Food labels that say ‘low salt’ or ‘no fat’ may be misleading, suggests a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
These ‘low-content’ claims are based on comparisons with other foods and are not standard definitions. Making such a claim doesn’t necessarily mean the food is more nutritious than other brands.
The research team analyzed data on more than 80 million food and beverage purchases made in the United States by 40,000 families from 2008 to 2012.
They found that higher-income households tended to be more likely to buy products with these types of claims, which is consistent with previous research.
Low-fat purchases were the most common, followed by low-calorie, low-sugar, and low-sodium claims.
Read nutrition label, ingredient list, too
On average, packaged foods with low-nutrient claims had 32 percent fewer calories, 11 percent less sugar, and about half the fat and sodium compared to foods that didn’t carry any claims on the packaging.
However, some products with low-nutrient claims actually had more of that substance than foods without those claims.
Also, when a product has a low-sugar claim, for example, it might have less sugar than a reference product or a similar product, but it doesn't mean that it has an overall better nutritional quality.
Or, it could be a high-sugar food but be low in fat, so it's going to say low fat on the label. That doesn't mean that it's healthy.
Bottom line: It can be misleading to make a decision about a food product based on a front-of-package claim.
It’s more important to read the entire nutrition fact label and the ingredient list than it is to focus on marketing claims. Look at serving size, calories, fat, sodium and sugar.
Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online March 15, 2017.
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