Fat Free, Reduced, and Low Fat
Fat is removed from items such as dairy via use of a centrifuge. The milk is spun at high speed and the fat is separated.
Fat-free also usually means taste-free, before additives. Sugars, flours and other flavorants must be added after the fat is removed or you will have nothing but bland flavor. So you end up replacing one substance with something else that is usually much worse.
Many reduced fat items just trade one kind of fat for another, namely: unsaturated vegetable oils. To turn these oils into a usable form, they are often hydrogenated, which changes the structure of the oils to trans fats, which can cause more health damage than the original fat content!
Also, recent studies have shown that saturated fats, the kind often removed from dairy, may not pose the risks they were previously thought to have.
Diet & Sugar Free
Anything labeled “Diet” typically involves a compromise. Items like Diet Coke exchange sugars for artificial sweeteners. While reducing calories on paper, these sweeteners bring a host of other problems.
Most sugar-free processed foods trade out the sugar for artificial sweeteners or other ingredients that one would not normally find in regular foods.
The only true “diet” or reduced-sugar treats one should be consuming are those that come with it naturally, namely fresh fruit.
Gluten is simply a protein found in many grains.
Gluten free foods have taken off like wildfire and become mainstream, available in almost all grocery store shelves.
Many gluten-free products are also not low carb, adding many times more sugars and fats than they gluten-full counterparts. If one is avoiding carbs, it would be better to avoid all such products, whether gluten-free or not.
Unless one is specifically allergic to gluten, such as those with celiac disease, there is no need to opt for gluten-free options.
To be considered “low-cholesterol,” foods must contain 20mg or less of cholesterol per serving. However, this does not distinguish between HDL and LDL, and if one sits down and snacks on “reduced” cholesterol foods, they can easily pass the limits of “bad” cholesterol.
Many “high” cholesterol foods are actually necessary, or at the very worst, benign when considering cholesterol intake. Eggs, for instance, are packed full of essential nutrients, and are safe to eat, even for the cholesterol-averse.
Natural or Organic
While eating food as close to its original, unprocessed state is ideal, many foods that wear the “Natural” and “Organic” label can be quite unhealthy.
“Natural” can be misleading. It does not follow FDA guidelines and is not regulated by any certification. Foods can include pesticides, hormones, and harmful chemicals such as arsenic and still use this term.
Organic processed foods, filled with carbs and sugars, while organic, wont be doing you any health favors. The essence is whether the ingredients themselves are healthy, not whether the food is organic or not.
Organic food aren't necessarily tested for inorganic heavy metals, so the country of origin of those foods is important to know. Countries that have heavy metal pollution in the soil should be avoided. Most foods grown in the U.S. are safe. Organic food from China? Not so much.
For simple food, such as fruits, vegetables and meats, when properly sourced, Organic will generally be better than conventionally grown foods.
To avoid being tricked by all the labels and marketing tricks, it is best to properly read over the ingredients, nutrition panels and properly understand those complex-sounding ingredients that are hidden on the back of pre-packaged foods. You can make the right choices and enjoy the foods you buy with the satisfaction that they are truly healthy.