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How Food Labels Are Mislabeled

Shop Smarter: Tricky Food Labels

The savvier shoppers become, the sneakier food companies are in changing how they phrase ingredients. Many items, like high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, are still in foods but listed under new names. Know what's in your food, by being familiar with the following food aliases companies are using.

  • Natural flavors: There is no official description of how food companies use the word "natural." Although the word natural isn't supposed to apply for any artificial or synthetic substances, there is still a lot of wiggle room with the rule. For instance, some companies use the term natural additives when describing high fructose corn syrup.
  • Organic: Labeling something organic is a surefire way to increase a company's sales. In order for a company to label a processed-food product organic, only 80 percent of the ingredients need to actually meet requirements. Unless the food is labeled 100-percent organic, it isn't made completely from organic ingredients.
  • Glutamate: Although glutamate can occur naturally in cheese, milk, mushrooms, fish, and vegetables, monosodium glutamate is an artificial version of glutamate commonly referred to as MSG. MSG does not legally have to be labeled as such, or even as monosodium glutamate. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate so by labeling an ingredient low in sodium, it could actually mean it contains MSG, which has been shown to have a correlation to both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, among others. Other key phrases include autolyzed yeast, textured protein, gelatin, and barley malt.

Keep reading for the skinny on more tricky terms.

  • Nitrates: Sodium nitrate and nitrate, found in meats, are preservatives that have actually been found to be carcinogenic in high temperatures. This ingredient, which was once considered "GRAS" or generally regarded as safe, is not anymore. The only reason it remains on the GRAS list is because it was grandfathered in for its previous standing.
  • Partially Hydrogenated Oil: This is just another way to say trans fat. A label could include this ingredient and still be labeled free of trans fats because the limit is 0.5 grams per serving. If you have more than the serving size on one of these processed foods, you could be consuming loads of unwanted trans fat. To stay on the safe side, read the entire ingredient list instead of looking at the chart.
  • Potassium Bromate: Found primarily in commercial baked products and white flours, bromides are known to be endocrine disruptors and can damage your thyroid. In addition, this can lower the iodine levels in your body. Low iodine has been tied to a number of illnesses including cancer. Many countries have banned potassium bromate; notable exceptions are the US and Japan.
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