Reading food labels – that can be tricky! Just when you think you got it down, five more new food labels or eating trends pop up and you’re confused all over again! So, let’s try to clear that up a bit. Here are some of the more common food and product labels I see lately and what they mean for you and your family’s healthy eating pursuits. Take a peek and see what I learned about them that could help you to make the best healthy choices for you and your family and spend your dollars wisely.
12 FOOD LABELS & WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN
Eating cleaner, greener? Smart move and so happy to hear it! You may want to familiarize yourself with these terms, first, though, to ensure you are buying what you think. There are subtle differences in nutrition labels and terminology that can make a big difference in what you are really purchasing and actually consuming both for your health and wallet:
1. WILD-CAUGHT: Fish labeled this way are free to roam the ocean and free from antibiotics and artificial dyes, too.
Don’t miss this: Here is a quick guide with all the right questions to ask your fishmonger to ensure you are getting the healthiest and best-tasting fish.
2. FARM-RAISED: Most farmed fish, like salmon, are raised in large cages that can be contaminated with chemicals and have some pretty dirty conditions. Here is a closer look at the issue with specific details on what fish to stay away from and why.
3. PASTURE-RAISED: Hop on over here for my egg labeling post to learn all about the differences there, but generally pastured raised eggs are best. The chickens are free to roam, eat what they like and are more nutritious because of it.
4. ORGANIC: The USDA Organic Seal indicates that the food was produced without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), and fertilizers. If the symbol is there, it also indicates the food item is from animals fed organic, vegetarian feed and are provided access to the outdoors as well as no treatment with hormones or antibiotics.
If the seal says “100 percent organic” the product was made with 100 percent organic ingredients. If the seal says “organic,” you lose five percent here as it indicates the food was made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients.
In regards to seafood, at the moment, there is no U.S. government-approved organic seafood. This type of labeling is based on criteria set by a private certification company or perhaps using European standards.
Don’t miss this: Check out this chart for several fruits and vegetables that carry low residue so that you may choose to not shell out the extra dollars for food budgeting purposes.
5. NON-GMO PROJECT VERIFIED: The product bearing the seal has gone through an intense verification process and has been produced according to consensus-based best practices for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) avoidance, which many scientists say humans should not be consuming.
Don’t miss this: Tap here for more specifics on this label and why it was created.
6. SELL-BY-DATE: This date stamped on foods tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Always buy the product before the date expires.
7. USE-BY-DATE: This date is to ensure optimum freshness, flavor, and texture for the consumer.
8. EXPIRATION DATE: Time to toss it after this stamped date. It’s passed its time and could have spoiled.
9. GLUTEN-FREE: Gluten-free is a protein found in grains like wheat or rye and it can cause serious damage to the digestive systems of those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Keep in mind that many of the gluten-free products are highly processed and stripped of fiber.
10. ALL NATURAL: Not a label that serves real significance. The Food and Drug Administration does not even define it. It is primarily a marketing slogan.
11. LOCAL: The fresher the food, the better. Most packaged goods have spent a good portion of time exposed to heat and pressure, killing nutrients. But, the term local is pretty vague. Generally, it can be considered local within the borders of a state.
Don’t assume local indicates it is organic, though. They are not equal terms. Always ask the grower if possible, how it was grown. Here is my free Farmers Market Mini-Guide with specific questions to ask at a farmer’s market about that.
12. GRASS-FED: Some studies show grass-fed meats contain more good fats, less bad, and higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants.
If the label says grass-fed, the animals must be fed only mother’s milk and grass and other greens during their lives. The animals also have access to pasture. However, grass-fed does not necessarily mean the feed is organic or the animal has not been given antibiotics or hormones.
If you want food that has the benefits of both grass-fed and organic, (no hormones, antibiotics) you need to see both labels.
TWO SIMPLE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN FOOD SHOPPING
Still dazed by it all? Think about this way: before filling up that grocery cart, ask yourself these two questions to see if you are making the better choices:
1. Where does the food originate?
If possible, these labels are optimal:
- USDA organic (then also GMO-free as well)
- grass-fed and USDA organic
- both locally grown and USDA organic
2. How many ingredients are there and what are they?
Foods in their natural state (whole foods) and not in a box or can are best. But, if buying canned or boxed items, the fewer and shorter the food labels in your cart, the better. That means to aim for the majority of your cart to be full of whole foods that don’t come in boxes with added sugar, preservatives, and unhealthy fats.
When you are buying labeled food, though, look out for this and reconsider your choice:
- food colorings
- added sugars and salts
- trans fats
- anything that is hard to pronounce or sounds like a chemistry lab assignment
SHOP BEST FOOD STORAGE
Check out these top tools to store your food to make it last longer and stay fresher. I have included better lunch box storage options and some pantry and refrigerator storage ideas, too:
FOR EVEN MORE ON HEALTHY EATING
- Here is a popular plan to cut out processed foods on a budget – recipes included!
- See what a famous cookbook writer and chef has to say about food labeling, farming, and safe food practices.
- Before your next food shopping trip, be sure to check out these pared-down simple guidelines to eating healthy and making the right choices and avoid all the confusion.
- Here are the healthiest, most nutritious cooking oils you want to put in that grocery chart and keep in your kitchen.