Understanding Food Labels: A Matter of Life and Health

With eating being the most basic part of our life, we are slowly disregarding it. Cooking and eating are routine tasks; therefore, we don’t give it much thought. Though the food deliveries and fast-food chains have eased our dinner meals.

But you have had enough of fast-food and you are ready to begin eating healthy. You now know that starting on a healthy eating plan will help lower your high blood pressure, it will decrease your LDL (bad cholesterol), and improve your overall physical, mental, and emotional health.

You have cleared out your pantry, your fridge, and your freezer. You have thrown out anything that will continue to contribute to your poor health. Even the sausage you have hidden in the back of the freezer. That’s right no more sausage sandwiches with fried egg and cheese. Ok, maybe keep the sausage in the back of the freezer in case there is a zombie apocalypse and you can’t get to your local farmers market for a day or two.

Now, it’s time to go shopping for groceries and load up on nutritional foods. You see and hear ads all the time that make claims such as calorie-free, low or reduced sodium, sugar-free, fat-free, organic, or Non-GMO just to name a few.

You feel as if you need a Ph.D. in science just to go grocery shopping. It would be quicker to pull up to your local fast-food restaurant and order a #2 meal than try to decipher what all these food labels and claims mean.

Well, after reading this article, you will have your Ph.D. in food label reading. You will be fully armed with all the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions about your food purchases.

While some links below are affiliate links, there is no additional charge to you. If you make a purchase, I make a commission. Please know that I will only affiliate myself with products and services I believe in.

Nutrient Content Claim

Nutrient content claims are assertions about the level of nutrients in food products. As you begin your journey to a better and healthier you, you will take notice of such claims as,

  • Free
  • Less
  • Lean
  • Light
  • Lightly
  • Low
  • Very Low
  • Reduced
  • No added

You may have thought that these descriptive terms are manufactured marketing hoopla to help promote and sell food products. You may be surprised to learn as I was that these nutrient content claims do mean something and that they are regulated by the FDA.

The American Heart Association has a wonderful chart that breaks down what some of the nutrient content claims mean and what you should know about them. See below.

Food Labels

Another source of confusion that you may have is centered around the labeling of food products and whether or not it is Non-GMO, organic, natural, hormone-free, or grass-fed. When I started shopping for better quality and healthy foods, I started noticing all these different labels.

And just like me, you are wondering what is the difference or if there really is a difference between these labels? They all sound healthy. Is one more healthy than the other? Well, as I started to research and learn more about food and its impact on our physical, mental, and emotional health; how our food products are made, how our food sources such as animals are raised, fed, and handled, along with all the many different chemicals that are added to our food products, I learned that it is vital to know and understand these particular labels. 

But just as troubling as how our food products are created so is the labeling. Truth be told, the labels are not false according to the regulations and guidelines they follow, however they are not 100% accurate.

Here is what you need to know for your next trip to the grocery store.

  • Non-GMO

When you see the sticker, “Non-GMO” (Genetically Modified Organism), it indicates that the product has been verified by the Non-GMO Project – a not-for-profit organization. This means that the food that you are purchasing has not been genetically engineered.

Or has it?

According to the Genetic Literacy Project, “Non-GMO Project verified products can contain genetically engineered ingredients ranging from 0.9% – 5% of the finished product.”

  • USDA Certified Organic

When you see the label USDA Certified Organic, this means that the food source has followed strict USDA guidelines. According to the USDA website, “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”

But is the food actually 100% organic? Not exactly.

When you see this label, you should know that 95% of the ingredients were grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides which then leaves the other 5%. One thing to note is that USDA Certified Organic products cannot be genetically engineered.

  • Natural

In the book, The Power of SUPERFOODS: A-Z Guide – Eat & Live Well Every Day, it states, “According to the USDA, natural means the product contains no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. However, the food may contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other similar chemicals, which make the “Natural” label all but worthless to anyone looking to avoid those additives.”

