food labels

Food Labels, Explained


Dazzles in Green takes the mystery out of making healthy picks at the supermarket.

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The many labels on our food can be confusing.

p>Labels, labels, labels. From organic vegetables - to USDA-inspected meat - to cage-free eggs – to natural - to pesticide free. How much do food labels actually tell you?

FDA admits “Natural” is meaningless.

The word “natural” on a label may imply “wholesome”, but in practice it does not mean anything. This term is unregulated and there is no official definition. Mostly, this term is used on foods that do not contain artificial or synthetic ingredients. However, it does not mean that food is organic

Do not allow this term to influence your buying – after all, there is nothing healthy about a cup of “natural” coffee. Coffee, like nicotine or cocaine, is a drug.

Made with Whole Grains

Made with whole grains does not mean that an entire product is purely made of whole grains. Very often it contains refined grains, which have less fiber and mineral.

Always look at the label. It should state “100% whole grain”.

Sprouted Grains

Sprouted grain products are becoming a healthy alternative to white flour or whole grain flour products among health conscious people and those with mild sensitivities to wheat or gluten because of the health benefits when compared to white flour.

A "sprouted grain" can be any kind of whole grains with the germ and bran intact. They should not be hulled, husked, pearled, rolled, flaked, or otherwise altered. When the grain spouts out, the outer bran layer splits open, and the beginnings of a young shoot may be visibly peeking out of the grain.

“Sprouted” should be the first item on the ingredient list. You may see words like “sprouted grain” or “sprouted wheat”.

Pesticide Free

According to this label, a product should be free of synthetic herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. However, as with the term “natural”, this term is also not regulated by the USDA. The items with this label may still contain a small amount of pesticides, usually through cross-contamination. The best choice is to buy products with labels that say “certifies organic”, “USDA organic”, or “100% organic”, which indicate that the food was grown without synthetic pesticides. Organic farmers use naturally grown substances for pest control.

If you buy products with “pesticide free” label, you will get reduced amount of pesticide, but no guarantee they are devoid of residue.

GMO Free

Most food grown in the USA is genetically altered. The most common food that contains GMOs are corn and corn products, soy and soy products such as tofu, yellow summer squash, zucchini, green and yellow beans, papaya, alfalfa and sugar beet. Under the pressure from the food conglomerates, the FDA has concluded that GMO foods are safe.

If you want GMO free food look for products that carry GMO-free tags. If a product carries QR codes you can scan a label with your smartphone to learn if it has GMOs or not.

What It Means to Eat Clean

Eating clean is a term that has been used a lot in the health-and-wellness scene. This good-for-you trend is about choosing foods close to their “whole” or natural forms. Thus, choose a ripe, juicy apple instead of a container of sweetened applesauce. Chose roasted sweet potatoes over fast food French fries.

Dazzles in Green is an educator, journalist, environmentalist, vegetarian and avid cyclist. She holds a master's degree in anthropology and a Juris Doctor in intellectual property.

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