10 Labeling Lies
Deceit in Aisle #13
by Sandy Joyce and Chris Shugart
Are You Stupid?
People who want to lose fat and get healthy aren’t that smart. Would you like to drop a few pounds? Want to improve your health and live longer? Then you just ain’t that smart, are you?
Well, of course you are! But that’s not how most food manufacturers see you. Don’t believe us? Walk down the aisle at your favorite supermarket and look around. Here’s what you’ll see:
Zero Carbs!
All Natural!
High Protein!
Only 100 Calories!
No Trans-Fat!
1/3 Less Calories!

According to market research firms, foods with these labels are flying off the shelves. And people, especially stupid people, are getting fatter and fatter and fatter.
Hey, Who You Callin’ Stupid?
Let us guess: you buy stuff with these label claims, right? Truthfully, we do too, at least some of it. So are we all as dumb as dirt? It depends. Do you choose to be?
There’s a Latin phrase that goes like this: Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur. It basically means, “The world wants to be deceived, so let it be deceived.” Many health-minded people, especially dieters, want to believe the deceptive labels. They struggle internally, pulled between two desires: the desire to get lean and healthy, and the desire to eat deep fried lard topped with candy sprinkles.
The winner of the tug-of-war is often the fallacious food manufacturers. They know that the average dieting consumer seems to lose 30 IQ points when he or she steps into the grocery store. People aren’t really stupid; they simply choose to believe the lies because doing so allows them to satisfy their desire to eat junk.
10 Labeling Lies
Fact: It’s harder to fool yourself into believing the label lies if you’ve been educated about them. Here’s our top ten labeling deceptions to watch out for.
1) Zero Trans-Fats!
No doubt about it, trans-fat is nasty stuff and you should be avoiding it like Lance Bass avoids girls. But just because the label says “No Trans-Fats” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
This is an old trick first used during the fat-phobic 80’s and 90’s. At that time, many foods (some of which never contained fat to begin with) suddenly appeared with bold labels proclaiming their lack of lipids. These foods included Hershey’s chocolate syrup, hard candies, rice cakes, and angel food cake mix. Real health food there, huh?
In some cases, the fat was removed and extra sugar was added to improve the taste. Fat free? Yes. Good for your fat loss goals? Um, no.
These days, trans-fatty acids have become the latest whipping boy. Food manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon by either getting rid of the trans-fats or slapping a “trans-fat free” label on their foods that never contained trans-fat anyway. (Apples have no trans-fats? No way! Thanks for that newsflash!)
But don’t be stupid. Just because they took out some partially hydrogenated oils doesn’t mean that your cookies and chips suddenly transformed into health food. They still contain a whole lot of waist-expanding, life-shorting garbage. But since hungry dieters seem to become functionally retarded when shopping, this stuff sells like hotcakes… 0 trans-fats hotcakes.
2) Half The Fat! or “Lite”
Most of the time, label claims like this refer to the amount of fat (or carbs or calories) removed from the product by substituting in other ingredients. However, a few sleazy food manufacturers in the past have simply made the serving size smaller! That’s right, those “1/3 Less Calorie!” candy bars are sometimes just one-third smaller.
For example, a Milky Way Lite bar can legally be called “lite” according to the FDA. (“Lite” equals one-third less calories or one-half the fat.) While Mars does make some ingredient substitutions such as using skim milk instead of whole milk, the “lite” version is only 73% the size of the regular bar!
Is this really a labeling “lie?” No, a smaller candy bar really does have fewer calories than a full size candy bar, but this is obviously a deceptive marketing gimmick aimed at busy dieters and those trying to become more health-conscious.
But again, you don’t have to fall for it, do you? Think with your brain, not your stomach.
3) “Fat Free” and “0 Calorie” Cooking Spray
Quick, go look at the label on any can of “healthy” cooking spray. Now, look at the ingredient list. In case you don’t know, the ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if canola oil is listed first, then that’s the most prevalent ingredient in the product.
Now, think about it. It’s a can of oil, so how the heck is that “fat free” with 0 calories listed in the nutrition facts section? Isn’t this basically a 100% fat product?
