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It Pays to be a Label Reader

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I often get teased by friends and family when they offer my children new foods.  My kids always look to me first to see if its okay, and many times I like to read the label before telling them they can dig in. Whether it’s a treat, a snack or something else, I just like to know what my kids are eating.  I’m not crazy about it and they try new foods frequently, but I do work hard to make sure they have a healthy, balanced diet most of the time. 

Recently we were visiting some family and they had Nutella on the breakfast table.  My daughter loves to try new things, so she wanted to spread it all over her toast.  “It’s just like peanut butter!  I saw commercials for this stuff and it’s very healthy!” was one response when I said I wanted to look at the jar before she ate it.  My first thought was “Geez, this stuff has as much sugar as a candy bar”, and she didn’t need tons of it to start her day.  I didn’t argue with the person who suggested she eat it, but rather just said that she could try a bite and eat peanut butter on her toast instead.   

I never take someone else’s (or an ad’s) word for it when they say something is “natural” or “healthy”.  I like to do my own detective work, and in this instance I was glad that I did.   When I read that Ferrero (the company that makes Nutella) was sued for deceptive advertising and recently decided to settle, I was not completely surprised.
Last year, a California mom sued Ferrero for being misled by product claims that portrayed Nutella as healthy and part of a balanced diet.   Her lawsuit was recently awarded class-action status by the courts, a move that is not without controversy.  The Nutella label clearly states how much sugar and fat is in the product (21 grams of sugar and half of the calories from fat, per serving), and the ingredients list sugar and palm oil first.  Ferrero has chosen to settle for $3 million, and will also change nutrition labels and ads as part of the agreement. 

So is it the consumer’s responsibility to read the label, or the company’s responsibility to be truthful in advertising?  Or maybe a little of both?  In this case, the court sided with the consumer. 

I think it’s important for each of us to educate ourselves about the products we’re putting in our shopping carts.  Don’t rely on other people to tell you whether or not something is good for you- do the homework yourself.  Not sure where to start?  Check out How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label and take this quiz to find out whether or not you can interpret food labels. 
What do you think?  Do you agree with the court’s decision?

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REDROBIN47 2/20/2020
I started reading food labels after I joined SP. Most of them have ingredients I can't even pronounce, let alone know what they are. I realize foods have preservatives and fillers added but I want to know what I am eating. And some stuff sounds very unhealthy to me. The fewer the additives, the better it sounds to me. Report
RCLYKE 12/11/2019
Lots of great info Report
BONNIE1552 9/4/2019
Too bad Nutella is not a health food. I could eat the whole jar, lol. Report
Reading labels is important when dieting. Report
Been reading labels for awhile now. My health needs have changed and so has my diet. I can be seen flipping boxes, cartons, or cans around to read the label before the items are purchased. As a result, I spend more time shopping then before. Report
I've learned how to read labels on SparkPeople, which I really appreciate, but I also feel it is my responsibility to research any item that I may question. If I am deceived, I feel is because I didn't do my homework. Report
Advertising works, we all need to do our part and know what we are eating. The closer to the natural state of your food, the less you need to worry about what's in it. Report
Have to read all labels before buying any food Report
Labels are there for a reason - we're supposed to read them. Even though I know that intellectually, there are times when I don't. This happens especially when I'm in a hurry or when I'm very tired. When I do read them once I'm home, I could kick myself for buying something I can't or shouldn't eat. Report
Sometimes it is amazing how much sugar is in something Report
I remember reading it was a hazelnut spread and thought it would be good. Until I read the label. Report
I remember this ad and my son asked if he could eat it for breakfast and actually quoted the ad saying it was part of a nutrition breakfast. I remember explaining to him how ads are designed to sell and that you can’t believe everything you hear in them. If it’s too good to be true it usually is. It is ridiculous what people try to sue for these days. It truly is the quintessential American disease. Report
Helpful! Report
I only partially agree with the court. They should have to change their advertising but the consumer should not be awarded any money except maybe what she paid for a jar. I read all labels but if you have kids it can be hard to deal with when the commercials are aimed at them. Nutella spread on anything is not healthy. In no way is it ever part of a healthy breakfast. But the courts in this country have lost their minds. They award money to people for the stupidest reasons then wonder why prices are high or companies go out of business. As the consumer it is our responsibility to ultimately protect ourselves. Report
You need to be informed about what you ingest. Report
I love Nutella! But I would never consider anything creamy and chocolaty as being healthy. I use it as a treat. Just like if you buy your kids a sugary cereal with a cartoon character and then wonder why they are sick or suffering from food related issues, it is your fault! You bought it, you served it, you are responsible. The bigger problem is that too many people just do not care what is in their foods. They just buy what appeals to them or is convenient. I am just as guilty as the next person, we all are. The difference is that I and many people on this site are more focused on what it is we eat or feed to our family. You cannot blame the food producers for our willingness to put blinders on. Report
I think if you or your children are going to ingest a product, it is up to a parent to read the label first. When I took a retailing class in high school, yes it was so long ago that subjects were not given fancy names; the first thing we learned was that retailing was about 'successful selling' now called marketing, and that was something to the saying "Let the buyer beware." I think the court's decision misplaced blame. Report
It is called critical thinking - enough said!
The Nutella commercial doesn't say the stuff is healthy. It says it can be part of a healthy breakfast when you spread it on whole-wheat toast, which I guess has an element of truth in it. All the same I laughed when I first saw the ad - anyone who's tried Nutella knows it's a spreadable candy bar. We can all make an impulse buy, but not having time to read a label while shopping doesn't excuse never reading it at all. The court's decision is absurd. Report
As long as the company has the correct nutrition on the label, then there is no way that a consumer should be able to sue for the product being unhealthy. The whole point of advertising is to make someone buy your product. I'm smart enough to know that sugary cereal, soda and snacks are not good for me. If I see a commercial that tells me otherwise, I ignore it. No one is forcing you to buy their product. Take some responsibility for yourself. When people sue over nutrition issues or act as though they can't be responsible for themselves, this gives the government even more reason to want to step in and tell us what we can and cannot eat. Report
Once upon a time it would have been ridiculous for anyone to consider Nutella a healthfood, not just due to the sugar or fat but because it's chocolate. But ever since the carpetbomb of press on how healthy chocolate is, that's no longer a given. Everyone used to know that chocolate is nasty without a bunch of sugar and fat. While bitterer chocolate is available now, you probably couldn't get the average kid to eat it. (Funny how medical research started being funded after the slave free chocolate controversy, but I digress).

