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How to spot misleading food labels

Wednesday - 4/25/2012, 9:32am  ET

Kristi King, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The food police are at it again, but not to chastise you for eating belly busting meals. This time they're going after food labels.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is appealing to the Food and Drug Administration to do more to protect you from what it calls deceptive and misleading labels.

It's Food Labeling Chaos report gives consumer some warning signs to consider.

"It's tough not to be fooled," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. "There are eggs labeled Omega-3 eggs that are supposedly richer in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for you to prevent heart disease, but those eggs also contain a lot of cholesterol that promotes heart disease."

Another example Jacobson finds egregious is the immunity label you'll find on some foods. He says typically those foods have antioxidant vitamins C and A added. But "there's not a shred of evidence that eating these fortified foods are going to protect you from germs in our environment."

Also don't confuse fruit juice with fruit drinks, which could contain as little as 5 percent juice. Very often the picture on the front of the package will show expensive delicious fruit such as blueberries or strawberries when in fact they may have mostly apple or pear juice, which are very cheap ingredients to produce.

Jacobson recommends avoiding deceptive labels by eating more food without labels such as fruits and vegetables. When buying packaged foods "don't trust the labels, read the ingredient lists very carefully." And read nutrition labels to make sure that a product that's labeled organic or natural "isn't loaded with saturated fat or sodium," for example.

CSPI has sued or worked out settlements with companies to get them to change some labels. A Sara Lee bread, for example, labeled as being "whole grain white bread" now has printed on the label that it's only 30 percent whole grains, says Jacobson.

Some other issues CSPI takes issue with include ingredient lists that are difficult to read, misleading natural claims and deceptive claims of products said to have zero "trans fats."

Jacobson says "the FDA should do more to crack down on all of these deceptions."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)