  • Hormone-Free

If we are going to be a stickler about the wording, then “Hormone-Free” labeling is not accurate. Animals have hormones that naturally occur so they are not hormone-free. What this label is referring to is that there were no additional hormones added.

In addition, the FDA does not allow hormones in the raising of hogs and poultry, so you will not see this label on pork and poultry as it is implied. But who knew that?

  • Grass-Fed

According to the FDA website, The USDA Grass Fed Standard: To meet the standard, livestock:

  • can only consume grass and forage (except for milk prior to weaning)
  • cannot be fed grain or grain by-products
  • must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season
  • can receive routine mineral and vitamin supplementation.
  • Local

Foods that are labeled local must be produced in the local region where sold. The product cannot travel more than 400 miles from where it originated. Typically, these products will be sold at what’s known as farmer’s markets.

While farmers use pesticides, they use fewer pesticides and less harsh chemicals. Because fruits at the farmer’s market are usually picked, transported, and sold right away, chances are you will get more nutrient-packed produce.

Nutritional Facts Label

As you begin your shopping quests you will undoubtedly encounter the nutritional facts label. This is the label most people are familiar with, but it’s important to know what you are reading.

The nutritional label can vary from food product to food product, but when it comes right down to it, once you can read one you can read them all.

Let’s go through a sample nutritional label.

The top portion of the nutritional facts label is the key to it all.

  • This section is informing us that the nutritional information to follow is speaking about two different serving sizes.
  • First, the serving size. The serving size here in our sample label is equal to 5 crackers. The serving size is what people typically eat and is not a recommended serving size. So, when the label speaks about serving size here, it is only applicable if you eat 5 crackers.
  • Second, the “about 21 servings per container” means if you ate exactly 5 crackers each time you open the box, you will be able to do this 21 times before eating all the crackers.

Third, inside our sample box/container there are 8 “fresh stacks” (13 crackers in eight individually packed wrappers). So, one stack has 2+ servings (remember, a serving is 5 crackers).

Now that you know what is meant by a serving size, the rest of the label is simply reading and identifying what is contained in the food product and how much you are consuming.

In reading our nutritional content label we now know if you eat 5 crackers you will be consuming 80 calories, but if you eat one sleeve (13 crackers) you will be consuming 220 calories.

Next, you will see nutrients such as fats, cholesterol, sodium, etc. Here is where you will want to decide how much or how little of each nutrient you will want to consume. So, for example, if you eat 5 crackers, your intake of sodium will be 130mg, whereas if you eat an entire sleave you will have taken in 340mg of Sodium.

On the nutritional facts label, you will see “Total Sugars” which are sugars that are naturally produced in the food product. You will also see “includes Added Sugars.” Added sugars (such as sucrose or dextrose) are just that, additional sugars added on top of the natural sugars in the processing of the food product.

How this read is

1g of Total Sugars (natural) + 1g of Incl Added Sugars = 2% (if you eat 5 crackers).

3g of Total Sugars (natural) + 3g of Incl Added Sugars = 6% (if you eat a sleeve -13 crackers).

The Percent Daily Value (%DV)

The %DV is the percent of the daily nutrient offered in a serving expressed in grams, milligrams, or micrograms. This shows the contribution to a total daily diet. It will help you identify the level of nutrients you require or that you want less of when consuming this product.

Here is something to take note of, the %DV does not equal up to 100% vertically. So please don’t be confused about this. It simply tells you the percentage of the daily value for each listed nutrient in a serving.

According to the FDA website on general guide to % DV

  • 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low
  • 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high

More often, choose foods that are:

  • Higher in %DV for Dietary Fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium
  • Lower in %DV for Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Added Sugars

The last section of the nutritional facts label is the ingredients. These are all the ingredients that make up the food product. This is important especially for those who may have food allergies.

Greater Goods Nourish Digital Kitchen Food Scale

The truth is, no food has the same set of calories and nutrients. Some are rich in vitamins while having no fat or mineral content. Some might be protein-rich. The human body requires all nutrients in a certain quantity for proper functioning.

Here is a terrific scale that will help you in the kitchen to understand the nutritional values of what you cook and what you eat.