Peanut butter is not that great either, I still have it now and then but it's an indulgence. Report
I think the amount of money awarded was extreme but, if such an award is to be given, it should be used for public education. I read labels because my mother did and I learned it was a smart thing to do. However, if you are never taught why you should do this, it doesn't occur to you. I have educated many young women in their 20s (many with children) to read labels, especially when they develop health issues. They are surprised to find salt, sugar and fat in products like spaghetti sauce. I told them these substances are cheap fillers. Things like this are not taught in school and should be as it's evident that modern food and inactivity has led to early-onset diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Yes, consumers should be on guard and read labels, and yes manufacturers should be punished for advertising "healthy" when a product is far from healthy. As an aside, my husband picked up a jar of Nutella a couple of days ago and said "I had a sample of this once and it was pretty good. Should we buy it?" I told him to read the label and watched his expression change as he put it back on the shelf. He was shocked at the high fat and sugar content. Nuf said. Report
Once again, the courts or government has decided that people are stupid and need to be cared for. We can all become automatons and have no reason to think, because somebody else can do it for us! Personally, I prefer to think for myself (and read the label.) Report
I think it's ridiculous to award $3 million in a suit such as this as it opens the doors to nearly every food manufacturer being sued. Are we so gullible that we can no longer read a label? And if she did read the label and used the product regardless, whose fault is that?
It's about time we get ourselves informed and start to live by what we know is right. Report
Read labels and use your own thinking to make decisions. The chances are pretty good that if something is widely advertised as being healthy that it isn't. You really don't see a whole lot of advertising for natural, unadulterated, non-sugar and fat added foods. There really isn't much money in it. The lawsuit is silly. As we can see from the posts, people are going to buy it because they like how it tastes. Unfortunately, we can't force people to make good choices. We've tried. It hasn't worked -- witness the health problems in our country. Report
I agree with the court. And I also think while she was there she should have sue Sunny D also for trying to push itself as nutritious. Too many companies are involved in the deceptive food advertising. I find it quite funny that now they have placed "SEA SALT" in big letters on the packaging like it has some great health benefit. Also they should be held accountable for realistic serving sizes. Report
Labels can also be amusing:
A new fridge labeled CFC Free (Duh! CFC have been outlawed for 20 years.)
Non-toxic crayons. (I should hope so!)
Organic sea salt. (What? Really?)
The bag of edamame tells me it "May contain soy." (Um. Yeah it may. If it doesn't I want my money back, you can be sure of that.)
Yogurt is now Gluten free. ANd honey. And Watermelon. (Imagine that. What'll they think of next! Gluten free watermelon. I'll bet it's CFC-Free and non toxic too.) Report
It does very little good for people to read labels, when the food companies change the name of what goes in. You might overlook "castoreum" on the label. BUT CHANCES ARE YOU MIGHT NOTICE IF IT WERE LISTED AS


