Food Labels: Fool Me Once Shame on You! How Not to Be Fooled Again.

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SpringISpring Into Health with Anouk and Danielle is not your ordinary cooking class but rather a workshop that provides participants with an educational component along with teaching a handful of recipes that prove healthy food can be delicious food.  Danielle and Anouk believe, “Knowledge is power so our workshops always start with an informational, interactive talk about good nutrition and how to make better and healthier food choices.”

In November, I attended a Spring Into Health workshop that focused on what food labels actually mean and how to tell the difference between marketing claims and actual nutritional labels that mean something. Leading the discussion was Stacie Waters, President of the Bilinski Sausage Manufacturing Company, a locally owned and operated company. Since becoming president in 2008, Waters has focused exclusively on producing All Natural and Certified Organic products. Waters wanted to create a company that sells food she would feed her own family.

While obtaining and keeping a USDA Organic Seal is not easy and is a huge commitment that involves yearly, lengthy and extensive audits conducted by the USDA it is worth because the seal is the only label that guarantees food is truly organic. To be considered truly organic a product must be grown without and processed without the use of chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, GMO’s, artificial colors, and artificial flavors.

Advertising companies and food manufacturers have become quite brilliant at using words to make a product sound better for you than it may actually be. By trademarking certain names and labels, some companies have cornered the market on sounding healthier for you than their competitors but the labels are paid for, not earned by producing quality products. It is important to learn the tricks of the trade when reading packages so you make the healthiest possible choices when choosing your foods.

Learn What to Buy and Why

Here is some important information and helpful tips to help make your next trip to the grocery store a healthier one:

  • organic-logoFoods can be labeled as using organic and natural ingredients but without the USDA Organic Certified Seal one can not be sure that all ingredients in the product are truly organic. Waters also noted the differences between an ‘All Natural’ label and an Organic label.  While “All Natural” is not a meaningless claim it is a bit misleading. ‘All Natural’ means a product does not contain any artificial ingredients or preservatives and is minimally processed but it does not mean a product is antibiotic free, GMO free, or anything about how the food is raised. In other words if it is a meat product, ‘All Natural’ does not mean the animal was raised on an all natural or organic diet. The ‘All Natural’ label refers only to the finished product.
  • Chances are you have seen the claims, “hormone free, cage free and fed an all vegetarian diet”  as well as FDA certified, on your meat products. I thought these labels were important and would make sure the product I bought had these labels. Unfortunately, I was being tricked by marketers in this case because all animals raised for meat are hormone free, cage free, and vegetarian fed. The FDA prohibits the use of hormones and there is no reason to cage animals raised for meat and feeding meat by products to these animals would cost more money so economically it makes more sense to feed animals grains. Writing these claims on the package is unnecessary and is used the same way advertising is used, to get people to buy the product. It is important to note that FDA certified is not a label with an approval policy. If a company follows the rules (it is illegal not to), then they can use that label.
  • Non-GMO-project*The Non-GMO project is a non-profit organization with a mission to protecting the non-GMO food supply and giving consumers an informed choice. The Non-GMO Verified label is a third party verifier and it is very expensive to receive this label. It is a trustworthy label and not handed out easily.
  • Hormone free does not mean antibiotic free.  Many chickens are given antibiotics, not because they are sick but because it helps them grow bigger, faster. There is concern and some evidence that suggests the small amount of antibiotics consumed through eating meat raised on antibiotics can cause an increased resistance to antibiotics in humans.
  • Cage-FreeUnlike chickens raised for meat, chickens raised for eggs can be, and unfortunately often are caged. Eggs are one of the products that have every claim possible written on them making it difficult to choose the best ones. When buying eggs the key words to look for are, ‘Cage-Free’, ‘Antibiotic-Free’, and/or the ‘Certified Organic label’.
  • Buying organic can be more expensive. Waters suggests not wasting your money on packaged organic snacks. These type of foods should be eaten in moderation and even when organic they still contain unhealthy ingredients such as sugar and are often loaded with empty calories. Instead spend money on organic meats, milk, cheeses, eggs, leafy vegetables, fruit without peels, and beans.usda
  • Any product with the USDA Certified Organic Seal is one that ensures your food does not have any chemicals or artificial ingredients, including antibiotics so there is no need to look for any other label. Often times certified organic products do not include additional labels because it is not necessary.
  • Ignore all advertising claims on the front of a package and go straight to the ingredients list and nutritional label. This is the only important and true information you need to decide if a product is worth buying.

While this information may seem overwhelming, once you learn key words and ingredients to look for and what ingredients to avoid it becomes much easier to choose your food wisely. As Danielle and Anouk point out, “Seventy Five percent of the food items in a supermarket are made with highly processed chemicals, sugars, sodium, gmo’s, toxic oils and growth hormones.” It may not be possible or even necessary to avoid these ingredients 100% of the time but the more we can choose real foods over processed ones, the healthier we will be.

*For more information about GMO’s and the Non-GMO Project visit www.nongmoproject.org.

To find out more about Spring Into Health with Danielle and Anouk and their upcoming workshops, visit their website at www.lifeontrack.info.

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1 Comment

  1. I share your concern about the lack of oversight into what goes into our food, beauty and cleaning products. One of the greatest resources is the EWG.org. They have a great app that is a label scanner, from food to body lotion. http://www.ewg.org/

    They recently just launched a class for 69.95. Haven’t taken it yet, but sounds ideal for someone who is confused, concerned, and not sure what to do to protect your family.

    http://www.mindbodygreen.com/course/clean-living-101-how-to-reduce-exposure-to-toxic-chemicals?c_pc=EWG215&utm_source=ewg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=launch

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