July 12, 2012
"Free-from" food items – also known as “fat free” and “cholesterol free” - are popping up in grocery store aisles everywhere. Because these packaged foods are labeled with these phrases, people tend to perceive that the food is healthy. These marketing terms and phrases are factual, and legally defined, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the packaged food is good for you.
Marketing and advertising can be deceiving when it comes to food companies who want to make money to sustain their business. Packaging may feature phrases such as “sugar free” to influence consumers to buy the products. While this practice is legal, consumers should know that these products are not necessarily healthy.
“Just because a label says ‘fat free’ or ‘sugar free’ doesn’t mean we shouldn’t buy that product,” stated Katie Keaschall, Registered Dietitian at Kewanee Hospital. “They just shouldn’t be viewed as health foods. Truly healthy foods that meet the Dietary Guidelines for America include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy in proper portion sizes.”
As consumers, it is our responsibility to balance our diet with meals and snacks filled with real foods, in addition to the “free-from” processed foods.
“Labels can be deceiving,” Keaschall added. “‘Fat-free’ brownies are indeed fat-free -- but they are made with refined grains, salts, bleached flour, and added sugars, which are not nutritious. On the other hand, avocados are not fat-free, but they contain heart healthy fats and other nutrients. Both the fat-free brownie and the avocado can fit into a healthy diet – we just need to understand which one is truly the ‘healthy’ choice.”
The wording “sugar-free” often labeled on processed foods is habitually marketed towards people with diabetes. This can also be deceiving, as consumers misinterpret that sugar-free foods won’t raise blood glucose. In fact, sugar-free products can still raise blood glucose due to the amount of carbohydrates. In addition to sugar, total carbohydrates, which are listed on the nutrition facts label, also affect blood glucose.
“It is important to know the nutritional facts regarding proper eating habits – particularly for individuals with diabetes,” Keaschall said. “There is more to managing blood glucose levels than buying products that are ‘diabetic friendly’ or ‘sugar-free.’”
The healthiest foods don’t require marketing tactics to let us know they are healthy. In fact, most produce, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, don’t even come with labels. A diet of produce, whole grains, and lean, unprocessed meats foods are best. Meals and snacks should contain a balance of fruits and vegetables, dairy products, a variety of foods high in protein, and an assortment of whole grains.
For further information regarding nutrition, visit www.dietaryguidelines.gov; www.eatright.org; www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov; and www.todaysdietitian.com. To schedule an appointment with Kewanee Hospital’s dietitian, call 309.852.7700.