Home Did You Know Supermarket Swindle: Two Things To Avoid On Your Food Labels

Supermarket Swindle: Two Things To Avoid On Your Food Labels

by Erika Nicole Kendall

As I’ve said before, there are only a few things that really unnerve me – one of them is dishonesty in marketing. (Surprise, surprise… that’s what marketing is.) If you browse an aisle at the supermarket, you will see claims made on package after package after package… but is it really worth it? For that matter, is it even accurate? Does it even mean anything? Here, I’ll list two things to watch out for on your packages, just to make sure you’re not paying extra for nonsense.

Natural flavors… with “other natural flavors?”

“Natural”

The word “natural” means a lot of things. Unfortunately for us, none of them mean the same thing. Clever marketing allows us to think that “natural” means the same as “organic” – pictures of farms, gardens, farmers and cows serve as the backdrop to a bright little starburst in the corner saying “All natural!” It makes you think “organic,” but it’s not. This is to the marketer’s benefit, because they get all the benefits of looking “organic” without all the hoops they’d have to jump through to be “organic.” For crying out loud, high fructose corn syrup can be considered “natural.”

For a product to carry an “organic” label, the ingredients have to have been grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. No chemical interference. For a product to carry a “natural” label… well, there are no requirements. That’s right. “Natural” could mean the processes an item went through to become what it is when you buy it. “Natural” also defines the “natural flavors” used in many of our processed foods. (Oh, and what are natural flavors, by the way? They’re chemicals created in a lab that taste exactly like whatever food they were created to mimic. “Natural,” indeed.)

It’s a load of crap.. and the FDA has officially gone out of its way to avoid defining the word “natural.”

What does this mean for you? It means that you might need to ensure that you know the difference between “natural” and “organic.” If organic is what you’re looking for, go organic. “Natural” won’t serve as the less-expensive-shortcut, because it’s obvious they’re using the terminology for the swindle. If there’s no clarification of what “natural” means on the label, skip it and find something a little less ambiguous.

“Zero Trans Fat”

I didn’t wanna leave you, but I gotta go right now…

A lot of us might not even know what “zero trans fats!!111!11!1” even actually means, but if we see it on a package we might not’ve bought otherwise… it just might be enough to make us buy.

Not only is that horrible shopping practice (I do admit I was guilty once), but it’s a little dangerous.

What is trans fat, you ask? Well, you might see it in your foods’ ingredient list as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated soybean oil.” It’s an oil (usually vegetable or soybean oil) that has hydrogen gas whipped into it, making it a thick and super creamy substance. This was a part of the original process used to create margarine, meant to replace butter because the saturated fats found in butter were considered so harmful. The trans fats that originated were an unintended consequence. Eventually, we found out that this “unintended consequence” was way more harmful than butter ever could be, leaving us exposed to heart disease.

The stuff can be found in lots of junk – margarine (of course), crackers, some thick and creamy items, and some inexpensive cakes/cookies/pastries. Anything with a thick, rich, buttery, creamy taste to it may more than likely have it.

Why is the “zero trans fat!!!1!1!!111!” claim on this list? Well, here’s why:

The FDA says a person shouldn’t ingest more than 2.5 grams of trans fat a day. (How about just telling people to avoid it altogether? I bet I know why…) A loophole in the FDA’s requirements states that if a food item has less than .5 grams of trans fat in it, it can safely claim that it has ZERO trans fat. There are two problems with this: 1, if each food on my plate has .49 grams of trans fat, I might not even know I’m eating 2 grams of trans fat; 2, what about people who eat more than one serving of an item?

Here’s an example. A box of Ritz crackers will tell you that a serving size is 5 crackers, and that is has 0grams trans fat. If you pick up the box of Ritz with the “fresh wrap” packages – the ones with, maybe, 15 crackers in an individually wrapped package – it will undoubtedly tell you that if you eat a whole package in one sitting, you’re eating something like 3 grams of trans fat.

“But I thought 1 serving has no trans fat?”

I know. It’s crap, right?

How can you avoid this? Even though it might say “0 grams trans fat” on the front and in the nutrition information, the ingredients list will always tell the real tale. It will always say “partially hydrogenated [insert vegetable, soybean, whatever] oil” inside that list. Keep an eye out for it.

In short, these two issues have one thing in common – you must be conscious! Know what you’re buying, know what you’re bringing home to your family, and know what you are supporting. If you’re okay with what you’re purchasing, then by all means — enjoy! But if you’re the least bit bothered, use this information and give your dollar to someone else. Believe me, I do. (And I’m still mad I had to give up Ritz crackers. I loved Ritz!)

