All Natural Free Range Low Cal Hand Waving
Natural Free Range Low Cal Hand Waving
Product formulators and their marketing departments
invest a lot of effort in package design and messaging.
They routinely test various approaches with focus groups.
The strategies probably do work, in terms of one variant
generating incremental sales over others.
But product packaging (for pretty much everything, not
just food) is aimed closing the sale - presenting
whatever hot buttons are trendy - and rarely has
anything to do with informed consumer decision making.
I periodically take notice of common prominent phrases on
food packages, and herewith offer some translations of
what they really mean. This is just about broad claims,
by the way. I could generate an entire web site on specific
charlatan ingredients like
“evaporated cane juice” and
Means: you wouldn’t buy the product if they told you.
Often the most important statement on the package is
the one that is not there at all.
At the top of the list of MIA
statements is country of origin (COO).
In the 21st century, if the maker omits this
it’s because including it would reduce sales.
In the 20th century, COO was often omitted due to
multiple-sourcing and avoiding the expense of
package text churn. Now, you need to assume it’s
because it would say “Made in Elbonia”
(or some other toxic locale).
On COO, these are not COO statements:
⊗ Packed in USA
⊗ Packaged in USA
⊗ Manufactured for Brand Name, Metropolis, USA
All of those actually mean “…using one or more
(probably key) ingredients not of USA origin”.
The next big Conspicuously Absent claims are:
• Non GMO, and
If they are missing, you can be sure the product
is GMO and/or non-organic. You may less often encounter products
where just some of the ingredients are non-GMO and/or organic.
Pay close attention to the other ingredients. Sometimes it’s
not a big deal.
Means: Contains no supernatural ingredients.
All seriousness aside, when more than one ingredient
is present, it typically translates to:
they persuaded the FDA that their synthetic ingredients
are chemically identical to actual natural ingredients,
or, they found arguably natural sources for multiple
ingredients you would not consume if they had just put
them in as refined chemicals.
See “No Added Nitrates” below for
an actually unfortunate example.
They want you to think it means “Non-GMO”
Means: Do not look at the Ingredients list.
The product is generally a health disaster, but they dug deep,
and found one ingredient that might have had some marginal
benefit, as long as you didn’t consume it as part of that
particular product. On Wheat Belly, by the way, anti-oxidant
properties of whole foods are considered beneficial but are
not a major focus.
The word is meaningless unless qualified by a reference
to some external standard for what balanced is. If there
is a reference, you can then usually assess that it’s
some bogus consensus nutritional profile.
In nutrition bars, by the way, “balance”
used to mean 40:30:30 (carb:protein:fat). Balance
brand still does. Zone Perfect is tiptoeing away
from that. Both brands are still too high in carbs,
too low in fat, and loaded with typical toxins
(wheat, soy, sugar, rice, emulsifiers, etc.).
Quest Nutrition claims a “perfect nutritional profile”
for their products. Nope: still way too low in fat
(and lately reformulated
As much Calcium as…
Means: Now includes coronary plaque
fortification is a health disaster. There might be an
exception for calcium hydroxyappatite in a diet with
ample Magnesium, Vitamin D3,
Vitamin K (MK-4, MK-7), and no grains. You’re
probably not gazing on the label for such a product.
Means: They don’t get nutrition and they hope
you don’t either.
They may have just reduced the portion size,
hoping you’ll eat more/larger portions. Or they may
have reduced the nutritional content of the product.
The FDA’s recently renewed vendetta on calories is
not helping here. Until the CICO
zombie finally gets killed completely dead, expect
continued Low Cal warning labels on products.
Means: high carbs and/or high adverse fats (usually)
Even Ancel Keys admitted that dietary cholesterol
DID NOT MATTER. Anyone who still thinks it matters
Means: still too glycemic and all other bets are off
on other toxins
Food products that meet ADA recommendations, at the
very least, keep diabetics diabetic; they may even
cause it. Until the ADA is replaced by some other
group that is honest about T2D (and doesn’t confound
it with T1D), “diabetic” is a warning label.
Means: nothing in particular
This is a generic warning label. It’s hard to predict
what nonsense informed the product formulation.
Means: pure sugar
Many Energy products would be 133%
sugar if they could figure out how to do that. As
athletes come to understand the bankruptcy of
“carb loading”, and reconsider the wisdom of feeding
fast carbs into glycogen depletion, expect the
energy branding to morph, or diminish. Meanwhile,
avoid it absolutely.
Means: high carb
This is another common admission that
“They don’t get nutrition and they hope
you don’t either.”
In the specific case of dairy, skim and part skim means deficient
in Vitamin K among other things, and whatever is missing
seems to correlate with higher
risk of Parkinson’s.
The barn with 200,000 chickens has a small door that
lets 8 birds into a 4×4-foot outside pen of bare dirt.
For some reason none of them ever go out there. The
phrases you really want to see are “pastured”
Means: Run away screaming.
…unless it’s just a minor footnote on the package.
Dr. Davis has cautioned on this any
number of times. I’ve written specifically about this
Means: probably not
It turns out that the FDA
pays some attention to this, but they are stuck on fail.
