To eat mindfully, which is the theme for this month, you’ve got to shop mindfully! There’s so many food label buzzwords out there that they can get pretty confusing. Today we’re going to talk about the most common ones!
When produce is labeled as organic, it means that it is free of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), grown without pesticides or synthetic herbicides, and not irradiated; for dairy, beef, and poultry, it means animals were given organic feed. “Certified Organic” means production methods were verified by an independent inspector. There are three USDA-approved labels for packaged foods: “100 percent organic” products must include all organic ingredients, “organic” at least 95 percent, and “made with organic ingredients” at least 70 percent.
This refers to products without added artificial sweeteners, colors, or synthetic substances. The FDA does allow processed sweeteners like corn syrup, fructose and juice concentrates, natural flavors and colors (derived from natural sources but produced in a lab), and natural additives and preservatives. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy or something that we would want to be eating! Haven’t you heard the rumor that red dye is make from beetles or something along that line? Anytime you see an ingredients list that includes carmine, cochineal extract or natural red 4, you can be sure that there’s a little powdered beetle in there.
This means that the animal was raised with access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, there is only a minimum of only five minutes of open-air access to use this label. Cage-Free refers to eggs from hens that aren’t confined to cages, whether or not they actually make it out to fresh air.
Grass-fed indicates that the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the animal must be grass. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
Another tricky label– there is no organization that verifies these claims beyond what is already required by the USDA, which prohibits the use of hormones on pork and poultry but allows certain ones for cows. This label means that no hormones were used in the production of the product.
Raised Without Antibiotics
Indicates that no antibiotics were used in the production of a meat or dairy product.
Indicates that the animals were raised in humane conditions, with sufficient space to move, and no artificial growth methods were used. This label is used for meat, dairy, and eggs.
When a product is labeled “sugar free” or “no added sugar”, it must not contain added sugars. It still can have artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, Splenda, or sugar alcohols.
Food labels can be confusing. What’s the solution? Try to buy as many natural, fresh foods as you can that don’t require fancy labels! Buy grains in bulk– quinoa, couscous, brown rice, etc. Stock up on dried beans and lentils. When buying produce, stick to the dirty dozen. My recommendation for meat is grass fed– grass-fed beef is higher in “good” fats, lower in “bad” fats, and higher in vitamins and antioxidants. Raising cattle on pasture benefits the farmers, the environment and the animals themselves.
Which food labels do you stick to?