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15 comments

Barbara Albin April 11, 2010 - 8:33 PM

You are so right about having to read everything on the package. One thing my husband taught me with reading ingredients, that the first ingredient listed is the most contained in the package or bottle. He always teases me when this comes to “liquids” which usually say water. I know this is a little different from what you are talking about, but you have to READ all the fne print. Sometime it might even keep you away from eating the product! The other day someone gave me a berry flavored drink, but it was flavored with pear juice. It still tasted good, but I don’t think there were any berries in it! Maybe just a little red color.

JoAnna April 12, 2010 - 3:36 AM

I LOVE regular Triscuit/woven wheat crackers! But since I’ve been purging my diet of “frankenfoods”, I don’t like the funny taste of those altered foods. Making a spread to put on the crackers tastes so much better and is healthier than buying that flavor “baked in”. It does take more effort to make things from real foods, but I feel so much better. Afterall, would you rather eat “Ritz” crackers with plastic wrapped processed cheese food, or home baked crusty bread with hummus, or goat cheese and fruit? Which one will leave you satisfied sooner?

I also didn’t realize how picky I had become until I went grocery shopping with an old friend and we discussed what we didn’t put in our carts anymore, as well as some weaknesses. Mine is still the occaisional soda pop but I’m learning how to make my own with a blender, fruit, sugar and club soda.

Love your blog!

dst399 April 12, 2010 - 11:35 AM

All good points!!!! Now that I am reading labels and paying attention, I can tell the difference. My appetite has changed and now if I eat something I can tell if it is filled with crap!!! Hooray for label reading!

tisha April 12, 2010 - 11:49 AM

this is timely! i was looking at a box of something the other day and it said “zero grams of trans fat per serving.” i was like….”eh. something ain’t right here; why not just say zero grams of trans fat AT ALL?!” lol. ah, the fine art of deception…er. uh, marketing. lol.

Jacqueline October 22, 2010 - 12:37 PM

I gasped out loud at this.

I love Ritz too and never noticed this and I’m really good about looking @ nutrition labels.

You are a life saver, for real.

Tracie May 26, 2011 - 1:45 PM

The one’s that I have found that come close to Ritz are some crackers by Late July.

sexylocs50s June 26, 2011 - 8:47 AM

I so agree with this article, because you are right if you are weaning yourself off of processed foods, you can taste it when it is loaded with so many artificial ingredients. Yes, you do have to look at your labels you will be surprised to see what they considered “Natural”. I would advise everyone to read and if enough of us demand changes we will eventually see changes in the food industry, but the American
people have to take a stand and demand better quality of foods, we are sick and tired of the obesity rates increasing starting with our children. WE HAD ENOUGH!

evette June 28, 2011 - 11:25 AM

I walked into the market when i was willing to eat turkey bacon and realized that “natural flavoring” according to one very well known turkey producer/manufacturer was the addition of pork fat for flavoring. While that may count as “natural,” I don’t eat pork products so why would I eat it added to my turkey products? Nothing like a little truth mixed with a lie as an ingredient.

Tonya Morris September 2, 2012 - 6:18 PM

Thanks for information! Ritz crackers out the door! 🙁

gina darlin September 2, 2012 - 6:26 PM

Evette, I screamed when I read your comment. I’m not a fan Of turkey products however I buy them occasionally jst for a different choice. WOW! I’ll be checking for THAT in the future.

Denise Racine February 10, 2013 - 4:25 PM

I find that when shopping now, my cart usually ends up with items from the produce section. I will pick up a packaged product once in a while thinking, “oh, I can eat this”! Then I read the ingredients. What an excellent deterrent. 🙂 Back on the shelve it goes.

There are some “foods” I will no longer accept, and when I stick to that philosophy, my shopping cart is filled with better (real) food choices.
PS: I haven’t had a Ritz cracker in over a year! Lol

Chelly April 15, 2013 - 10:11 AM

Hi Erika,
Thanks for this article.

I’ve been seeing a commercial for brown rice sweet potato Triscuits and they sound deelish but then I think about your blog and articles like this one that warn us to be aware. I may already know the answer to this question but I’ll put it out there anyway. Can we trust this brown rice and sweet potato snack as real food?

Erika Nicole Kendall April 15, 2013 - 4:30 PM

I wouldn’t, to be plainly honest.

Chelly April 16, 2013 - 3:34 PM

Yeah I figured, but no worries I’ll just have to create my own clean version 🙂

Amy Beckworth July 20, 2014 - 5:38 PM

Ritz crackers hmmm? I thought I was doing a decent job on reading labels but clearly not. Hard to end up with too many items in the grocery basket when the majority end up back on the shelf but I need to be more diligent in checking. Thanks for the info.!

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