'All-Natural'? How to Guard Against 3 Misleading Food Labels

How to read past the labels in the grocery store.

Every fashionista follows a cardinal rule: Look at the label. The little tag may be understated, but it represents big concepts—quality, style, status. Most importantly, it assures shoppers that the clothing they’re shelling out hundreds of bucks for is the real thing—not a cheap knockoff.

Consumers follow the same principle with the foods they decide to put into their shopping carts. Health-conscious folks pick up cereals because they boast brightly colored labels reading “made with whole grains” and “contains whole wheat.” Moms select certain snacks because they’re “all-natural.” And environmentalists stock up on egg cartons dotted with “cage-free” stickers. Shoppers buy these products over others and are even willing to pay a premium because they want their foods to be nutritious and earth-friendly. If the labels make these claims, they must be true. Right? Wrong. Manufacturers spend billions of dollars each year on deceptive marketing tactics to lure in unsuspecting shoppers. Part of that strategy includes using labels [PDF] that overstate foods’ nutritional content or production methods. Worse yet, many of these labels and misleading phrases aren’t even regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Intentionally misleading customers is perfectly legal, and it’s happening throughout supermarket aisles near you. Arming yourself with information is the best way to navigate these deceptive food labels. Here's our guide to three misleading labels and how you can make sure you’re spending money on the right foods:

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