We’ve saved the worst for last: the five most misleading food-industry ploys of 2011

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December 22, 2011

The countdown continues! Here are our picks at Food Identity Theft for today’s top five food label deceptions– including the one you can directly help defeat.

5. Beware of bogus “blueberries”
Everyone loves blueberries. They are a super-antioxidant fruit that taste great. Food manufactures love blueberries too, or should I say, they love the idea of blueberries. To uncover this culinary chicanery you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes — just check the ingredient panel on numerous “blueberry” foods and you’ll find ingredients such as “blueberry-flavored fruit pieces” or artificial flavors and blue colors, but nary a blueberry. Our favorite blueberry not foods are the Jiffy brand blueberry muffin mix and ShopRite instant oatmeal with “blueberries & cream.”


4. Trans fat free? Well, not quite
Trans fats are recognized as a major contributor to heart disease – but you probably knew that already, didn’t you? And you most likely check that handy nutrition facts label to make sure the processed foods you’re buying contain no trans fats. Like so many other moves by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the trans fat labeling requirement that went into effect in 2006 falls way short of providing consumers easy help in choosing trans fat-free foods.  If a food product contains less than 0.5 grams of this bad-cholesterol raising ingredient, it can tout 0 trans fats – meaning you can be getting a significant dose of trans fats even if all the products you consume state they have none. Trans fats, which are never the saturated  variety, can be found in processed foods such as crackers, cookies, breads and fast foods, in the form of a cheap shortening that also gives products a longer shelf life.  So how can you avoid trans fats in your diet? Once again, read the ingredient label. If a product contains any partially hydrogenated oil, put it back on the shelf, even if the nutrition label says it’s trans fat free.


3. The “whole grain” claim that isn’t the whole truth
Many breads, cereals, crackers and even some cookies shout “WHOLE GRAIN” at us on their packaging. Some even list the grams of whole grain in big letters, and some use the word “wheat” in the name of the product, but what does it all mean? Whole grains include grains such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye, but only when they are eaten in their whole form. If a product is made with “enriched flour,” even if it specifies “wheat flour,” that is not a whole grain. Here’s where it get even trickier; while a product may claim it “contains” or is “made with” whole grain,  unless the word “whole” (such as whole wheat flour or whole oats) is listed among the first ingredient, chances are it’s just a tiny bit added to justify the claim. The Whole Grains Counsel, which maintains a web site devoted to this issue, says we should be eating around 48g per day. For some examples, one slice of 100 percent whole wheat bread provides approximately 22g of whole grains, whereas a serving of Ritz Simply Socials “golden wheat” gives you only 5g of whole grain. Another product with a misleading name, Nabisco’s Wheat Thins, also only provides 5g per serving. So if you’re looking for whole grains, once again, look to the ingredient list, not the product name or claim.


2. MSG by any other name isn’t “NO MSG”
Sneaker than the Grinch stealing Christmas, manufacturers are onto the fact that more and more consumers are trying to avoid monosodium glutamate. But instead of removing it, some companies simply slap labels stating “No MSG,” or “No MSG added” on products with disguised forms of the flavor enhancer. If a food contains the ingredient monosodium glutamate, that fact must be stated on the label. However, monosodium glutamate is only one of many ingredients that contain “free” glutamate.  There are numerous others, including yeast extract; anything “hydrolyzed;” autolyzed yeast; soy protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Another sneaky tactic is to state that the MSG, from whatever source, is “naturally occurring.” Don’t believe it. “Naturally occurring” is never defined, and the free glutamate, whether found in monosodium glutamate or in any other ingredient was deliberately added for the purpose of making the product taste better. It didn’t get there by accident.

This is corn sugar. It contains NO fructose, and is NOT HFCS!

1. The great “corn sugar” scam
Without further ado, our pick for the top food labeling deception scheme, for the most glaring example of the food industry attempting to scam the public is the Corn Refiners Association’s plan to rename high fructose corn syrup – an ingredient with a serious image problem – to the innocuous-sounding  “corn sugar.” Aside from being an obvious trick to try and sidestep the fact that an untold number of consumers are avoiding products that contain HFCS, the strategy is an attempted case of “ingredient identity theft,” since “corn sugar” already exists as a totally different product that contains NO fructose! Now how, you might ask, can it be that they would try to rip off an existing name in so devious a  manner? Well, it be, and it’s up to you, as a savvy and not easily fooled consumer to tell the FDA you won’t stand for such nonsense – by adding your comments to a rising tide of consumer objections to the CRA’s petition to rebrand this chemical-concoction sweetener that have been submitted to the agency.

Let’s make 2012 the year of the consumer!