Food-Label Guide: Decode the Buzzwords

"Whole grain" and "reduced fat" foods may not be what you think. Find out what food-label buzzwords really mean!

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Dr. Oz Decodes Food Labels (3:36)

Food labels often advertise healthy promises on the outside that the food inside may not keep. Learn which labels require a closer look with this easy-to-understand guide.

"Whole Grain"
All grains start their lives as whole grains complete with a fully intact seed that includes three separate components. However, refining grains tends to remove the two outermost parts of the seed, stripping much of the grain's protein and at least 17 key nutrients. Whole grains have protein, fiber and many important vitamins and minerals that refined grains often lack.

If a food label says a product is "whole grain," that means that it must have the same amount of all three seed components as a freshly harvested kernel. Words like "bran," "wheat germ" and "fiber" do not mean a product is whole grain. Check the ingredients – if the first ingredient contains the word "whole," then it's likely (though not guaranteed) that the product is mostly whole grain. If only the second ingredient contains the word "whole," then the product may contain anywhere from 1% to 49% whole grain. With multigrain breads, it can be even harder to know how much of it is truly whole grain.

If you want to be completely confident that you're eating whole grains, look for a Whole Grain Stamp. If a product has a 100% Stamp, then all the grain ingredients are whole grains and it contains at least a full serving (16 grams) of whole grains per serving. A Basic Stamp means the product has at least 8 grams (a half serving) of whole grains, though it may also have refined grains.

"Zero Trans Fats"
Trans fats are a dangerous type of fat used often in baked goods, frozen foods, frostings, coffee creamers and microwavable popcorns, among others. They are a major contributor to heart disease and have already been banned or eliminated from many foods and restaurants. But beware: Current labeling guidelines allow manufacturers to say that any food that contains less than 0.5 grams per serving contains zero trans fats.

Even small amounts of these fats can add up over time to severely damage your blood vessels and heart. To make sure you're avoiding trans fats entirely, watch out for foods that list partially hydrogenated oil, hydrogenated vegetable oil and shortening on their ingredient list – these foods contain trans fats.