When you go to the store, are you overwhelmed and confused by what you read on the packages of the foods you buy? If so, you are not alone. Deciphering information on nutritional labels and information on packages can be a real challenge.
Many big corporations and agribusiness conglomerates have learned that people are spurred on by the terms “organic”, “all-natural”, and many others. Most people will just read the label and buy it because it says so. It’s become a marketing tactic that works to persuade the consumer to buy the product.
Recently, the FDA was reported to be cracking down on misleading or deceptive food labels. But traditional and whole food supporters know they haven’t been strict enough. The most recent whistle-blowing that occurred was with the “Smart Choices” (which is laughable, at best) sticker featured on various products – the most infamous one, perhaps, though, was the healthy properties of cereals like Fruit Loops and Cocoa Puffs. Come on, did people really believe this garbage? Well, the New York Times wasn’t convinced.
So if you are wondering about what’s on the label and whether it’s really true, read through this list of common terms used in the grocery store and find out why labels don’t always mean what they say:
All natural – this term is an attempt on the part of the manufacturer to get the consumer to take their word for it that this product you are holding in your hand is natural. A closer look at the ingredients will reveal a number of things you cannot pronounce or don’t recognize. This should always be a red flag.
No additives or preservatives – another ploy by the manufacturer to keep you from actually reading the the ingredients. Again, if you read the ingredients, you will be surprised.
Organic – just because the label reads “organic” does not mean it is healthy. Many processed foods are labeled “organic” but are unhealthy to consume. Some examples include boxed cereals, crackers, cookies, breads, many dairy products, soy products, and dairy products, and meats. A good example is extruded cereal products such as EnviroKidz Organic (don’t you just love the misspelling) Penguin Puffs.
Many companies appeal to a parent’s sense of what is healthy by making cereals that would otherwise be complete junk with organic ingredients. The ingredients may be organic, and are therefore slightly less toxic, but its still junk. I’m just as guilty as many others because I actually used to buy cereals like this for our family. Naturally, my son gobbled them down. I’m really glad I came to my senses.
Look for the USDA green and white symbol on the package and “certified organic” to ensure the product you are buying is truly what it reads on the label.
Realize, too, that some “organic” meat, poultry, and eggs are often from environments that are similar to the classical factory-farm setting. In other words, the food may come from animals in confinement that aren’t afforded the opportunity to roam around in a pasture, and are still likely to be eating the wrong types of feed.
So even if the food is “organic” and there are no GMOs being used, the animals may still be in confinement and eating grains, corn, silage, or soy, which alters the nutritional value considerably. Also, the feeding of grains, corn, and soy often causes the animals to become ill – as their bodies are not designed to digest these substances – and this is the whole reason why farmers started administering antibiotics to their livestock and poultry in the first place.
Vegetables and fruits can sometimes even cause problems – such as when you read in the news that so-called “organic” produce has been contaminated with E. coli or salmonella. The most likely reason for this to occur is that true organic standards are not being met. In many instances, these items have been exposed to fertilizer and runoff water sourced from factory farms. This is yet one more example of agribusiness using terminology to sell product but not maintaining the practice of high standards of true organic farming.
Something else some people don’t realize is that just because something is organic doesn’t mean it is a locally-produced product. Many organic foods are shipped all over the country and the world. The carbon footprint of an organic product that has been shipped more than a hundred miles or so is something to consider.
At minimum, organic foods are supposed to be free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. But keep in mind that it doesn’t mean all other important checkpoints are included.
If you must pick and choose about which produce to buy organic, refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen of most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic.
Visit the Organic Food Database for a wealth of information about organic foods and products, farms and merchants, CSAs, and restaurants.
The Organic Consumer’s Association is another great resource for information and updates in organic food and laws, as well as news about organics in our food system.
To keep up to date on natural and organic foods and product labeling, consumer reports, and to make sure your dollars are paying for what you want, visit GreenerChoices – a subsidiary of Consumer Reports.
