It would be nice to be able to trust what you read on a food label, but at this point, that isn’t the case. Food companies use numerous tactics to deceive consumers into thinking their products are healthier than they really are.
Greek Yogurt – This recently popular food is a product every yogurt manufacturer wants to cash in on, therefore label deception is plentiful. Many Greek yogurts are nothing more than regular yogurt with milk solids, pectin, gelatin and other cheap thickening agents added, resulting in less nutrition for a higher price.
Make sure the only two ingredients on the label are milk and cultures. They are the only two ingredients needed to make real Greek yogurt.
How to Know if Natural is Really Natural?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) do not regulate the term “natural,” therefore every food company has their own definition as to what it means.
Natural or all natural products can contain GMOs and can be grown with the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, none of which occur naturally in nature. In addition, you will often see products that are labeled as natural, but they contain artificial (synthetic) sweeteners.
Always go for organic over natural, and read the ingredients to determine if synthetics are added.
Are GMOs Natural?
50% of people believe “all natural” means the food contains no GMOs, but that is far from true. According to Rodale Institute, “Ingredients made from genetically modified crops, or GMOs, such as corn, soy, canola, and even cotton exist in approximately 70 percent of the processed foods on store shelves, including nearly all foods advertised as ‘natural’.” They added that, “88 percent of corn and 94 percent of soybeans grown in America are genetically modified.”
The following definition is taken directly from Monsato’s website (one of the largest GMO biotech companies): GMOs are “plants or animals that have had their genetic make altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. In general, genes are taken (copied) from one organism that shows a desired trait and transferred into the genetic code of another organism.” This is far from natural!
Most genetically modified crops are created to withstand pesticides or to act as their their own pesticides. This is causing pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, and the solution the biotech industry has come up with for this new problem is to use more potent pesticides, such as 2, 4-D and dicamba, which are toxic chemicals that were used in Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
A product is really GMO-free if one of the following is true:
How True is the “No Growth Hormones” Claim?
If you see this label on poultry or pork, it is meaningless because the USDA doesn’t allow pigs and chickens to be fed hormones. To increase feed efficiency, antibiotics are used in place of hormones, and that is no better.
Since third party verification is not required, this label on beef or dairy means you will have to take the company’s word for it that it is actually hormone-free.
Purchase organic animal and dairy products since they are free of growth hormones and antibiotics.
How True is the “Antibiotic-Free” Claim?
The FDA has made it illegal to use the term “antibiotic free” on food labels, therefore manufacturers often use similar phrases like “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics administered.” Since this isn’t regulated, again you are taking their word for it. Plus meat producers who really don’t use antibiotics often use anti-microbials, since they are defined differently by the FDA, but they are very similar to antibiotics.
Purchase organic meat and dairy, since no antibiotics are allowed to be used ion organic products.
Grass-fed means that the animal ate only grass and had constant access to a pasture. Grass-fed labeling is very loosely enforced by the USDA, and involves nothing more than the manufacturer filling out paperwork saying that is what they are doing – there is no verification beyond that process.
Look for labels that have the USDA Process Verified emblem or the American Grassfed Association certification on them.
How True is the “Pesticide-Free” Claim?
This term is meaningless. Food companies can claim a product is “pesticide-free” or “free from pesticide residues” and can even display independent third party certifications, but most of these independent certification companies use the same guidelines as the Environmental Protection Agency. This means those products are no different than all other non-organic products.
The only way to avoid pesticides in your food is to purchase certified organic.
How True is the “Multi-Grain” Claim?
Multi-grain can certainly be healthy, but it can also be unhealthy. This is because the FDA has determined that whole-grain means the product has several grains in it, however it doesn’t mean it has to contain the whole version of the grains (unless the label says 100% whole grain). For this reason, many loaves of bread claiming to be healthy because they are multi-grain really just contain multiple unhealthy refined grains.
Look for “100% Whole Grain” on the label or make sure the word “whole” precedes each grain listed in the ingredients list.
How True are Wild Salmon Claims?
Wild fish is superior to farmed fish because in fish farms, thousands of fish are crammed into pens, requiring a multitude of antibiotics and pesticides to keep diseases and parasites at bay. Water gets contaminated due to high nitrogen and phosphorus levels from the feed and waste. Farmed salmon are also more likely to contain dioxins and PCBs.
Wild salmon gets its pink color from eating krill, which contain a caroteniod called astaxanthin. Farmed salmon are grey, therefore they are fed chemically synthesized coloring in order to achieve the pink color. This artificial coloring can be detected; therefore salmon can be tested to determine if it is truly wild.
Numerous tests documented by The New York Times, Consumer Reports, Web MD and Rodale Institute found that less than half of the “wild salmon” evaluated were actually wild even though their labels claimed otherwise.
Understand that 90% of salmon sold in the US is farmed and that all wild salmon in Canada is farmed, so you can be sure that most of the salmon you are able to purchase is farmed.
Buy wild in the summer since the Alaskan salmon season runs from May through September. From November to March, it is highly unlikely that you will find wild salmon even if the label claims it.
You can be sure canned Alaskan salmon is wild since Alaska doesn’t allow salmon farming.
You should know that just because there are some good ingredients or nutritional content in a product, it doesn’t mean that it does not also contain bad ingredients. If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, it is important that you know how to decode the nutrition label.
Calories – Don’t get hung up on the calorie content when shopping for foods. If you are eating foods that are low in calories, typically they are also low in nutrition. That means that not only will you be malnourished, but you are also likely to eat more than you would if you chose a higher calorie food because you won’t feel satisfied. Focus more on the protein, fiber and vitamins.
Fat – Don’t avoid fat or choose low fat options (other than dairy). Fats are actually an essential part of your diet. It is important to choose the right kinds of fat, however. Strive to get mostly unsaturated fats (a small amount of saturated fats are okay). Avoid trans fats, which are man made fats that have been proven to lead to numerous chronic diseases. Be careful when reading labels – even a label that says “no trans fat” or “0 trans fat” can actually contain up to .5 grams and it is recommended that you have no more than 2 grams per day. By avoiding foods that have partially hydrogenated oils in them, you can ensure you are eating a food that truly has no trans fat.
Sodium – 75% of the salt we consume comes from processed foods, canned foods, fast food and restaurant foods. Too much salt can lead to heart disease and stroke, so it is important to limit those foods. 1500 mg is the maximum daily intake suggested.
Protein – This important nutrient serves to provide the body with energy, while providing overall health maintenance to the muscles, bones, skin, hair and immune system. The suggested daily intake of protein is 70 grams.
Fiber – Most of us only consume one-third the amount of fiber we need each day. Fiber serves to regulate the digestive system and blood sugar, and it is great for weight management since it helps you feel full. The suggested daily intake is 35 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
Sugar – Be aware that sugar has many names and food companies often use words that confuse the consumer into believing there is not as much sugar in the product as there really is. The following ingredients are nothing more than different names for sugar: High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Fructose, Corn Sugar, Corn Sweetener, Fruit Juice Concentrate, Evaporated Cane Juice, Cane Sugar, Beet Sugar, Glucose, Sucrose, Maltose, Lactose, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Sorbitol, Barley Malt, Caramel and Carob Syrup.
In addition to regular sugar, thousands of foods are full of artificial sweeteners that can lead to mood and anxiety disorders, headaches, depression, heart palpitations, seizures and more. The following artificial sweeteners should be avoided: Aspartame, Sucralose, Saccharin, Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame K), Neotame.