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SMART SHOPPING: UNDERSTANDING FOOD LABELS
Many health conscious consumers read labels to help guide their purchases. Unfortunately many of the labels can be highly deceptive. Egads! What on earth are we supposed to do? It’s time to know what the food terms really mean.
ORGANIC – According to the USDA, 100% Organic means the final product was free from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, irradiation and antibiotic and hormone use in animals. This is important, especially if you don’t want food that’s produced with chemicals and other synthetic and carcinogenic junk. But…there’s a snafu in the government’s organic labeling process and it affects the small local farmers, i.e. “Producers who market less than $5000 worth of products are not required to become certified but must still adhere to the federal standards for organic production, product labeling and handling, including keeping appropriate records and you CANNOT use the USDA seal. That basically means, small farmers, even though they may be growing things organically CANNOT legally use the USDA “Organic” seal. Unfortunately for the little guys! If you shop at a local farmer’s market, ask how the produce and livestock is raised. Even though it may not be labeled, it may still be organic.
FREE RANGE – Eggs and poultry can be labeled “free range” or “free roaming” if they have access to the outdoors. This does NOT mean the animals actually make it to the outside. “Access to the outdoors” could literally mean there is a small window or door the size of Alice in Wonderland’s tiny little door , and that the animals never go through it.
PASTURE RAISED – means the animal has been raised on a pasture where they are able to eat grass, bugs, worms and all the other delicious things they are naturally designed to eat and have access to fresh air, sunshine and other aspects of nature.
GRASS FED – This means the animal was grass fed. However, a “grass fed” label doesn’t mean the animal had access to the outdoors – it could be eating cut grass indoors – or that it was fed grass its entire life. Some grass-fed cattle are “grain-finished” which means they were fed grains to fatten them up prior to slaughter. Read the label carefully.
NATURAL – THE “Natural” label has been horribly abused and it can basically be used on anything. Natural products can contain chemicals, pesticides, synthetic hormones, genetically modified organism – not natural at all.
LOW FAT vs LITE vs REDUCED FAT - I find labels,” low, fat, lite,” deceptive. To help you better understand , food labels are made up as follows: The top contains specific information, serving size, calories and nutrient information. The bottom part contains Daily Values (DV) for 2000 calorie diets with a % sign which are recommendations for key nutrients based only on the above calories. Remember, that 5%DV or less is considered “low” and 20%DV or more is high for a food component. So for things like fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium , look for foods with LOW %DV . For these nutrients you should try to eat less than the 100% DV. I recommend one always look at the specific grams to judge whether the item fits “low fat” category.
The good things to look for in these labels for a HIGH %DV are dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. I recommend you try and eat at least the 100% for these nutrients.
Another thing to consider is that the %DV based on a 2000 calorie diet, which is the average requirements for a child 7-10 years old the older children and teens will likely need more than the 100%DV.
There are so many labels on food products, healthy, heritage, fair trade, fresh, good source, fat free, calorie free, sugar free it can make your head spin! At the supermarket be weary of the labels, read them carefully and shop wisely for the sake of your health.
Copyright © 2010 Rosemary Nardone