While grocery shopping the other day, I had an interesting experience with my two girls. Halle and Macy are 12 and 8. As they get older, they are really starting to pay attention to what goes into their bodies. They, like the majority of us, believe what a food company places on the label as the truth. But, that isn’t always necessarily true. My girls found that pretty frustrating when trying to make healthy choices. So, what do some of the claims on packaging actually mean? What can you believe and when should you dig deeper? If it says “natural,” does that automatically mean it’s good for me?
Various labels and health claims cover food packaging these days. Some labels and health claims are regulated by the FDA, while others are simply advertising. Deciphering labels can be confusing and the laws and regulations behind them are even more confusing. When going grocery shopping and making your food selections, it can be very confusing reading all of the information on the food packages, and in turn trying to make the proper choices. In today’s blog, I’m going to list some common claims that you will find on food items and what their presence on these food items actually means. You may be a bit surprised to find out that company claims on food packaging, aren’t always what you would expect them to be.
Some of the most common nutrient claims seen on food packages are as follows:
- Calorie Free: contains less than five calories per serving.
- Fat free/Sugar free: contains less than 1⁄2 gram of fat or sugar per serving.
- Good source of: provides at least 10 percent of the daily value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving.
- High fiber: contains five or more grams of fiber per serving.
- High in: provides 20 percent or more of the daily value of a specified nutrient per serving.
- Low calorie: contains less than 40 calories per serving.
- Low cholesterol: contains less than 20 mg of cholesterol and two grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
- Low sodium: contains less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
- Reduced/less: contains 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the regular product.
A particularly confusing label for most is the definition of “organic” vs. “natural.” Here’s what you need to know:
Organic and Related Terms
- Organic foods: are grown and processed with minimal synthetic materials. Foods labeled as “organic” are regulated by the USDA. There are regulated synthetic substances that may be used as well as, non-synthetic substances that cannot be used in the production of “organic” products.
- 100% Organic: in order for a product to be labeled “100% organic” it must be grown and handed in an establishment that has been certified by the National Organic Program.
- Made with organic ingredients: For a product to be labeled as “made with organic ingredients” it must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients.
- Only certain ingredients produced organically: May not display the USDA seal shown above, but may identify individual ingredients that were produced organically. For example, “Made with organic carrots.”
Definition: There are no limitations to using the term “natural,” as long as the food “does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances”. The FDA only requires that foods labeled “natural” have no added artificial color additives or flavors. The USDA says “natural” meats cannot have any artificial ingredients or added color and can only be minimally processed post-slaughter. However, no regulations govern how the animal is raised or fed, or how the food is produced. Manufacturers can use genetically altered foods, pesticides, growth hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotics unless otherwise labeled. Natural does not mean organic.
Another claim that isn’t necessarily regulated is whole grain related.
Made with Whole Grains
The FDA does not regulate the term “whole grain” but recommends to manufacturers that foods labeled “whole grain” should contain whole wheat, whole oats, whole-grain corn or other whole cereal grains. White flour and other refined cereal grains have been stripped of their bran and germ layers, which contain nutrients and fiber.
Unless it is marked “100 percent whole grain,” the food might contain only a small portion of whole grains. The FDA recommends that consumers check ingredient lists to make sure a whole grain is listed first, which would indicate a high percentage of whole grain.
Understanding what these claims on labels mean can help you be a savvy shopper and avoid getting tricked by misleading labels. Reading the nutrition facts label is the only way to really know how healthy a food is for you and/or your family.
Information or materials posted on this blog are intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, medical opinion, diagnosis or treatment. Any information posted on this blog is not a substitute for patient’s specific medical information or dietary advice. Please consult with your healthcare team or dietitian for a more complete dietary plan and recommendations.