Find out why true organic food is healthier for us to eat. Visit the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country.
Hormone and antibiotic-free – this can mean that the meat, dairy, or eggs contain no hormones, but it does not mean the animals were grass-fed or chemicals, gmo’s, or other toxins were not present in their environment. If you do not see this wording on a package, it is almost guaranteed that geneticially-modified ingredients are used.
No GMO’s, no genetically-modified ingredients – when you see this wording on packages, no genetically-modified components are used. If you do not see this wording on a package, it is almost guaranteed that genetically-modified ingredients are used.
Interested in real milk with no hormones? Read this article about why the consumption of most milk can be harmful to your health.
Grass-fed – this term is very tricky because currently no standards exist regulating the use of the term “grass-fed”. Grass fed could mean the animals were on pasture for only part of the time, and were fed grains, corn, soy, or silage during some point in their lives. This of course, lowers the nutritional value of the meat.
The only way you are assured 100 percent clean, grass-fed meat is to ask the butcher in the store who deals with someone from the farm. If the butcher doesn’t know, contact the farm to find out all the details. The best way to find out if what you are eating is really grass-fed is to do your own research and contact the farmers themselves. If you would like to learn more about real meat, read this article.
Corn-fed or grain-fed – as mentioned above, this is not a healthy attribute for meat. If you see this on a menu or in the grocery store, reconsider your choice. Find grass-fed meats that are truly grass-fed or pasture-raised for health. For an explanation about why corn-fed meat is unhealthy to eat, read Corn-fed Equals Corn Bred.
Cage free – this might only mean the hens from where the eggs come are in a large, covered barn or facility. Many ‘cage-free’ eggs come from chickens in environments like this where they cannot roam in a pasture, receive sunlight, nor eat and forage for a natural diet. If you have ever watched the film Food, Inc., you can see a perfect example of chicken farms where the birds are ‘cage free’ but are crammed into an enormous building together and never go outside. No, they are not in cages, but they are in a completely unnatural environment.
Free range – this is similar in meaning to “cage free”. Again, these terms can mean the animal or bird spends a majority of its time in a restricted area, and only receives, at most, a few minutes a day away from confinement.
Humanely-raised – again, check with the butcher or farm. This term can also be a marketing gimmick.
Pasture-raised – this should be an assurance that you will have meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs coming from a clean environment – but even sometimes this is just a marketing gimmick. You should still ask the butcher or contact the farm if you want to be absolutely certain.
Whole grains – this one is extremely misleading because a majority of products claiming to contain whole grains do not actually contain the whole grain – it’s usually some type of flour. One of the main reasons many people have trouble with products containing grains – and wheat usually gets most of the blame for this – is because their bodies are rejecting the flour. It’s not the grain itself that’s bad, but the way it is processed. When grains are ground into flour, much of the nutrients are destroyed.
What’s more, grain ground into flour goes rancid quickly. Then add to these issues the fact that many of these products are cooked and extruded, which causes more problems in the nutritional value of the food. For best nutritional value from whole grains, try sprouted and soaked grains.
Gluten-free – this is one of the newest buzz words to hit the market, and it is incredibly misleading. It’s important to understand that just because something is gluten-free does not make it healthy or safe to eat. Some, although not all, gluten free products are still made with flour.
Anything that has been ground into flour – whether it be amaranth, buckwheat, spelt, kamut, almonds, hazelnuts, rice, soy, or sorghum – will go rancid fairly quick. That being said, most if not all of the flour products you buy are already rancid on the shelf when purchased. Read this article about the gluten-free mania that is sweeping the market, and how it’s not as healthy as people think it is.
The best bet for anyone having trouble with grains is to try soaking and sprouting. Many people who have wheat allergies or even celiac disease have found they can actually eat grains again after a period of detoxification, digestive tract healing (through eating healing foods), and preparing grains properly in this way.
