Decoding Food Labels

organic

Have you ever been browsing cereal boxes and produce at the grocery store and become overwhelmed by the volume of food labels out there, from “organic” to “zero trans fat”? Of course you have. Well, we have a little food label 101 for you to help set you straight. Suneil Jain, NMD, naturopathic physician and founder of Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics in North Scottsdale, uncovers what labels such as “all-natural” and “gluten-free” might really mean.

1. “All-Natural”: Doesn’t mean organic, even though 100 percent  organic equals all-natural; this label is supposedly applied to foods that are minimally processed, and free of synthetic preservatives, artificial sweeteners/colors/flavors, growth hormones, antibiotics, hydrogenated oils, stabilzers and emulsifiers; be aware that the “all-natural” label is applied very loosely and goes mostly unregulated; with this label it’s important to read every ingredient under the Nutritional Facts to understand exactly what’s in the product
2. “Organic”: Always look for 100 percent certified organic when choosing organic; while not 100 percent clean due to modern GMO contamination, organic certification is regulated and ensures that the food product was grown or processed with no artificial chemicals/colors/dyes, antibiotics, synthetic pesticides, and petroleum or sewage based fertilizers; Caution must be used when products made from multiple ingredients are labeled organic because if each individual ingredient isn’t certified organic than the product as a whole isn’t 100 percent certifiable organic
3. “Gluten-free”: This label is virtually thrown onto anything that doesn’t naturally have gluten in it; most importantly, gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy as often times the foods used to make the substitutes are processed and have a higher glycemic index compared to their gluten counterparts; recently, the FDA has passed regulatory standards for the labeling of “gluten-free” foods
4. “Non-GMO”: Just because a product is labeled “Non-GMO” doesn’t mean it’s organic; most “Non-GMO” products are conventionally grown, especially, when there’s no organic label; when purchasing such listed foods look for the “Certified” Non-GMO label
5. “Zero Trans Fat”: Probably one of the most blatant cases of FDA-approved misinformation; if a food product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving then the “Zero” Trans Fat label is allowed. Many food companies listing products as “Zero Trans Fat” create smaller serving sizes to get away with using this label. Bottom line: if you see hydrogenated or partially oils under the Nutrition Facts, stay away.
6. “Zero or Low Calorie”: This label is usually applied to highly processed, refined foods that are far from healthy and usually contain artificial sweeteners; “Zero-Calorie” soft drinks have been linked to multiple health problems, including obesity and metabolic syndrome.

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