Castoreum is a bitter, orange-brown, odoriferous, oily secretion, found in two sacs between the anus and the external genitals of beavers. The discharge of the castor sac is combined with the beaver’s urine, and used during scent marking of territory. Both male and female beavers possess a pair of castor sacs and a pair of anal glands located in two cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail. Report
I like how the title of this is, "It Pays to be a Label Reader." Apparently, it pays VERY WELL to not be a label reader, when you can sue the company whose labels you aren't reading! Report
I found the results of the court case as repulsive as the Nutella ingredients list. Come on people, take some responsibility and read labels. It does not take that long--a whole lot less time than court does, for sure! It is like those who sue over being burned buy the hot coffee they bought, knowing it would be hot, or that sue for McDonalds making their kids fat. It does not take a genius to figure out that these foods are not healthy and these lawsuits are a grab for money. Just use common sense. Report
I thought this lawsuit was absolutely ridiculous. One of the arguments was "I can't be expected to read the label, or I'd spend hours in the grocery store." So all the government regulations requiring food labeling were for nothing then? I'm sorry, but these two women were either geniuses (or maybe it was the lawyers) for gaming the system and knowing exactly what they were doing, or they're total idiots. Personal resposibility people! It's spreadable chocolate for crying out loud, why would you think it was healthy? I don't have a problem with Nutella's advertising except for one thing: Nutella does not have "a touch of cocoa" hahahaha. It tastes more like chocolate than hazelnuts. Yes first two ingredients sugar and palm oil. Guess what, I have a (mostly eaten) jar in my pantry right now. I ate it every day for breakfast one year in high school. Yes it can be part of a healthy diet (like anything else), but it is definitely not a healthy food.

I'm just afraid this lawsuit has set a precedent. Now anything that has been advertised as potentially healthy but actually isn't is at risk. "Whole grain" sugary cereal anybody? And when companies are sued, the companies fork over their money to the lawyers, and consumers are stuck with higher prices. And for those of you who think companies should be held accountable, they already are in two ways. They are required to place the FACTS about their products on the nutrition label. And consumers have the CHOICE to purchase them. If enough consumers refuse to buy products, companies will stop making them.

Oh and here's my recipe for Nutella "alternative" - take a spoonful of peanut butter (I use natural) and melt it with a tablespoon or so of chocolate chips. Again not health food but better than the jarred stuff. Report
Sigh. Nutella. It's sooooo delicious. The kids love it sooooo much. But 1) it's full of sugar. AND 2) it has palm oil, production of which is ecologically very unsound. So I don't buy it very often (and wow, does the jar disappear when I do!) Yes - I'm a label reader, but I try to cook from whole, close-to-the-source ingredients, and guess what? Most don't have a label to read, or contain 1 ingredient! Report
I always read labels. We have to be educated about what we are putting into our bodies. I don't believe commercials any more than I believe those late night infomercials. It's called being your own health advocate. Report
I have never tried Nutella. When I first heard of it and found it at the store, I checked the label and promptly put it back on the shelf. I was shocked at the amount of sugar and that it was being pushed as a healthy product. No way was I buying that!! I stuck to peanut butter and started splurging on organic peanut butter. A much better choice in my opinion!! Report
I don't believe with the courts decision. The whole purpose of advertising is to sell ones products - I don't like the fact that they mislead people, but it is done all the time. I think people should start accepting responsibility for their actions and educating themselves - would one make a major car or home purpose based on an ad? Report
I love the Food Showdowns on SparkPeople and often read the label (and compare products) when I am grocery shopping just to stay in practice and educate myself on what choices to make.

Congratulations to Disney for changing the foods they offer and advertise!
Kudos to Michelle Obama for advocating for growing your own food and moving at least an hour a day. Report
Since I am very sodium sensitive I learned to read labels many years ago. Now I get a kick out of my husband reading them when he goes shopping with me as he is NOT a shopper! Report
i read EVERY label when i shop...it makes me choose healthier options Report
My mom was a label reader back in the day, in the 70's. I think about her every time I read one. It's amazing.

