Applying this advice to Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars, which bear the "made with real fruit" claim, you find that the filling's first two ingredients (high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup) are equivalent to sugar. Then comes "strawberry puree concentrate"—that's where the fruit comes in—followed by glycerin, more sugar, water, and so on. In fact, when it comes to dietary exchanges (a system used by diabetics and others looking to control their intake of certain food groups or calories), the label says one bar provides 1½ carbohydrate exchanges and ½ fat exchange but no fruit exchange, which means it isn't equivalent to even a half serving. If your goal is to eat more fruit, you're better off with the real thing, says Greaves.
4. Food "made with whole grains." In its recent report "Food Labeling Chaos," the Center for Science in the Public Interest called on the FDA to require products making this claim to "disclose what percentage of total grains are whole." Right now, foods can bear a Whole Grains Council "stamp" on the packaging if they have at least half a serving of whole grains (three full servings per day are recommended), but companies are not permitted to indicate what percent of the grains in most foods are whole. Why? Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies at the Whole Grains Council, says in an E-mail that for most foods, the FDA only permits the packages to cite components as a percent of the total weight of all ingredients. So, Harriman says, a loaf of bread made with half whole grains and half refined grains wouldn't be allowed to say it was "50 percent whole grain"; that claim would be possible only if 50 percent of the total weight of the bread were whole grains. One exception: If all the grains in a given food are whole, the packages can bear a "100% Whole Grain" stamp. Less than that, and it becomes tough to decipher; the Whole Grains Council has its own suggestions, including looking for the word whole in the ingredient list and learning which ingredients (like enriched flour) never connote whole grains.
And as a general rule, if you're really trying to eat more healthfully, focus on the overall health profile of a food rather than a specific claim or ingredient. That means examining the nutrition and ingredient labels to see if a food really has the qualities you're looking for—or the ones you aren't.
5. Products claiming they're "natural." The CSPI's recent food labeling report wants the FDA to crack down on this claim and to prohibit the term's use in foods made with high-fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients. Here's an easy rule of thumb: Ignore the claim entirely. "Natural" is virtually meaningless; not everything made in a lab is harmful, not everything that pops up in the natural world is beneficial (E. coli is perfectly natural, after all), and distinguishing between the two is often an exercise in splitting hairs rather than a way of determining what you really want to know: How healthful is this food?