To know if a certain product is healthy for you, you need to read the food labels. Because reading food labels is a hassle and not everyone knows how to interpret it, some countries started marking products with a star or color code to make it clear to consumers what is healthy and what is not. While those systems may seem like a good idea, it’s much more complicated than this. There are just too many factors that play a role in deciding if a certain product is healthy or not.
Nestle is one of the companies that managed to fool the star system in Australia rating their cacao powder with 4.5 stars out of 5, making Milo look like a very healthy product. They based this scale on the chocolate milk you get after dissolving 3 teaspoons of Milo in 200ml of skimmed milk. This is basically tricking costumers because research showed that only 13% of the people drinking Milo uses skimmed milk. 55% is actually using full fat milk which brings the rate down to 2.5 stars. The powder itself would score just 1.5 stars. The other question, that didn’t show up in the news article is how many teaspoons people are really using for their chocolate milk.
It’s quite logical that with these systems, companies are going to look for loopholes to make their product appear better. Bad ratings is bad commercial. This is also one of the reasons why packages can be very misleading.
What do food claims on packages really mean?
“All natural” means there are no artificial flavors and synthetic substances in the product, but it doesn’t mean there is nothing added to it. There can still be added fructose, corn syrup, salt and other natural products, that are not necessarily healthy.
“No gluten” is only good news for people that are gluten intolerant or sensitive. For everyone else the same product with gluten might be a better choice, since gluten comes together with fibers. Don’t be fooled by the “no gluten” label on products that naturally don’t contain gluten, such as corn and rice crackers. [read more about gluten]
“Zero added sugar” doesn’t mean no carbohydrates. The product is likely to contain natural sugars and/or other added carbohydrates like maltodextrin. You can find this claim on yogurts, biscuits and juices.
“Zero trans-fat” can be put on a package if there is less than 0.5g trans-fat per serving. So depending on how many servings you plan to eat this product can still be bad for your health. Watch out for “hydrogenated oils” in the ingredient list.
“Light” can mean a lot of things. It can even mean that color of the product is light (mainly when it comes to oils). The dietary meaning of a “light product” is that contains 50% less fat than the comparable regular version of this product. Make no mistakes - light chips, is still not equal to healthy chips.
Healthy and not healthy is not always black and white
If we could draw up a list with what is healthy and what is not everything would be a lot easier, but unfortunately, the health benefits of a product depends on your overall diet. As described in the golden rules - eating too much of something healthy is also not good. In some cases it is better to eat something sugary than a salad, especially when it comes to nutrition around training. Putting chocolate milk on the blacklist is wrong, because it’s actually excellent for recovery after training.