Do you question what’s in your food, and if you can trust the food label? Are you getting tricked or the truth? Read on to find out what these food label claims really mean…
When a label says…
“Natural”- By Food and Drug Administration (FDA) definition/regulation, this means nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.
What it does not mean- “Natural” does not address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, or manufacturing methods. Therefore, a natural product is not necessarily organic.
“Organic”- The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) requires products labeled “organic” to be produced without using conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or bioengineering. For example, organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products must come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones and are fed organic feed, while organic crops must be grown in soil that is free from prohibited chemicals for at least three years.
Requirements set forth by the NOP:
- Products labeled “100% organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients.
- Products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients.
- Products labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
What it does not mean- Organic does not mean healthy in regards to nutritional content. You can find a multitude of “organic” products that are loaded with saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar! For further label reading guidance on healthy choices, check out Get the “Nutrition” Facts
When (and how) to buy Natural:
- Peanut butter- Natural peanut butter will not contain “hydrogenated oils” or trans fat, which is the type of fat we want to completely avoid due to it’s negative cardiovascular/cholesterol effects! Natural peanut butter will separate and you’ll notice the oil on top. Stir it up good and enjoy!
- Meats- to state it simply, choose fresh meats! Processed meats (which have are high in sodium and have other preservatives such as sodium nitrate) should be limited.
- Other foods- a good rule of thumb is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store first to pick up most of your foods including fresh produce, fresh meats, and fresh dairy/eggs which will not contain any added preservatives. When shopping within the aisles, look at the ingredients labels…. compare labels and try to choose the foods with the least amount of ingredients. Minimize foods that contain ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce.
When to buy Organic:
Because organic foods often cost more, it may not be feasible (nor is it necessary) to buy organic everything!
Here are the produce (“the dirty dozen”) with highest contamination of pesticides. Try to buy these organic when possible:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Grapes (Imported)
Produce that you can buy conventional due to no or low pesticide contamination:
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Cantaloupe (domestic)
- Sweet potatoes
Other foods to consider buying organic:
- Milk- to prevent potential exposure to recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) , choose rBGH-free or organic milk. Many conventional milks are rBGH-free but do not label it as such, so look it up online or call the company. The verdict is still out whether this hormone poses a health risk. But to play it safe, avoid it when possible.
- Beef- organic beef will not contain antibiotics or growth hormones (as mentioned above). Again, the risk to humans isn’t clear, but it’s best to avoid it if possible.
What about GMOs?- Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants/organisms that have been genetically altered, and it is estimated that up to 80% of processed foods in the U.S. contain GMOs. The purpose of genetic engineering is to improve plant durability (for example, to withstand drought, and/or for disease resistance) or nutritional value. This allows farmers to grow better crops faster and at lower costs. While the (FDA) has approved GMO foods to be safe, this topic remains controversial. One of the biggest concerns is that Roundup Ready corn is sprayed with toxic chemicals, and the World Health Organization has classified the main chemical used in Roundup as a “probable carcinogen.” Monsanto (the company that makes Roundup) is responsible for a lot of the world’s GM crops. Other concerns are the possibility of increased allergenicity of foods and antibiotic resistance in humans.
- China, Australia, and the European Union require GMO foods to be labeled. The United States, however, does not.
- By choosing “organic” foods, you can generally avoid GMOs.
- You can also look for foods with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal- this indicates that the product has gone through non-GMO verification process.
- A product labeled as non-GMO (such as “GMO-free”) means that the manufacturer volunteers to label it as such, but that claim isn’t legally or scientifically defensible (and not verified by a third party), so it may not be correct.
- In summary, if you prefer to limit GMOs, your best bet is to purchase mostly fresh foods, unprocessed foods that bear the certified organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified seals.
Nutrient Content Claims:
“Low fat”- indicates a product that has 3 grams of fat or less per serving.
“Fat free” or Trans-fat free”- the product has less than 0.5 grams of fat (or trans fat) per serving. This is a tricky one!
“Reduced fat”– the product has atleast 25% less fat than the regular version. This can be tricky because the original product could be very high in fat to begin with.
“Multigrain”- the product contains more than one type of grain, but it is not necessarily “whole” grain.
“Whole Grain”- a product with the Whole Grain stamp means it has
has been certified by the Whole Grains Council.
- If a product bears the 100% Stamp, then all its grain ingredients are whole grains. There is a minimum requirement of 16 grams – a full serving – of whole grain per labeled serving, for products using the 100% Stamp.
- If a product bears the Basic Stamp, it contains at least 8 grams– a half serving – of whole grain, but may also contain some refined grain.
“Low Sodium”- indicates a product has 140 mg of sodium or less per serving.
“Reduced Sodium”- the product has atleast 25% less sodium than the regular version. This can be tricky because the original product could be very high in sodium to begin with (such as soy sauce, processed meat, or canned soups).
Pay attention to the food label claims, but don’t be tricked! Check out post Get the “Nutrition” Facts to dive deeper beyond the claims and investigate the nutrition facts panel.