Labels, Expiration Dates, and Advertising Semantics

Life teaches us all’s not always what it appears. Blind trust, brand loyalty, and complacency rule today’s shopping mantra. Perhaps — when we need wholesome immune-stimulating nutrition the most — it’s time to become informed.

Food labels are the most valuable tools consumers have.

But do complacent consumers really take note, read and understand labels, overreact to expiration dates and make use of the information when shopping? An NIH survey reveals 52.5% of consumers do not read the ingredients on a food label. “While some consumers are checking labels, they don’t necessarily understand what they’re reading.” concurs: “Half of the world’s consumers said they only “partly” understand the nutritional labels on food.” This suggests: If you cannot pronounce it, denounce it.

When queried, many have a plan, like buying in bulk, avoiding pre-packaged labeled goods, fewer foods with labels, buying grown-by-farmer goods, reaching to the back of the shelf, buying foods advertised “natural,” checking labels for food allergens, avoiding high sodium and sugar levels, smelling certain foods, dodging ubiquitous trans-fats (hydrogenated oils), and shunning bloated, dented containers.

But as the New York Times reports, “Food product dating is completely voluntary for all products. It has nothing to do with safety. It acts solely as the manufacturer’s best guess as to when its product will no longer be at peak quality. Food manufacturers tend to be conservative with those dates.” adds, “Oftentimes expiration dates are a guideline and not a strict rule, usually referencing the quality rather than the actual safety of the food. Although it’s still important to check the packaging, there are quite a few foods where the date has no significance. Dry, boxed pasta can last for quite some time if it’s unopened. Oftentimes expired bread is fine to eat if you don’t see mold.”

“Cereals don’t really go bad. There is not that much of a quality issue. If you leave your cereal box open, it can get stale, but you are still not going to get sick from it,” Emily Broad Leib, director of Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic told Time magazine. Dried beans and lentils will remain safe to eat for years after purchase.

Regarding oils

Regarding oils, the New York Times suggests following your nose as you would with most foods. Old oil will start to develop metallic, soapy or in some cases — such as with canola oil — fishy smells.

Many of us have caught on that “no added sugar” doesn’t mean sugar-free, and “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean natural. If no sugar or sugar-containing products are added during processing, then a product can be labeled “no added sugar.” It can’t be presumed to be free of sugar though. It simply means the manufacturer didn’t add any sugar during the process of manufacturing. A product with a no added sugar label may still contain natural sugars, artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. The NIH reports containers of pure honey, pure maple syrup, or packages of pure sugar are not required to declare grams of added sugars in a serving but must still include a declaration of the percent DV for added sugars.

% Daily Value

The % Daily Value (%DV) is the percentage of the daily value for each nutrient, or vitamin, in a serving of the food, according to the National Institutes of Health. “The DV’s reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed daily. The number of servings is not a recommendation of how much we should eat or drink, just the typical amount people eat or drink.”

Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of a particular food. The number of servings consumed determines calories eaten. A lot depends on the quality of the calories, as well as your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.

Adult men need about 56 grams of protein a day, adult women need about 46 grams daily. An ounce is about 29 grams.

Consumer Reports notes 62 percent of shoppers look for the “natural” label believing it means no artificial ingredients, chemicals, or pesticides, and hasn’t been genetically modified making consumers perceive it as healthier. But, in fact, there’s no universal definition or regulation for the misleading word “natural.”

As a rule, metal lasts longer than glass, which lasts longer than plastic. Note that most plastic water bottles and canned food containers contain BPS, a known carcinogen. cautions, “Research also strongly suggests that at certain exposure levels, some of the chemicals in these products, such as bisphenol a (BPA), may cause cancer in people.”

So, put your face mask on securely, don reading glasses when shopping, and read food and beverage labels, expiration dates, and notice marketing ploys. Benefitting from labels and truths in advertising go a long way toward keeping us mentally and physically grounded any time and especially during this troubling time in the history of civilization.


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