It can be difficult to know exactly what you’re feeding your family these days. There are confusing food-labeling terms that are often mere marketing ploys rather than helpful tools. While labels like ‘reduced fat,’ ‘low calorie,’ and ‘low sugar’ may sound enticing, it oftentimes doesn’t mean the food is any healthier. Let’s take a look at products marketed as low or reduced sugar, for example. What this likely means is that the manufacturer has reduced the amount of table sugar in a food item and replaced it with non-nutritive sweeteners. These are used instead because they fit the bill of ‘low sugar’ while keeping the product tasting sweet.

The ‘Low Sugar’ Pitfall

At this point, it’s unclear if artificial sweeteners are good or bad for us. One thing we do know, however, is that processed food is not as good for us as say, fruits and vegetables in their natural form. What’s more, food companies don’t have to tell us how much of these artificial sweeteners they’re adding to their products. This concerns me as a doctor and a parent because children today are consuming more of these sweeteners than ever before. And, as any parent knows, once your kid gets a taste of something super sweet, they’re going to want more of it.

What Parents Should Know

So, the important place to look on food packaging isn’t on the front where you’ll find the fancy marketing terms. Instead, turn the product over and read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel. It sounds obvious, but to understand what’s in your food, you need to read the food label, not what the buzz words marketers want you reading. Here are things to look out for:

  1. Unrecognizable ingredients. If you can’t pronounce it, chances are it’s been highly manufactured or it’s a chemical. 
  2. Alternate names for sugar. Ingredients that are essentially sugar include corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, barley malt syrup, and agave nectar. Sugar may be listed more than once because of its many forms.
  3. Order matters! Ingredients are listed in descending order of quantity. So what’s listed first has the most weight. 

My recommendation is to always cut back or skip processed food altogether. Opt for foods as close to their natural form as possible and do your best to eat the rainbow. Natural, whole, fresh foods are packed with nutrients and there’s no ingredient list in sight.

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