Making Sense of Common Food Labels

The average shopper combing the super market isles can expect to see an array of food labels which can make finding the healthiest choices for you or your family confusing. We however, are hoping to make your supermarket experience a little less confusing by providing you with the helpful information you need to decode some common food label terms.

USDA Organic: This means that items have been certified by the USDA as “100 Percent Organic” meaning that the only methods used to produce the product were good for the earth. By eating organic you can avoid a lot of pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics. However, it is not necessary to buy all of your produce organically. In order to save your wallet a serious hit buy fruit and vegetables in which the skin will be eaten organically and everything else non-organically.

100% Natural: The item does not contain anything artificial such as color, flavorings, or preservatives. This can be helpful to be on the lookout for if you are someone with allergies to certain additives. However, just because something is natural does not make it healthy. It is still important to check the ingredients and nutrition facts before consuming.

Fat-Free: Contains less than 0.5g of fat per serving. Monitoring the fat in your diet can be a healthy way to watch your weight and aid in heart health. However, when manufactures remove fat they can also add sugar and starch to make up for the less-satisfying taste of a “fat free” product. Low-fat foods would be a better option in this case than fat-free.

0g Trans Fat: Contains less the 0.5g of trans fats per serving. Trans fat can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease and in many nations around the world have been outlawed in food products. It is important to pay attention to your nutrition facts and ingredient list when buying products and stay away from anything that contains “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated”.

Low Sodium: Low sodium foods must have 140 or fewer milligrams of sodium per serving. This means that about you are consuming about 10 percent or less of the recommended daily allowance, per the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for sodium.

Genetically Modified: Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods that have been altered in some way by adding genes from another food or animal. In many countries GM foods are not legal, however in the United States there are very few restrictions on GM foods. Because the food has been altered in some way which is not found naturally in nature it is best practice to try and avoid GM foods as best you can. Currently initiatives are being put in place to try and have GM foods labeled at all times, however the United States is still quite a few years away from having this become a nation wide mandate.

Fair Trade: The Fair Trade label is primarily applied to imported agricultural products which have been certified to meet strict labor and sustainability standards. Certification ensures that farmers and workers are fairly compensated for their products and are treated well in their work setting. Fair Trade also encompasses child labor laws which can make you certain that you are not condoning child labor when you purchase a product.  

Making Your Life Simpler with Technology

We know that staying on top of all the different food labels out there can be overwhelming and incredibly we have only covered a few of the food labels used. Knowing that you most likely will not have this list on hand when you are food shopping we recommend downloading the free Food Label Lookup iPhone App that can make your food label understanding much less complicated. The people behind Label Lookup haveresearched roughly 200 different claims that can be found on product labels and gathered what they have learned into this easy iPhone app. They also have a web site at smarterliving.nrdc.org/labels so that you can make informed product choices even without a smart phone. 

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