No trans fats – if a label says no trans fat in it, but it’s any type of a processed food, it is very likely that it still contains trans fats anyway. A trans fat is any fat that has been altered from its original state – such as hydrogenation. Hydrogenated oils are unhealthy to consume. And even if the label claims no hydrogenated oils or trans fats, but the ingredients show that it contains an oil that has been heated to a high temperature, or is any type of the following oils – canola, soybean, cottonseed and sometimes sunflower or safflower oils (basically, any vegetable oil), it’s a trans fat.
Non-fat, low-fat, fat-free, or skim – this does not mean a product is healthy – in fact, it usually means quite the opposite. If a food has had its natural fat content removed or altered, you can bet it’s not going to contain the nutritional content of the equivalent food with its full fat.
Eating fat does not make you fat; in fact, fat and cholesterol are essential to a variety of bodily functions, including maintaining a normal weight. Avoid low-fat and non-fat foods like the plague. Always eat foods containing real, full-content fat.
Lean or extra lean – this is often an indicator of meat than has been raised or grown in such a manner that it’s natural fats and proteins are altered. Most factory-farm meats fat and protein compositions are artificially altered by the very methods used to raise the animals. Ironically, factory-farm meats are obese meats, and they create an unhealthy balance in the body when they are eaten because their composition has been altered from what is naturally occurring in nature.
Low calories – This should go without saying, but the only types of foods labeled with remarks about calories are the processed, unhealthy ones. If you are eating real, whole foods, you will never have to count calories. Nature provides the correct amount of calories in all real foods for your body to be healthy.
As an example, if you are a Diabetic and you are counting calories and carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar down, you will probably continue to have problems your entire life. Throw out the processed foods and stop counting calories. You need real, wholesome foods with full fat and calories to balance out your blood sugar and keep your insulin levels in check.
Cholesterol free – this should be suspect. If the food naturally has cholesterol in it, but it has been removed or altered, it would be very unhealthy to consume. Cholesterol is good for you!
Dairy or egg-free – if you see this on a label, there is likely some fake fat or industrially-produced soy product lurking in the “food” to give it some type of semblance of “substance”. And whatever that fake substance is, it’s definitely not good for you. There is nothing wrong with dairy and eggs if it is organic and pasture-raised.
Sugar-free – another misleading label as having no sugar can mean any number of alarming things – the most notable ones being that it might still contain some amount of processed carbohydrates, which translate into sugar in the bloodstream, or that it contains some other substance such as a toxic, artificial sweetener like saccharin, aspartame, sucralose (otherwise known as Splenda), or any other sweetener ending in an -ose.
“Good source of” – is almost always an indicator of some synthetic nutrient added back in or “fortified”. These types of foods are processed, processed, processed and never deliver the nutrition they promise. In addition to being nutritionally-bankrupt, consuming these foods can actually deplete your body of existing nutrients – not unlike a lot of the aforementioned kinds of products.
Vegan – I can’t believe I’m including this one because it should go without saying…but I feel it’s necessary to explain why this term, which is used more and more, is confused with healthy eating. Vegan diets are grossly lacking in nutrition, and almost always contain artificial & fake ingredients. Unless it’s a raw food item, and many vegan foods are not, it’s probably not real food and is likely packed with industrially-produced soy or rancid oils. The same can often apply to foods labeled “vegetarian”.
Because so many agribusiness giants are now cashing in on the organic and natural contingent in food market sales, and it is therefore very difficult to really know how food is grown from products that come from far away, your best bet is to consistently attempt to purchase food locally and from growers you know or trust. Farmers markets are great places to establish these arrangements and relationships. You can talk with farmers and food growers to learn where and how your food is produced.
This is probably not an exhaustive list of all marketing terms used to sell products consumers, and I’m certain I’ve forgotten some. Does anyone have any others they’d like to share?
Want more information about real food? Read this article about knowing your foods and how to understand what you are eating.
Learn about how your toxic load affects your health – from the foods you eat to chemicals used in your home, and elsewhere.
This article is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays Carnival. Please visit Kristen’s site and read all the other real food posts there.