indicator of irradiated food. “First approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on spices in 1983, irradiation exposes spices to up to a million rads of ionizing radiation — the equivalent of one billion chest X-rays (the highest amounts allowed for any food).” They claim that this process kills contaminants without appreciably altering the appearance and taste of the food.
Tip: Always buy organically or local grown spices. They are more likely not to be irradiated, contain no chemicals or anti-caking agents.
“No Antibiotics” Also Means “No Harmful Drugs” and “Growth Hormones”
Consumers are more cautious today, than ever before, about buying meats that may contain harmful drugs, or chemicals. They should rightly be concerned! Take ‘hormone free’ for instance, animals naturally produce hormones to live. So a product cannot declare it is “hormone free.”
The statement “no hormones added” CANNOT be used on any packaging for pork, poultry, and/or bison items, unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry/pork/bison” (Meat and poultry labeling terms, 2011; Labels that tell you a little, n.d.), so as not to mislead consumers into believing that these meat protein products were grown with additional hormones.
Where does this leave antibiotics and other drugs? The debate over the use of drugs while raising animals for food has continued for 35 years. In the 1970’s the U.S. Government ruled to ban the use of some drugs in meat products but the ban was never enforced. Thanks to documentaries such as “Food Inc.” consumers are more aware of the dangers involved not only to the animals, but humans and the environment alike.
Here’s the facts, in 2011 alone about 30 million pounds of antibiotics was sold for industrial farming use to increase growth rate and suppress diseases. Yet, evidence shows that the animals are sicker today than ever before. Drug-resistant superbugs continue to emerge. Not all countries subscribe to this practice. As a matter of fact in 1999, the European Union banned the use of antibiotics on farm animals and have since reduced the use of antibiotics to sick animals only.
Tip: Buy only organic meats that clearly state how the animal was raised -pasture fed for cattle or cage-free hens -and whether it is antibiotic free.
Whatever you do, do NOT miss this next one…
The cosmetic industry is s booming business. As a matter of fact, make-up has been around for thousands of years with the intent to enhance beauty. The ingredients used today may claim to be “all natural” but did you know that it might contain human placental protein for softer skin, which is known to cause breast cancer? Carmine – which is ground up beetle shells – used as a dye in lipsticks and other cosmetic ingredients? How about shark liver oil in lip balms?
Hold your stomach for the next ones…
Human foreskin, bull semen, and ambergris (aka whale vomit). See Total Beauty for more ingredients you might not want in your cosmetics.
Tip: Read the label thoroughly before purchasing cosmetic products. You might run into the proprietary formulas roadblock in trying to find out the source of an ingredient. Best to opt for healthier plant- based beauty brands found at most health food stores. They might be more expensive than the regular store-bought brand but better for your health in the long run.
Cruelty-free Labels Can’t Always be Trusted
People concerned about animal testing on products rely on moral values when making a buying decision. They want to trust that a “cruelty free” label means that absolutely no animal testing has been conducted period. The sad fact is that there are no legal standards set for determining if a product is truly cruelty-free. Research has found that some animal testing may have occurred somewhere in the manufacturing process. This leaves the consumer to determine if the label is trustworthy or not.
Tip: The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) created the internationally recognized Leaping Bunny Program and logo to offer assurance that animal testing was not used in any portion of the product development or manufacturing.
So there you go, 10 ‘healthy’ products labeling hoax we hope you never fall for period!
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If you would like to know more about how to make your home healthier, then check out our post on “An Eco-friendly Home is a Healthy Home.”