Answer: Yes. The maker is taking advantage of an FDA loophole. According to US labeling laws, if there’s less than half a gram of fat per serving, then the product can be called fat-free. So, take any food and make the serving small enough and you magically get a fat-free product… even when using a can of liquid fat! (FYI, canola oil actually has 14 grams of fat per tablespoon.)
We checked the Pam cooking spray in our cabinets. The serving size is “1/3 second spray.” Is that even possible? If so, would that even cover an inch of your pan?
Listen, cooking sprays are better than using mountains of butter or margarine, but they’re not fat-free or calorie-free, so use some restraint when pressing that nozzle.
4) Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Nothing wrong with getting rid of a little dietary fat, right? Wrong! Food manufacturers have literally turned a relatively healthy food (natural peanut butter) into a nutritional disaster, all the while marketing it as a health food!
Take a look at Reduced Fat Jif. Again, never look at the bold claims on the front of a product; always look at the actual ingredient list. Reduced Fat Jif contains peanuts (good news so far), corn syrup solids (oh boy), sugar (here we go) and soy protein (bad news) among other nasty ingredients.
Why? The calories per serving of Reduced Fat Jif is 190. The amount of calories in Teddie, our favorite brand of healthy, natural peanut butter? 190. So basically, they took out some of the healthy, mostly monounsaturated fat, and replaced it with corn syrup and sugar. Less healthy fat, more unhealthy sugars, same amount of calories. Not good.
Take-home message: Your peanut butter should contain only one or two ingredients: peanuts and salt. If it contains more than that, it just ain’t good for you. Always buy natural peanut butter (the kind where you stir in the oil) and refrigerate it after opening. Want to easily reduce the calories some? Just pour off a little of the oil before you stir it in.
5) “High Protein”
You know you need a lot of protein if you’re lifting weights, so maybe you buy products that say “high protein” on the package. But are they really “high protein?” Yes, and Pam Anderson is all natural.
Slim Fast recently started a new ad campaign pushing their “high protein” canned drinks. What makes them high in protein? Well, compared to the old drinks, the new ones contain 15 grams of protein instead of the usual 10! When it’s all said and done, that’s nothing!
What about breakfast cereals? For years Special K ran commercials proclaiming that the cereal could help you “keep the muscle while you lose the fat.” Why? Because it contained a lot of protein compared to regular cereal.
Or did it?
Well, Special K contains 7 grams of protein per one cup serving. Most other cereals (even kid’s cereals) contain 2 to 5 grams. So yes, Special K has more protein, but let’s not get too excited. Is a couple of measly extra grams going to really keep you from losing lean muscle during a diet? Very doubtful.
What about “Protein Plus” Special K? It contains 10 grams of protein, with the extra 3 grams protein coming mainly from soy. Hey, that’s the same protein source used in most “high protein” dog foods. Oh joy, pass us a heapin’ bowl of that!
Take-home message: Want more protein? Eat meat and drink high quality protein shakes like Metabolic Drive. Never assume you’re getting enough protein just because you eat a few “high protein” packaged foods. You are keeping a food log, right?
6) Wheat Bread
Basically, all bread is “wheat” bread, and most wheat bread you find at the supermarket and in sandwich shops is just white bread that has been dyed brown with molasses or caramel coloring. Most wheat bread is therefore just as unhealthy as white bread.
If you must eat bread products, the password is “whole wheat.” Whole wheat contains the bran and the germ, and compared to refined grains they tend to have more fiber and less of an impact on insulin levels.
By the way, Subway’s wheat bread isn’t whole wheat. It appears to be mostly a white bread with caramel coloring and only a small amount of whole wheat flour.
7) Only 100 Calories!
Portion control plays a role in fat loss, but eating small amounts of garbage foods isn’t the way to achieve a sexy body. It’s usually the same enriched flour, same sugar, and same trans-fat. (Although the Oreo folks did take out the cream filling, which kinda makes them, um, not Oreos… )
This practice is also unrealistic. How many overweight people stop at one tiny package of cookies and other snack foods? Sadly, portion control alone as a weight loss method has a pretty dismal success rate.
