Bold nutrition claims often overpromise and underdeliver.
You can hardly grocery shop without being bombarded by products promising you more vitamins, more fiber, more nutrients, more everything. According to a 2013 USDA report, 43 percent of all new items that made their way to store shelves in 2010 carried at least one health claim on their packaging. We reality-check the lingo, so you know exactly what you're getting from your favorite foods.
The Claim: "With Omega-3s"
The Real Deal: Heart-healthy omega-3s get top billing on everything from peanut butter to milk to bread. But don't get too excited. Some products contain only 32 milligrams of the healthy fat per serving -- one-tenth the amount in a half ounce of salmon. You're better off following the American Heart Association's guidelines, which recommend eating at least two weekly servings (3.5 ounces cooked) of fatty fish like salmon or trout to get the most omega-3s in your diet.
The Claim: "Good Source of Antioxidants"
The Real Deal: Packaged foods need to contain only 10 percent of your daily intake of antioxidants, like vitamins A, C, and E, to be considered a "good source," according to the Food and Drug Administration. Instead, consume a full spectrum of antioxidants from natural sources like fruits and vegetables. One small carrot, for example, provides more than twice the amount of vitamin A that a full serving of one antioxidant-enriched cereal does. Aim for four servings of fruits and five servings of veggies per day -- the more colorful they are, the higher the antioxidant levels.
The Claim: "High in Fiber"
The Real Deal: Some loaves of bread, energy bars, and even waffles can deliver up to 35 percent of your daily fiber requirement per serving, but much of the added fiber can be man-made or extracted from plants. And while studies have shown that a high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of heart disease, the research applies to naturally occurring fiber. To meet your daily needs, stick to natural sources like beans, oats, berries, and broccoli.
The Claim: "Made with Whole Grains"
The Real Deal: Crackers, breads, and cereals that carry this promise must offer some whole grains (higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their refined counterparts), but companies aren't obligated to disclose the actual amount, and there's no required minimum. In fact, one popular brand of "whole wheat" crackers contains a measly five grams of whole grains per serving -- 1/16 of your recommended daily intake. Avoid confusion in the bread aisle by choosing foods that say they're "100 percent whole grain" -- that label ensures that the product contains no refined flours.
What claims do you look out for on food labels? Share with us in the comments below!