By Michael F. Jacobson HuffPost Healthy Living
When nutrition facts became mandatory on packaged foods in 1993, interested consumers could, for the first time, learn how many calories and nutrients were in their foods. Popular, readable, and consumer friendly, nutrition facts labels earned its designer an award for design excellence from President Bill Clinton. Ingredients list, however, were left behind by the nutrition-labeling law. And as useful as nutrition facts labels are, it's increasingly difficult for the truth on the fine print to compete with the omissions, obfuscations, or in some cases, outright falsifications on the fronts of food packages.
Labels should be clear, honest, and informative -- and reading one shouldn't require the skills of an NSA code-breaker. But too often, companies try to trick people into buying foods that aren't as healthy as the labels pretend.
Help may be on the way, however, in the form of important legislation introduced by Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Their Food Labeling Modernization Act would solve some of the biggest problems with food labels today. It would be a congressional kick in the pants to an agency that probably could be dealing with many of these issues now, but isn't. What follows are some particularly egregious examples of bad labeling that investigators from the Center for Science in the Public Interest found on recent shopping trips.
An old country music song says "the big print giveth and the small print taketh away." Here, Nestle has obscured even the small print to the best of its ability, with these tiny, black-on-brown all-CAPS. Hard to find those partially hydrogenated oils you were keeping an eye out for, eh?
Whole Foods Mighty Multigrain
We expected more from Whole Foods but instead got these whole grain hijinks with its Mighty Multigrain Small Batch Bread "made with whole grains." White flour is the first ingredient, water the second. Funny that they don't brag that it's "made with water!'
Land O'Lakes Light Butter
I can't believe it's not better: Bragging that this Land O'Lakes Light Butter has zero grams of trans fat per serving obscures the fact that this product also contains a slug of heart-harmful saturated fat.
Arrowhead Mills Chocolate Squares
Arrowhead Mills says its Whole Grain Chocolate filled Squares cereal is "all natural." At least its first ingredient is whole grain, but another ingredient, alkalized cocoa powder, is only produced in factories and is definitely not "natural."
Healthy Choice Fettuccini Alfredo Bake
Maybe the copywriter was baked? This Healthy Choice Fettuccini Alfredo Bake could not be described as "healthy" under the proposed law. To qualify for "healthy," a pasta would have to be at least half whole grains. Here, all the grain is refined white flour.
Starbucks Coffee Ice Cream
We'd like to tell you exactly how much caffeine is in this Starbucks ice cream, but we canít tell by looking at the package. Caffeine isn't disclosed anywhere on the label. But we know from asking the company that it has about 45 milligrams per serving. The bill would require products with more than 10 mg of caffeine to disclose the amount.
Post Greek Mixed Berry Honey Bunches of Oats
Count up the various sugars in Post's Greek Mixed Berry Honey Bunches of Oats cereal. The bill would require ingredient lists to lump all sugars together, such as the sugar, corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, and other sugars scattered amidst all the other ingredients. And get out your magnifying glass if you want to find them here. Lumped together, "sugar" would show up higher in the ingredient list. (The suggestion that the cereal contains Greek yogurt is a stretch, considering that its yogurt powders have been heat-treated, killing the cultures that make yogurt yogurt.)
Hidden Valley Pomegranate Vinaigrette
You might naively think that the reddish color in Farmhouse Originals Pomegranate Vinaigrette comes from the pomegranate. Sorry. Probably most of the color is artificially added thanks to the annatto, Red 40, and Blue 1. It's perfectly legal that the front label doesnít disclose the presence of those colorings, but the new legislation would require a front label notice when a food is artificially colored with either synthetic or natural ingredients. Red 40 and Blue 1, by the way, are neurotoxic dyes that exacerbate behavioral problems in some children.
Kraft Miracle Whip Light
Consumers are likely aware of the artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas. But who expects one in mayonnaise? Kraft Miracle Whip Light actually has two artificial sweeteners -- sucralose and acesulfame potassium -- which is strange since this product also contains high-fructose corn syrup and sugar. The proposed law would require a front-of-package declaration that this mayo is artificially sweetened.