Study: Packaged food 'buzzwords' trick consumers claiming health benefits

HORRYCOUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Finding healthy food can often be tough. But a new study shows consumers pay too much attention to the front of the box, and not enough to the back.

They call it "buzzwords." Consumers see "organic,"  "gluten free,"  or "antioxidant-rich" on the front of the box, and scoop it up, and food companies know they can get away with it.

The study by the University of Houston says consumers are tricked into thinking packaged food products labeled with those buzzwords are healthier than they actually are.

Kelly Snow, a dietician with the Grand Strand Medical Center, says usually when a packaged food says "sugar-free" on the front,  the fat content is outrageous. If it says"fat-free," the sugar is higher.

People may pick up a bag of apples when they see "gluten-free" on it, smartly pasted to the front by the food producer. But gluten is found in wheat and pasta, not apples.

Snow says food companies tell you what isn't in their foods, but they don't tell you what is. And unfortunately, most consumers only look at the front of the box.

"They're not going to turn it around and take the time to look at the label," Snow says. "So what they're seeing on the front of the container, is 'healthy,' or 'fat-free,' or 'sugar free,' or 'gluten-free,' and that's all they're seeing, and they're thinking 'Oh great, this looks like a good product.' When really, they didn't look at the ingredients, they didn't look at the label to see what was actually in there."

So many items in the grocery store these days are labeled "organic." Food companies stamp it on the front of products, but nothing is guaranteed organic unless it has the USDA's organic seal.

As far as heart-healthy, she says many times products labeled that way are chock full of sodium, which is terrible for your heart. But because people trust the front of the box, they don't check the actual ingredients.

"You can trust the nutrition facts label, but anything else you see in writing is...they can put anything in writing on the boxes so, it's very misleading," Snow continues. "Always check the nutrition facts label, and then the ingredients that are listed below the nutrition facts label. And that's where it says what is in your product."

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