With this scale by your side, you can easily calculate the nutrient content of a particular food. Not only will it improve your diet and health, but will also let you know the importance of eating healthy food.

Click to view and learn more about the product.

Putting a productive effort into your food will leave you with obvious results. Therefore, out of multiple kitchen food scales, I’ve chosen this one.

Stylish Look

Manufactured from heavy-duty plastic, the unit is pretty solid and durable. The tempered glass platform not only adds to its modern look but also makes it easy to clean. It’s tough in action and can support a total weight of up to 5kg./11lbs. But I’m not done yet.

With a non-slip and scratch-resistant back, it has its perks. That is the reason how it quickly grips the counter and stays firm on the surface.

Precise Scale Values

What makes the kitchen scale better is its weight sensing ability. GreatorGoods has used over four top-quality sensors that get the job done. In terms of weight gradation, this unit offers the flexibility of 0.1 ounces/1 grams. Its automatic shut-off and auto-calibration is a treat for the user.

Responsive Action

This kitchen scale works on a system of buttons. Its buttons are touch-sensitive and are quick to respond. Other than its responsive action, the system comes with a tare option. It also supports multiple unit conversion for your ease. These include grams, ounces, and pounds in one unit.

Food Directory

Such scales usually run on some codes that are fed into the system. Then the system calculates the nutrient value concerning varying factors. One such factor is the weight of the food item. The bigger the food registry, the more space you get to play around with your food.

The Nourish Digital scale offers you an extensive list of up to 2000 foods. And that’s not it; you can make any custom entries of your own. Isn’t that great?

Worth the Money

From its size to looks and manageability, this product has topped all the categories. It is priced decently, it has a nice look and above all, it’s great in what it does. Operating on battery power, the package comes along with AAA batteries. That allows you to use it wherever, whenever you want.

Features

  • Product Weight: 1.2lbs
  • Product Dimensions: 9.25×6.1×1 inch
  • Automatic Scale Calibration
  • Battery (included)
  • Four precision weighing sensors
  • Supports over 99 custom food entries

Pros

  • Smooth and Stylish Platform
  • Super Accurate and Precise
  • Easy to Clean

Cons

  • Requires Battery for operation

Conclusion

As you work towards better health by eating nutrient-filled foods it is important that you know and understand what it is that you are putting into your body. Don’t assume or be misled by product labels and claims.

While the food industry and government agencies have legal, ethical, and social responsibility; you can’t leave you and your families well-being in the hands of others. Get informed and empowered with knowledge.

The more you know about how your food products are made, handled, and processed you will begin looking for more healthy food choices and that starts with reading and understanding labels and claims. Healthy food choices increase better physical, mental, and emotional health and will extend your life expectancy. Healthy food choices decrease diseases, health problems, doctor visits, and the need for certain medications.

Comment and let me know your thoughts on if you find food labels and claims helpful, confusing, and/or misleading.

Subscribe, like, and share my blog and begin living your best life now.

Resources:

English, Cameron. (2019). FDA: Look (Out) for the Butterfly – Non-GMO Project. Genetic Literacy Project – Science not Ideology. Retrieved from https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/04/11/30000-food-products-with-non-gmo-project-label-may-be-false-or-misleading-fda-guidance-document-says/#:~:text=The%20FDA%20maintained%20that%20companies,non%2DGMO%2C%20%E2%80%9C%E2%80%A6.&text=Non%2DGMO%20Project%20verified%20products,FDA%20fears%20could%20be%20misleading.

Food Packing Claims. (2017, March 6). Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/food-packaging-claims

Grass Fed Programs for Small and Very Small (SVS) Producers. Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Grass%20Fed%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label

Is “Natural” Better? Know Your Food Labels. The Power of SUPERFOODS: A-Z Guide – Eat & Live Well Every Day, page 40.

McEvoy, Miles. (2019). Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

Image by Nathália Rosa on Unsplash and ElasticComputeFarm from Pixabay

Published by Best Men's Health and Lifestyle

Blogging you to your best life with a bit of style.

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