Guest Post: Food Labels

Below is a post on the latest in food labeling. I find this topic to be very interesting. While I am one to buy organic for the veggies and fruits that are said to be highest in pesticides, if someone asks me the details about organic, I wouldn't know the nitty-gritty. I think that you will find this post by James Kim to be helpful!
Food Labels: The Good and the Bad

Food labels are confusing. You’re not always sure what something means or, even worse, if it’s true or not. But never fear: once you get a handle on the basics, it can be easy to figure out what everything means so that you can efficiently do your meal planning.

The Good
OrganicOrganic food is “produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” In addition, it has to come from farms and processing facilities that have been approved by a government-sanctioned group. You should also be aware that organic products are labeled in different ways to show exactly what percentage of ingredients are actually organic. These different labels are “100% organic,” “organic” (95%), “made with organic ingredients” (70% or more) and “contains organic ingredients (70% or less).

Fair trade – Food that is sold according to standards that ensure that each person involved in the production receives the monetary compensation they deserve for their work. This is a measure that helps to fight poverty by making sure that small farmers aren’t cut out of the profits they deserve. FLO-CERT is the company that evaluates fair trade claims and awards the label.

Certified – You’re probably familiar with the “certified” label since it’s what you see on cuts of meat at the butcher. The definition of “certified” is hazy: the Food Safety and Inspection Service only says that it means that a product was evaluated based upon a set of “quality characteristics.” Don’t let this phase you, though, as certified meat is, indeed, of higher quality than meat that is not certified.

The Bad
Natural – At its core, the label “natural” doesn’t really mean anything important since the US Food and Drug Administration only defines it as “food [that] does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”  You can safely ignore this label and inspect the ingredients list on your own to see how natural something is (in other words, can you pronounce the entire list of ingredients?).

Local – “Local” food is thought of as food that can only be sold within 100 miles of where it was grown. This seems like a helpful label, but no one actually makes sure that the claims of “local” food are correct, so you can be easily duped. The only place you can be sure that you’re buying local at is at the closest farmer’s market where you actually deal with the people who grew the food in the first place.

In conclusion, you want to pay attention to labels like “organic,” “fair trade,” and “certified” while ignoring ones like “natural” and “local” that are only there to mislead you. If you make sure that you’re aware of what you put into your body, you’ll be rewarded for it through better health, so get on it!

James Kim is a writer for Food on the Table.  Food on the Table is a company that provides online budget meal planning services.  Their goal is to help families make better food choices and to save money.

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