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Labels lie

india Updated: Sep 02, 2006 03:06 IST

Here is another great marketing trick you probably never thought was being played on you when buying that ‘cholesterol-free oil’ or ‘sugar-free juice’.

Health experts say brands that claim to be natural, fat-free, cholesterol-free, zero-carb and zero-sodium are usually misleading. Labels on the products do not tell the entire story. And your health may be suffering because of that.

Following an angioplasty, Ajoy Biswas was asked to change his diet and take cholesterol-lowering drugs. Three months later, his cholesterol level remained the same. Reason: the ‘cholesterol-free’ oil was not what the label said it to be.

Overweight and suffering from polycystic ovaries, Arati Mahindra has been on a diet for three months, with no discernible weight loss. Reason: the fat-free refined oil she uses is just free of ‘saturated’ fats but high on calories.

Says nutritionist Ishi Khosla: “Consumers wrongly judge a product by what it lacks rather than what it gives, and manufacturers use this to sell products.”

“Margarine and butter substitutes, which are destructive, are sold as being ‘cholesterol-free’. Breakfast cereals are advertised as fat-free and cholesterol-free, when grains have no cholesterol or fat anyway,” she says.

As far as the law goes, manufacturers are walking a thin line. Prevention of Food Adulteration rules say labels or advertisement of edible oils and fats should not have expressions that are exaggerated — like super-refined, extra refined, micro-refined, ultra-refined, anti-cholesterol.

Apart from mentioning (on the label) the harmful ingredients that the product anyway will not have, manufacturers mislead consumers by not mentioning the damning ingredients their products have or by using euphemisms to avoid saying it upfront.

But the basic rule, according to Escorts’ Dr R.R. Kasliwal, is: “Eat fresh food, avoid processed food and cut back on oil, sugar and starch.”

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