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Reading and Understanding Food Labels

Natural or organic are terms you often see when making food selections. Companies can use the term “natural” to mean just about anything. Unfortunately, many consumers believe it to be the same as “organic” but the two are far from being equal.

Organic produce is organic if it’s certified to have grown in soil that had none of the prohibited synthetic fertilizers and pesticides applied for three years prior to harvest. Organic meat meets regulations that states that the animals are raised in living conditions that are natural to them, like allowing chickens to be free range (ie, allowed to roam outdoors). The animals should also be fed 100% organic feed and not administered antibiotics or hormones.

Natural means that nothing artificial or synthetic has been included or added to food that would not normally be expected to be in food. The problem with this is that the source of color additives can come from questionable sources. For example castoreum is a slightly sweet substance found in the anal secretions of beavers. It is sometimes used as a substitute for vanilla, although this is rare due to its high cost...Yeah! I once heard a speaker say that a rattlesnake is natural but you wouldn’t get in bed with it! The long and short of it is, know what you are eating.

You’ve heard us say that fresh food is preferable to canned and packaged products. However, we realize that it’s not realistic to think that anyone can only eat fresh. So, keep reading as I will try to help with interpreting labels. Do keep in mind that even fresh produce is labeled.

Some of the things you might see on packaged products labels and what you should know about them:

Whole wheat – If a product says 100 percent whole wheat or 100 percent whole grain, pay close attention to the label. Sometimes, this claim can be false. I won’t call out any products but they are out there. What you will see as the first ingredient is enriched wheat or ordinary white flour.

Healthy – To use “healthy” a company must meet certain FDA regulations per serving size. To meet this, many companies play games with the number of servings to meet the regulations rather than making the product healthy. For instance, if you eat the entire can of soup or drink the entire bottle of juice then it is truly not healthy. A can of soup is 2 servings. How many of us have eaten the entire can in a sitting?

Fortified – Often foods are “fortified” with antioxidants, vitamins and omega-3s. All of these things are very good for us. However, when the food that is fortified is heavily laden with sugar and salt it most definitely is not food that is good for you.

High in Fiber – Be careful with this one. The best way to get fiber is through whole foods. In processed foods, fiber is often added from sources that aren’t digestible or that will cause digestion issues.

Supports or is a source of – these words lead you to believe that the food will help heal a health concern. Ones that I see most often are calcium, vitamin c and vitamin d. Again, I will not call out any specific brands but the ones I’ve seen with these vitamins added don’t come to the recommended dose required to make a difference if you are deficient in them.

Produce labels -- Every piece of fruit and the vegetables you pick up in the grocery store have stickers on them. In case you ever wondered what the numbers on those stickers meant: Four digit numbers usually beginning with a 3 or 4 denote conventionally grown, non-GMO produce (that is, grown with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and not genetically modified). Five digits beginning with an 8 means the produce is GMO (genetically modified). Five digits numbers beginning with a 9 means that the produce is organic.

In conclusion, all I will say is take the time to “know what you are eating”. Understand that marketing is real. Manufacturers know the right flavorings and sizes that will keep us coming back thus leading us to overeat. Don’t fall for their tricks!

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