We believe in getting off the junk food forever. Eating smaller portions is like a veteran smoker puffing a few less cancer sticks per day: it’s still bad for him and he’ll likely relapse. Cold turkey tastes best. Since it takes about three weeks to drop a habit, the best bet is to stick it out and kill the cookie addiction once and for all.
One more note: You know how buying in bulk saves money? Well, what do you think happens when you buy little tiny packages of junk food instead of larger ones? Yep, you pay through the nose… and your butt gets bigger. What a bargain!
Take-home message: You can have an unsatisfying handful of overpriced junk food and wreck your health a little more slowly, or you can have a large amount of filling, healthier food and get lean. Your choice.
8) “Only 7g Net Carbs!”
Net carbs, “carbs that count,” and effective carbs — although the Atkins craze is dying down, you still see these claims being made on packaged food labels, and most Americans blindly buy the items too, even if they don’t understand what a “net carb” count is. They think, “Well, it must be better for me!” Maybe it is, but the label is still deceiving. Here’s why.
Carbohydrates in the form of fiber and sugar alcohols have less impact on blood sugar than do sugars and starches. So to sell their product and appeal to health conscience America, food manufacturers simply subtract those grams from the carb total and make sure we see it — in big letters — on the label.
Now, this “net carb” system was actually born with a purpose. It was originally created and used for diabetics who were told that when a carbohydrate food contained five or more grams of fiber per serving, they could subtract it from the total grams of carbohydrate. Diabetics have also been told that any food with ten or more grams of sugar alcohol should be counted as containing half the listed amount as carbohydrates.
So, since when did all of America become diabetic? It seems like every food item these days has a net carb label to catch the dieter’s eye.
Today these marketers are taking it a step further. Now, instead of basing the net carbs on the rules mentioned above (for the “net carb” rule to apply, the item had to have at least five grams of fiber and at least ten grams of sugar alcohol), they’re now subtracting all fiber and all sugar alcohol grams from the total carbohydrate. This gives us an even lower carb total.
But all that aside, just because fiber and sugar alcohol doesn’t have as big an impact on our blood sugar, doesn’t mean they don’t count! A low number of net carbs doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a nutritious, low-calorie food.
Note: While there’s nothing wrong with most foods with added fiber, be careful when sugar alcohols are used to lower the carb count. Common sugar alcohols include mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, and maltitol. You usually see these in “low net carb” candies and ice cream.
A small amount is okay, but several of these foods are jammed full of sugar alcohols, and this can easily lead to bloating and diarrhea, even for those who can stick to a single small serving.
9) “A Full Day’s Worth of Vitamin C!”
Just because they’ve added some vitamin C or calcium doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
For example, Sunny Delight, the fake fruit drink that contains only around 2-5% real juice, often brags about its vitamin C content. But look at the ingredients. Besides water, the main ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, one of the main culprits in the fattening of America.
Parents are often the target of this kind of advertising. We want our kids to eat better, and bold label claims often make the casual shopper think she’s making better choices for her family. But most of these products are still junk food, just junk food with a little added vitamins.
Sheesh, what’s next, “healthy” chocolate bars? Um, actually, that is next!
10) “Organic!” “Contains Antioxidants!” “All Natural!”
Yes, cocoa compounds do contain antioxidants, but if your main goal is fat loss, maybe you should just take a vitamin!
In that same regard, while red wine, beer, and other types of alcohol may have some health benefits, this doesn’t mean that getting drunk is good for you. (You knew that, right?)
What about organic? Sure, organic foods are usually a better choice, but you still need to pay attention to calories. A half-cup of organic granola cereal has more than double the calories of a full cup of Lucky Charms.
And what about “all natural?” Sugar is all natural. Tobacco is all natural. Doesn’t mean a thing!
Beyond the Front Label
Food manufacturers aren’t looking out for you. They’re trying to sell their products. People want to eat healthier and lose fat but they’re too lazy to do any real research, or sometimes even read the ingredient list on the back of the label.
When it comes to something like your health, there’s no excuse for believing these labeling lies. To do so is either an act of self-deception or ignorance. We’ve removed the latter. The former is up to you.