Four more examples of how you’ve been reading food labels all wrong

Posted by
September 17, 2013

If you buy processed foods based on established names, pretty packaging or label advertising, chances are good you’ve been suckered into purchasing some badly misrepresented  items. We’ve selected four products from some big brands that are not the “whole grain,” “natural,” or healthy foods they appear to be.

Here’s an idea of what you’ve been missing if you fail to read the ingredients label before buying a product:

Gerber Graduates Cereal Bars

The hook: They consist of whole grains with no preservatives, and are “specially made for your child,” by a top manufacturer of baby food (which is actually a subsidiary of the mega consumer products conglomerate Nestle).

The truth: The whole grain claim on this product can best be taken with a grain of salt, as the first ingredient is just bleached and unbleached flour, which is decidedly not whole grain. There are some whole grain oats in here, but the actual amount isn’t provided; it could just a dusting. The ingredients kind of go downhill from the bleached flour, with the big unknown of “natural flavors” and not one, but two uses of high fructose corn syrup, one in the crust and one in the filling – where it is the first ingredient, no less!

The take-away: There are scores of organic toddler snacks on the market, including many made by Gerber, so obviously the company does know how to make foods with better ingredients.

Minute Maid Ruby Red Grapefruit

The hook: It’s put out by a leading juice manufacturer and depicts a delicious-looking red grapefruit on the packaging.

The truth: Despite the big “Ruby Red Grapefruit” on the top of the label, this is actually a “juice beverage,” meaning that it’s not all juice, in this case, much less, being only 30 percent red grapefruit juice. On top of that it contains HFCS and cochineal extra for coloring. While not spelled out on the label, cochineal, also called carmine, is a coloring that is extracted from the crushed bodies of small bugs. It is also the subject of a current petition sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest requesting Dannon yogurt remove this insect-derived coloring from its products. (Read more about cochineal in last week’s blog here.)

The take-away: While there is nothing more refreshing than ice-cold red grapefruit juice, this isn’t it, but rather a diluted, HFCS-sweetened and bug-colored beverage.

Nectresse  Monk Fruit Sweetener

The hook: It’s got zero calories and is all natural (the four most valued words in food marketing).

The truth: While monk fruit has a long history of use as a sweetener, including in traditional Chinese medicine, this product contains more corn-derived erythritol than monk fruit. A call to Nectresse (actually McNeil Nutritionals) didn’t shed any light on exactly how much monk fruit is in the product, but we can tell you erythritol is the first ingredient on the label, and that a recent lawsuit against the “all natural” Truvia stevia sweetener revealed that Truvia is almost entirely comprised of erythritol, with stevia, the lawsuit claims, being present in only “a minute amount.”

The take-away: Watch out for “natural” and zero-calorie sweeteners that are mostly comprised of a highly processed corn-derived ingredient apt to be made by the same companies that have brought us HFCS.

Mott’s Original Applesauce

The hook: What could be more natural than applesauce? With the jar lid stating “hand-picked goodness” several times and the label copy claiming that Mott’s has been dedicated since 1842 to helping families enjoy “delicious fruit goodness everyday,” you can’t go wrong, right?

The truth: Mott’s has manages to take a simple and pure product like applesauce and make it another sneaky place to find HFCS. And if you think consumers haven’t noticed, right on the Mott’s original applesauce page they allow folks to leave comments under the heading: “share what you love about Mott’s Original Applesauce.” Some of the “love” includes comments such as “get the HFCS out,” “HFCS in applesauce? Unnecessary and gross,” “I have no problem with sugar, I have a problem with the HFCS…a cheap, highly processed sugar alternative.”

The take-away: Organic applesauce is easy to find, inexpensive and quite delicious even without added sugar or honey.

As food shopping today gives new meaning to the expression “let the buyer beware” rather than focusing on label claims and cool graphics, go right to the ingredient label, the only way to know what you are really purchasing — and consuming.