I started reading labels when I was looking for 100% juice and had such a hard time finding some. I greatly decreased my consumption of juice after that. I was going off sugar at the time and found that many of my favorite juices contained HFCS. Most recently, in my attempt to lose weight while tracking the foods I eat, I started reading them again. This time I'm learning about portion size. I no longer derail my whole day with a bag of chips or candy. I can eat a few pieces and stop. I can let the rest stay there until I'm ready for some more. The drive to push and eat and eat and eat till it's gone (usually a day or two) is gone! Yay!

But I agree, no one should believe an ad. Report
Absolutley companies should be accountable for what they advertise. We should be the ones to really read the labels & be educated about what we are buying. Report
Deceptive advertising is an unacceptable and highly used gimmick to sell products. "Natural" does not necessarily mean healthy, so you do need to learn to read labels. If everyone learned to read the labels and understood what they were putting in their bodies many of these products would no longer be be available for purchase because non money makers do not stay on the shelves. As long as people stay uninformed and are willing to purchase products based on "advertising jargon" unhealthy foods will continue to be consumed. Report
Our government office of FDA should enforce truth in advertising, and it should be responsible in looking out for HEALTH. Thankfully, many years ago, because of the strict FDA controls, the drug, thalidomide, was not approved for pregnant women-- Many severe birth defects happened overseas because this harmful drug was taken. Despite decreased funding in gov't offices, I hope that the FDA can continue to be prudent in their operation---for all our sakes. Report
Although I don't like how food may be marketed here in the United States, I think that the onus is on the consumer to read labels. Yes, the companies should be held accountable but ultimately it's our fault when we aren't aware of what we put in our bodies. We have no one else to blame. I completely disagree with the court decision. Report
I so disagree with court, she should have read the label and used better judgement, since when do you believe what an ad says about anything from food to cars and everything in between. Report
We're hopeless. If we practiced more personal responsibility, then maybe we'd be afforded more freedoms. Then again, if you look at the slew of food, health, and nutrition documentaries out there that interview members of the general public, the majority of people don't WANT to be told what and how to eat--we want to eat what we want even if we have an inkling of an idea that it's unhealthy, and there are those who think labeling suggesting good health is pretentious and just government b.s. and lies, and suggestions to eat better is butting into their lives and being told what to do. Maybe it needs to be like driving where we study and pass and exam before we're allowed to shop for our own food, read labels and make educated decisions less we endanger other peoples' lives. Report
I think both party's were at fault. The mom for not reading the label and the company for deceptive advertising. When my kids were growing up if they asked for something new that was advertised they knew if I read the label and found that it was not as good for them as it advertised I could veto buying it. My son is now 20 and he reads lables and advises his friends about reading the label. Report
I think the blame is on the consumer. The company put all the information out there, as it is legally obligated to do...it's on us to make sure that we make sure exactly what is going into our mouths.

That is why if/when I add new things to my grocery cart, I read the label first. I also read the label on the foods that may not be the healthiest for me that I have a craving for to make sure that I don't pick that item up and take it home with me. That's when I usually come to my senses and realize that there's a better way for me to use my calories than that cake or ice cream. Report
I first tried Nutella was I went to Italy in 1994. It was wonderful. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I found my first jar here in the US. Unfortunately, the Nutella I had in Italy is NOT the Nutella they sell here. The Nutella here is loaded with all those unnecessary additives. Trader Joe's makes a version of Nutella that is a combo of peanut butter and cocoa powder. no preservatives or fillers. yum....

Now, while I understand that what Nutella marketing did was deceptive, how is this any different than what Kellogs, Post or any other cereal maker does ? I hope that most people know that Cocoa Puffs (or any other sugary cereal) do not qualify as a health food just because it happens to be vitamin enriched. So, if cereal makers can claim their products are part of a "healthy" breakfast, why can't Nutella ? that really strikes me as somewhat hypocritical. Why prosecute against Nutella when we should also be citing the breakfast cereal companies too.

Deceptive advertising is SPIN to get trusting souls to fork over the cash. Their aim is for the benefit of the stockholder, not the common good.
How they could say something like that, making us believe that something is "healthy" option when clearly it is not.
Sure we need to take responsibility for ourselves but the media brainwashes us and our children into believing the hype. It is truly sad when we have lost trust and What ever happened to "Truth in Advertising"... realistic portion sizes... all the ingredients, etc.
Shame on them, the public does not deserve to be misled for the sake of profits.
AND we have our own special healthier version from Chef Meg!!! Report
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