Do you find food labels confusing and hard to understand? Besides the required FDA label, manufacturers use various seals and badges with claims about what the food does or does not contain.
We need food to survive, and in the U.S., we have a lot of choices when it comes to the food we put in our bodies. However, not all the food we ingest is good for us.
Statistics show that more than 34% of adults over the age of 20 are overweight, and almost 34% of adults are obese. Therefore, we need to be aware of what’s in our food before we eat it.
The regulations behind food labels can be complex and confusing. Food manufacturers use this confusion and complexity to their advantage. Some try to sell you products that claim to be healthy but really aren’t. Knowing the ingredients in your food and how much a serving size is can help you maintain a healthier diet.
Being healthy means making good choices, and that means knowing how to read the food label. When you are informed and educated about what you may find on food labels, you will have a much better idea of what you are ingesting. Below are some quick tips for understanding new food labels.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are foods that have had their genetic composition altered. This can include making crops resistant to drought, insects or harsh soil conditions. We consume a variety of different genetically modified crops in the U.S., including corn, soybeans and tomatoes, among others.
According to a rule issued November 2015, the FDA does not require food companies to label whether their food is genetically modified. However, many companies will voluntarily add this label to their packages for customer peace of mind. An explicit statement on the label means that none of the ingredients on the package came from genetically modified plants or animals. When you see such a statement, you can rest assured that the product does not contain GMOs.
The FDA doesn’t have a definition for “natural.” Companies may use it as long as their product doesn’t contain synthetic substances, added colors or artificial flavors.
Therefore, companies can put this label on their food even if it’s injected with sodium or contains high fructose corn syrup. Companies will argue that it comes from corn, so it’s natural.
Remember, they want you to buy their products, so they will often mislead you into thinking it’s healthier than it really is. You’ll need to check the other ingredients on the label to determine if the product is actually “natural.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has some strict guidelines as to what products can carry an “organic” label.
Organic foods produced from plants must have been grown without the farm using GMOs, synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, sewage sludge or radiation.
For animals to be organic, they must have been raised without being injected with growth hormones or antibiotics. Additionally, their feed must be organic, and they must have been allowed to roam outside.
If you see the USDA Organic label on your food, you can know that the product complies with the standards.
Consumer demand for transparency and authenticity has led to the “clean label” movement. Foods with a “clean label” mean that the ingredients are easy to read and recognize. They must be free of artificial ingredients and synthetic chemicals. What constitutes clean label and non-clean label ingredients depends on the issuing company. Understanding the claims can be confusing, but you can browse the Go Clean Label site to get answers to your questions.
Grains such as barley, wheat and rye contain gluten. They can turn up in foods where you don’t expect them. The FDA set a standard that foods must contain 20 parts per million or less of gluten to be considered gluten-free. If a food label says “gluten free,” then you can know you’re eating food that complies with the regulations.
Food manufacturers want you to buy their products, so they will do what they can to entice— even use misleading terms on the front of their packaging to make you think they are healthier than they are. To know for sure what is in the food you are buying, you need to read the labels on the back or side of the package. Knowing your food’s ingredients can help you make healthy decisions.
Megan Ray Nichols writes the blog Schooled by Science