Beware: Misleading Ingredient Names Explained

09/23/2010 02:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


As someone who is health conscious, I read a lot of labels. My general rule is to buy foods that list ingredients I can pronounce, but there are at least two things I additionally watch out for: ingredients that sound healthy but aren’t (I try to avoid those) and obscure ingredients that sound scary but are basically harmless.

The latest ingredient to request a “healthier-sounding” name change? High-fructose corn syrup. Last week, the Corn Refiners Association, which represents firms who make the product, petitioned the FDA to change the ingredient’s name to “corn sugar.” The group has many reasons for wanting the change, including changing public perception of this controversial ingredient. But two respected nutrition watchdogs, EatingWell advisory board member Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, and Michael Jacobsen, director of a Washington, D.C.-based nutrition and health advocacy group, Center for the Science in the Public Interest, told the New York Times that the new term “corn sugar” is a more accurate description for high-fructose corn syrup, which is a mixture of glucose and fructose.

I talked to EatingWell’s nutrition editor, Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., about HFCS and 4 more ingredients that sound healthier than they are, plus 4 obscure-sounding ingredients that are basically harmless. (Note: This is not a complete list, just some highlights to pay attention to.) Here’s her advice on how to decode them:

Watch Out for These Ingredients That Sound Healthier Than They Are:

Ingredients That Sound Healthier Than They Are

Obscure-Sounding Ingredients That Are Basically Harmless:

Obscure-Sounding Ingredients That Are Basically Harmless

By Michelle Edelbaum

Michelle Edelbaum

Michelle is web editor for EatingWell Media Group. She puts her background in journalism to work online at and in each issue of EatingWell magazine, authoring The Fresh Interview with interesting people in the world of food and health.

Related Links from EatingWell: