Walk into any supermarket, and you’ll find rows of packaged foods boasting how healthy they are. From “fat-free” to “natural” to “helps your immune system,” front-of-the-box labels may give the appearance of good nutrition, but the reality is a bit more complicated.
Unlike the Nutrition Facts panel, which is tightly regulated, front-of-the-package food labels aren’t as closely monitored. In addition, food companies tend to “stretch the envelope” of what’s permitted, says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. The result, she says: Many of the health claims you see are misleading.
In the past few years, the Food and Drug Administration has gone after more than a dozen food companies for deceptive labeling, but the most important thing for consumers to do, says Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is to “be informed so they know how to interpret the label.”