Claim Games: How Manufacturers Make a Label Sound Better Than it Actually is

I’ve talked here before about marketing claims you should watch for on packages, but did you know that there’s ingredients you should watch for too? I’ve always said that the ingredient list never lies, but unfortunately, because more and more consumers are reading the ingredient list,more and more companies are learning to ‘spin’ it. They are legally required to list all ingredients, but they sometimes make ingredients sound nicer than they really are or they play with the order of things to make the product sound healthier.  Here are a few examples to watch out for:


Fruit Preparation

This is a pet peeve I’ve talked about before that often appears on yogurt containers. The first ingredient is yogurt, the second is sugar and the third is fruit – but to make it sound more positive, companies often lump the fruit and sugar together and call it the ‘fruit preparation.’ This means that the label says ‘yogurt, fruit preparation (sugar, fruit, etc.)’ Do you see how they did that there? Cleverly listed fruit as the second ingredient even though it’s not? The guy who came up with that probably has a corner office now.


Caramel Colour

Now, what can be bad about caramel? It’s just sugar melted in a saucepan, right? Actually, caramel colour (found in colas) is nothing of the sort. According to the consumer advocacy powerhouse Centre for Science in the Public Interest, “the artificial brown coloring in colas and some other products is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures.” Whoa. 

Now, the jury is still out on whether caramel coloring is indisputably bad for you (CSPI calls it carcinogenic, but critics point out that it’s only so at impossibly high doses), but I would still try to limit it, in cola and in other foods.


Refiners Syrup/ Golden Syrup

As wholesome and rustic as these sound, they are just fancy words for sugar syrup. They just sound much nicer than writing ‘pure sugar’ on a label.


Sources of Sugar

And speaking of sugar…often, companies will put several different sources of sugar in a product so that they can split up and ‘disguise’ some of that sugar on the ingredient list. By law, companies have to list the ingredient in largest proportion first. But if they split that ingredient up, then they may be able to get around that. To take a simple example: if you are making a cookie recipe that requires 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of chocolate, you would have to list the ingredients as sugar, flour, chocolate. But if you broke that sugar down into 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1/2 cup golden syrup and 1/2 cup honey, then your ingredient list would look like this: Flour, chocolate, sugar, corn syrup, golden syrup, honey. That sounds better, doesn’t it? This is what manufacturers often do to avoid listing sugar as the first ingredient (though they usually use glucose-frustose or high-fructose corn syrup instead of corn syrup and honey.) This is why I suggest avoiding foods that have some form of sugar as one of the top 5 ingredients – that way you are likely to avoid this form of ‘Ingredient Tetris’, as I call it.

photo credit: Viktor Hertz via photopin cc


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