Skip to content

    Which Food Labels are Misleading?

    By Margie Kelly

    Food Labels

    I don’t think of myself as a naïve person, but after reading the excellent blog “10 Food Label Lies” by Emily Main on, I was shocked at how far food companies go to tell consumers what they want to hear, whether or not it’s true. All in the service of selling more stuff.

    Here’s a quick synopsis of the Top 10 food label lies, compiled by

    · No added growth hormones

    Using growth hormones in poultry or pork is against U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulation, but some producers will use antibiotics, which has the same result. Growth hormones are permitted in beef and dairy products but if you see the “no added growth hormones” label there, you just have to take the marketer’s word for it, because there’s no third party validation to ensure it’s true.

    * Natural

    “Natural” is a word that has no official meaning. Even genetically modified food, which is pretty much the opposite of natural, can be labeled “natural.”

    * Grass-fed

    No farm inspections are required to prove that animals are grass-fed. And beware the label on chicken or pork: those animals can’t survive on a grass-fed diet.

    * Antibiotic free

    This term is illegal to use on packaging and, again, (are you sensing a trend here?) the phrase “antibiotic free” has no official meaning.

    * Nutrition Facts

    Under FDA regulations, manufacturers are allowed to use averages when computing the amount of calories per serving, and salt and fat content. But watch out label-reader: those averages can be off by as much as 20 percent and still meet FDA guidelines. Trans fats are also given a pass, with products containing 0.5 grams permitted to indicate zero percent, even though .5 grams is one-quarter of a day’s limit.

    * Gluten-free

    Here’s another term with no definition or standard set by the FDA. Some products with a “gluten-free” label are wheat-free, but not all are free of barley and rye, which is what would be required to actually make the product gluten-free.

    * Multi-grain

    Can you guess what the problem is with this label? Once again, the FDA has no guidance that states to label a product “multi-grain” it needs to contain the full grains. Your “multi-grain” bread could simply be multiple refined grains, which are not any healthier for being mixed together.

    * Front-of-Package Labeling Systems

    Developed by food manufacturers as a marketing tool, these labels tout the qualities of the product that the manufacturer wants to advertise, like “no trans fat!,” without providing any information about what might not be so healthy inside the box.

    * BPA-free

    While many cans are BPA-free, Rodale points out that cans are lined with plastics, which leach out other chemicals into your food. The one exception is Eden Foods, which has developed a plastic-free resin for its can liner.

    * Pesticide-free

    Don’t be confused! Pesticide-free does not mean “organic.” Indeed, “pesticide-free” certification may simply indicate that they’ve detected the same amount of pesticides on those foods as has been found in conventional foods.

    This list made me want to throw up my hands in despair, until I remembered that being aware of the frequently meaningless words manufacturers add to food labels will make me a more alert consumer, which I know will be healthier for my family. That means I’ll be buying fewer processed foods so I can avoid the food lie traps. And I’ll try to expand the number of organic foods I buy, which is the one certification label I can trust.

    Be sure to check out the full post at for more tips on how to avoid the food label lies and get the high-quality food you want for your family.

    Photo: Ingram Publishing

    The opinions expressed in WebMD Second Opinion are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Second Opinion are... Expand

    URAC Seal TRUSTe Privacy Certification TAG Registered Seal HONcode Seal AdChoices