Understanding Food Labels - Part II

Many companies out there are becoming tricky, finding new ways to make you feel like buying their products. Things have started to change, and people are becoming more aware of making healthier choices. Marketers are changing up their tactics and adding in healthy keywords to make you THINK you’re eating healthier, while still making unhealthy products that keep you addicted.

You need to be aware of all the loopholes out there that these companies are getting away with.


This seems to be a common word nowadays. For something to be organic, it must pass a series of government checklists stating ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce the product must not take antibiotics or growth hormones. So, there are 3 different tiers of labels:

  • 100% organic – Made with 100% organic ingredients

  • Organic - Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

  • Made with Organic Ingredients – made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients

Be aware that just because it says organic, doesn’t mean its automatically healthy. It can still contain a ton of fats and sugars.

Beef Labels

  • Animal Welfare Approved – Kept at highest welfare standards including treatment of breeding, transport, and at slaughter.

  • Organic –Only fed organic feed, cannot receive medicines and vitamins, and are not vaccinated.

  • Pasture Raised – May be misleading since there are no requirements.

  • All natural – Also misleading since all meat must be minimally processed and contain no preservatives, meaning nothing.

  • Grass-fed – Beef cattle that graze on pasture. This may be confusing if uncertified since for the first 6-12 months they may be raised on the pasture, and then fed grain when shipped to a feedlot. May or not be organic, but is lower in saturated fats and higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Certified Angus – Most common breed of cattle that requires the animal to have 50% Angus genetics.

  • Dry Aged – The carcasses are held in coolers or meat lockers under tight temperature, air circulation, and humidity controls. The natural enzymes in the meat break down connective tissue and develops a crust that seals the meat and protects it from deterioriation.

  • Prime, Choice, Select – Indicates the amount, regularity, and quality of marbling. Prime is the most tender and juicy, then choice, then select, which is leaner but fairly tender.

Chicken Labels

  • Free range – the chicken must have “access to the outside.”

  • All natural – Virtually, all chickens in the U.S. are “all natural” since the USDA does not allow added hormones or steroids. This label isn’t regulated and doesn’t mean anything.

  • Organic – Chicken only fed organic feed, cannot receive medicines and vitamins, and are not vaccinated.

  • Pasture Raised – Chickens are raised outside, eat whatever is on the ground whether its bugs or grass, and not confined to a cage.

Egg Labels

  • Certified Organic – Birds are uncaged inside barns, required to have outdoor access, fed an organic vegetarian diet, and free from antibiotics and pesticides. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted.

  • Free range – Birds have access to outdoors.

  • Certified Humane - Birds are uncaged but may be indoors, must be able to perform natural behaviors, beak cutting is allowed but forced molting through starvation is prohibited.

  • Animal Welfare Approved – Birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required, must be able to perform natural behaviors, must be allowed to molt naturally, beak cutting is prohibited, and there are requirements for space and stocking density.

  • Cage-free – Birds are uncaged inside barns but do not have access outdoors. They can engage in natural behaviors. Beak cutting is permitted.

  • Vegetarian-Fed – Bird feed doesn’t contain animal products, but has no significant relevance to living conditions.


Not regulated by the FDA, therefore being very misleading. It may bring to mind fresh, minimally processed, and healthy, but means nothing about a food’s nutritional content. Almost all packaged foods are processed in some way.

“Made with Real Fruit” or “Contains Real Fruit Juice”

There is no law that requires how much real fruit has to be included in a food that uses this claim, so companies can add just one grape or one drop of orange juice to list it. A quick look at the ingredients will tell you what you need to know. If high fructose corn syrup or sugar is listed as the first ingredients, the “real fruit” isn’t significant.

“Whole Grains”

One of the most confusing terms out there. There are actually a variety of terms to look for.

  • Made with whole grains – Only needs a tiny bit of whole grains to use this claim.

  • Wheat flour or 100% wheat – Again, just a ploy to fool consumers. Look for whole wheat flour or 100% whole wheat.

  • Multigrain – This doesn’t explain whether the grains are refined or whole, just that there is more than one type of grain. Multigrain has no proven health benefits.

  • Whole grain – Whole grains can contain various blends of grains that are refined. Avoid words like enriched and bleached. You can only trust the term 100% whole grain.”

  • X grams of whole grains – Again, a food can CLAIM that there’s a good source of whole grains, but doesn’t means it’s high in fiber.

“Fat Free” or “Low Fat”

Food labels may tempt you to believe these are healthier choices. Sometimes it can be helpful when choosing things like skim milk over regular milk. Most of the time when they remove fat, they add in something else, like sugar. Yogurts for example may be fat free but full in sugar, which makes it no better. Products will have .5g or less of fat to be labeled fat free.

“Zero Trans Fats”

Trans fats are bad for you and companies are trying to make people aware of this. However, any food that contains .5g or less can be listed as zero grams on a nutrition label, allowing companies to run with this term. Always check the ingredients. If you see words like “partially hydrogenated,” it DOES contain trans fats. It may seem insignificant, but it adds up. It may be .5g per serving, but if you are eating multiple servings over time, you are consuming more nad more trans fats.

“No Sugar Added”

These products may not have added sugar, but they still may contain added ingredients, along with natural sugars. For example, orange juice may have no sugar added, but still contain a ton of sugar. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be consumed in moderation.

“Sugar Free”

This just means the sugar has been replaced by a sugar substitute such as splenda, or aspartame. Some sweeteners such as aspartame can be dangerous for the body and thought to cause cancers. Sugar alcohols are a better choice, but may have side effects such as bloating and cramping.

“100 calories”

Most of the time, these are very filling portions, so we often tend to overindulge. Also, doesn’t always means a healthy choice. It could be 100 calories packed with fats and sugars.

“Reduced Sodium”

Usually these labels require a product to have less sodium than the original version. It could still have a ton of sodium. Avoid products that have more than 200mg of sodium per serving. Look for “low sodium” which is required to have 140mg or less sodium.


The best source of antioxidants if from fresh fruits and vegetables. Any packaged food claiming to contain antioxidants likely contains trace amounts of foods that contained beneficial amounts before being processed.

“Heart Healthy”

Products love to list their grains as heart healthy. While certain types of carbs can be great for cardiovascular health, some of these products counteract that by adding in sugar, sodium, and artificial flavors.

“Gluten Free”

Another one of those fad words that people are running to. Unless you have celiac disease, there is not real reason to choose gluten free foods. Gluten is a general term for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barely. Just because products remove gluten doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Same as just because there is gluten in a product, doesn’t make it unhealthy (ie. Oatmeal).

“High,” “Good Source,” and “More”

Terms “high”, “rich in”, or “excellent source of”, may be used if claimed nutrient is present in the individual food at 20% or more of DRV or RDI. The term good source, “contains,” or “provides,” may be used if the claimed nutrient is present in the food between 10-19% of DRV or RDI. The term “more” may be used to describe the levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, or potassium present if the claimed nutrient is present in the food at 10% more of the applicable RDI or DRV as compared to an appropriate food reference.

“Light” and “lite”

If a product derives 50% or more of its calories from fat, its fat content must be reduced by 50% or more. If the product derives less than 50% of its calories from fat, the number of calories must be reduced by at least 1/3 or its fat content reduced by at least 50%.

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