Sam Negrin

May 30, 2015

The Most Common Health Food Labels Explained

by Sam Negrin / GOOD FOOD / Health 101 / 0 Comments

More and more food companies are trying to jump on the health trend, which is great; as long as we are educated as to what their health claims truly mean. It seems like walking through the grocery store we are bombarded with dozens of nutritional claims that 1) make the product more expensive and, 2) might not be as ‘healthy’ as we think. It’s important to understand all of the food we buy and put into our bodies. Just because something is “all-natural” or “low-sugar” does not mean it’s good for you. Here Are The Most Common Health Food Labels, Explained:

  • 100% Organic: The product contains only organic ingredients – any product that uses this claim *must* have the USDA seal on it to know it’s legit.
  • Organic: The product is 95% organic ingredients and the other 5% contains items from the USDA-approved ingredient list – the USDA seal must be on this product too.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: At least 70% of the ingredients are organic – they should be marked with an asterisk on the ingredient list.
  • All-Natural: There is literally no regulation on this label–Any company can use the term all-natural, they might not use added color or synthetic substances, but there is no official regulation.
  • Gluten-Free: Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, rye, barley–any product that labels itself as gluten-free is regulated by the FDA and cannot include any trace of gluten. It’s really important to recognize that gluten-free products are *not* healthier to the average person, in fact, a lot of the times they can contain more calories for the compensation of gluten. Only those with Celiac Disease and/or extreme gluten sensitivity should not consume gluten.
  • Light: This label must have 50% less fat content that would be found in a comparable product. Just because the color and texture might be lighter on a product with this label, does not mean it’s much better for you. Read the nutrition label carefully to see what else (sugars, carbs, unhealthy fats) might be included.
  • Multi-grain, Made with Whole Wheat: Whole grains are included in the product but the benefits of whole wheat are generally not consumed. For example, a product can be 30% refined flour and 70% whole grain, but the whole grains are split between several different grains which means that each whole grain comprises less than 30% of the total. Look for 100% Whole Wheat products — more on whole grain info here.
  • Low-Sugar, Lightly Sweetened: There is currently no regulation on these terms–The FDA does regulate the use of the terms “Sugar Free” and “No Added Sugar”, but many companies (notably: cereals), use the terms low- and lightly- on new product lines with ultimately no consequence.
  • Sugar-Free, No Added Sugar: Products with these claims are generally loaded with artificial sweeteners with names we can’t even pronounce, to keep their product tasting good. Read the ingredient list and make sure there are no artificial sweeteners added; look for good natural sugars such as: honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, real fruit purees. Also note that sugar-free products might not be any healthier, they generally have more calories to compensate.
  • 0% Trans Fat: Now, there are two types of fats that we should try and eliminate from our diets: Trans- and Saturated Fats. Food claims that list 0% trans fat can still legally add up to 0.5% trans fat to the product. Re-read the nutrition label and see that it lists 0 in the trans fat row to be sure.
  • Low-Carb: This product might contain less carbohydrates than others, but keep in mind the high amounts of artificial sweeteners and processed forms of fiber that are inserted into it. That isn’t exactly health-minded.
  • Made with Real Fruit: Products with this claim may not contain much real fruit at all–companies are not required to include the percentage of each ingredient in their product. This means that they might list “apples from concentrate” but simultaneously have large amounts of sugar and cholesterol, so the apple concentrate is pretty muted.
  • Free Range: Don’t be fooled and think this chicken was running around an open field singing the Sound of Music–Free Range is on any product where the animal simply had exposure to the outdoors. So, think of how scary something that doesn’t specify free range is…
  • Cage Free: Cage free eggs are those produced in barns that permit the hens to engage in natural behavior and roam freely–but they generally are not permitted to go outside.

For more information on food labels visit the FDA’s website.

Reading all of the truth about these food labels can get discouraging, especially if you’re trying to be healthy. The absolute best thing you can do for yourself is eliminate processed, pre-made foods and stick to cooking for yourself as much as possible and visiting local farmers markets. Read nutrition labels carefully and do not buy into claims that may not be beneficial to you.

Are there any labels we didn’t include that you’re interested to know? Let us know in the comments below or tweet @allgoodhealth_!

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