If you don’t ask, the food manufacturer won’t tell. The consumer has a right to know what type of ingredients make up the food, and the manufacturer has an obligation to tell the truth. Don’t buy foods containing these misleading labels:
- “No-name” labels (e.g., “vegetable oil” or “vegetable shortening”). You have a right to know which type of vegetables are used in the oil, as some are more nutritious than others. “Vegetable shortening” sounds more appealing and more healthy than “lard,” but most of these shortenings are made with hydrogenated oils, which act in the body as a fat worse than lard. You will find this term deceivingly used in packaged foods and fast-food outlets. Hydrogenated fats can be buried in fine print. Look for a more explicit label, such as “saturated-fat-free.”
- “And/or” labels (e.g., “contains soy and/or palm kernel oil” or “contains partially hydrogenated and/or…” or “contains corn and/or cottonseed oil.” And/or labeling gives the manufacturer leeway to substitute cheaper, often less nutritious, and even unhealthy oils without changing the printing on the label. Since the price of different oil fluctuates, this allows the manufacturer to put the cheapest oils in the food.
- “Cold-pressed.” This is a term that is used on oils to give the consumer the impression that the oils have been pressed more naturally, since some consumers know that heat hurts oils. Cold-pressed has no legal, biochemical, or technological meaning. The actual press that was used to squeeze the seeds into oil may not be heated (because it doesn’t have to be), yet the heat generated by friction when the seeds are compressed may be enough to harm the oils. A more truthful label would be “unheated during processing”. Except for some virgin oils, most commercially-pressed oils are heated during their pressing process, even though the press itself was “cold.” In the United States, the term “cold pressed” has no legal definition. A more useful and truthful label would be “protected from heat, light, and oxygen during processing.”
- “Cholesterol-free.” “Cholesterol free” tops the list of labels that lie. It should be changed to “contains no cholesterol-raising ingredients,” since many of the hydrogenated fats buried in the ingredients list can raise cholesterol even though the food still qualifies as cholesterol-free.
- “High in polyunsaturated fatty acids.” “Polyunsaturated” is one of the more recent nutritionally incorrect buzz words, since the public is being led to equate the word with “healthy.” In fact, it depends on the polyunsaturate. Some polyunsaturates are healthy, such as essential fatty acids; others, such as that found in margarine, are not because they are chemically altered by hydrogenation.
- “Made from or made with natural ingredients.” This is no great claim. Most processed foods are made from natural ingredients, which simply means that the food starts out on a vine somewhere. Even the drug heroin is made from natural ingredients in the poppy plant.