Means: Causes heart disease
This American Heart Association warning label conveniently
identifies foods often worth actively avoiding. If a product
bearing this logo is actually healthy (and a few are),
it’s purely by accident. The requirements
include low fat, low sat fat, low cholesterol, low sodium,
do not require zero trans fat, pay no particular attention
to Omega 6 linoleic acid, no particular attention to
net carbs, and do allow added calcium.
Consequently, high carb and added
wheat are common.
Yes, this also tells you a lot about the AHA.
Means: you’re lucky they didn’t pad it with
sawdust (and maybe they did)
Odds are high that this fiber will pass through you
completely unutilized – even your gut bacteria
will pass it up. That’s not something you need in
your diet. Unless the product makes credible
statements about the fiber being an actual prebiotic,
take HF as a warning.
Means: the crown sheet above the conveyor burners finally
failed, so they just discarded it
The only benefit to seeing this term (or “baked”)
is that it does mean “not fried”).
Means: nothing in particular other than the higher price
Take it as incentive to give the Nutrition Facts panel
more than average scrutiny. They may have added even more
adverse junk to try to make the on-plate presentation
look a tiny bit less industrial.
“Artisan” and “artisanal” mean the
same thing, except the price will be even higher.
I suspect it was spelled that way to avoid FDA rules on “light”,
but the FDA caught up with it:
Nutrient content claims for “light” or “lite.”
It’s the same old official disaster.
See “Low Fat”
No Added Nitrates
Means: they’re there, but called something else
This one is just a sad commentary on chemical terms and
consumer awareness. What we want to avoid are
Nitrates aren’t a real
problem, but because buyers get confused, they have to
hide them, usually as “celery juice”
or “celery powder”.
Means: not nutritious
This is another word-like character string that
has no specific meaning in statute, regulation or case law.
Yes, it’s actually more vague than All Natural.
Packed in Oil
Means (too often): an oil you don’t want to
consume, that leeched out all the nutrients
Seafood packed in oil can actually be desirable,
but it needs to be an oil that’s safe to consume
on its own (such as olive oil, if credible), and
not an industrial grain or seed oil
High/With Omega 3
Means: high n3 ALA, which you probably don’t need more of
Unless the package specifically states ω3 DHA and EPA,
and precisely how much, it’s mostly if not entirely ALA.
Many products with added ω3 are doing so to distract
you from the fact that they contain adverse amounts of
linoleic acid. Adding ω3 does not fix that.
Means: blander taste, but increased margins
Any actual nutritional benefit is accidental and probably
counter to the business plan. This is another common
admission that “They don’t get nutrition and they
hope you don’t either.”
Means: they prefer utterly clueless customers
All food-grade salt is sea salt. It’s just a question
of how long ago it was sea water, what’s been removed,
what’s been left in, and what’s been added. What you want
to see is (pink) Himalayan or other ancient
mined salt (which won’t be branded as
Means: they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear
This is another common admission that
“They don’t get nutrition and they hope you don’t either.”
Means: sky high glycemic, possibly higher protein,
or in the case of drinks perhaps some token electrolytes
This is the same as “energy” but perhaps with
slightly less sugar, and possibly some Asian taurine.
Expect no change in fat until after
the revolution. Watch out for the usual toxins.
Usually means: high glycemic/high toxin disguised as other junk
This most often means artificial sweeteners that you really need to
think twice about consuming, but can also mean loaded with supposed
“complex” sugars that still elevate blood sugars
above WB targets.
Means: generic warning - and usually a financial hazard
took a crack at defining it, it usually means that the promoter
has myopically focused on some specific nutrient(s) as the answer to
your ailment(s), but is unwilling to make specific health claims that they
could be held to.
0g Trans Fats
Means: they finally got the FDA memo that was 30 years overdue
Expect this also to mean that they replaced the TFs with
different hazardous fats (usually PUFA industrial seed oils
heavy in Omega 6 LA).
Means: 100% of the grain toxin plus useless fiber,
insect fragments and rodent droppings
“Whole grain” is a term of art that doesn’t
mean “intact kernel”. It just means that the
whole kernel (bran, endosperm and germ) was present
when cracked, ground, puffed, rolled or steel cut to
ensure that you get the full toxic load.
“Refined grain” omits the bran and germ.
Means: offshore farmed fish, easily GMO fish to boot
and fed stuff you don’t want to know about, which stuff
results in it being high in Omega 6 LA
and deficient in Omega 3 DHA&EPA. The phrase
“wild caught” is not effectively enforced to
mean what they want you to think it means, with the sole
exception of “Alaska Wild Caught” which is
actively monitored by the state of Alaska. Look also
for Country of Origin, and expect to not find any
With, or Made With (insert trendy ingredient name here)
Means: they added just enough trendy to justify these big letters
But it’s not the dose of trendy you were looking for,
and probably not the ideal form of trendy, and the trendy may not even be a
wise thing to have added (despite being trendy).
Well, OK, one more…
Made With Real Cheese/Fruit or whatever
Means: I think you can figure it out
According to Wheat Belly Total Health (p137)
less than 2% of what’s sold as “food” in typical
supermarkets is actually fit for routine human
consumption. But 100% is pretending to be.
What’s explained above is a just part of how
product producers play that game.
Randall Munroe’s take on this (xkcd) is not far off the mark: