Your Guide to Understanding Food Labels

Each year, the World Health Organization celebrates World Health Day and chooses a specific topic to discuss or raise awareness about. This year’s theme is food safety and a large part of understanding food safety is being able to read labels properly and understanding how these labels affect the food we eat. SlimGenics aims to provide education  about how eating healthier requires not only understanding nutrition, but also obtaining knowledge of how your food is processed and handled before it even reaches your plate.

Food labels are on nearly  everything we eat. The USDA requires packaged foods to have a detailed label, mostly in reference to processed foods or food that was handled previously. But what do the words on some of these labels mean? Most of us know what phrases like “organic” or “USDA Choice” indicate, but what about lesser-known labels like “free-range,” “antibiotic-free” or “non-GMO”?

Before we dive into some common (and not so common) labels and their meanings, here are some easy tips for food safety!  Knowledge is power!

  1. Keep all surfaces where you cook clean and sanitary. Wash hands before and after cooking.
  2. Separate raw and cooked foods to ensure nothing is contaminated. Use different utensils for handling raw and cooked foods.
  3. Cook food THOROUGHLY to ensure it is safe for consumption. Do not eat anything that is expired.
  4. Store food at safe temperatures and if something perishable has been sitting out longer than recommended, err on the side of safety and throw it away immediately.
  5. When cooking, preparing or washing food, use safe materials and clean water.

Understanding Food Labels

Organic

Any multi-ingredient product bearing the USDA Organic label must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. One hundred percent organic means products are made entirely from organic ingredients. Organic means that at least 95 percent of a product’s ingredients are organic. Made with organic ingredients indicates at least 70 percent of ingredients are organic.

Naturally Raised

This label refers to a semi-recent USDA standard for animals raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.

Hormone-Free

Similar to “Naturally Raised,” this label means the farmer has chosen not to inject cows with artificial growth hormones. The prevalence of this label is somewhat confusing, considering the use of injected hormones or steroids in meat and poultry is illegal. To be safe, SlimGenics recommends buying meat and poultry items bearing these labels.

Non-GMO

Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs have been a recently scrutinized topic in food labeling. And genetically engineered food is a plant or meat that has had its DNA altered by genes from other plants, animals or bacteria, a process not found in nature. While fewer foods are Non-GMO labeled currently, the trend is picking up in the U.S. as more and more people request the right to know how their food is being handled or grown.

Grassfed

The USDA has a grassfed standard for animals like cows and goats, which maintains that these animals must be fed only grass during their maturation stage. The USDA does not regulate grassfed items, so look for a stamp from the American Grassfed Association, Animal Welfare Approved or Food Alliance to verify authenticity of this claim.

Free-Range/ Cage-Free

Free-range labeled items are described as animals (mainly poultry) that spend part of their time outside and don’t live in cages. No third-party certifier exists, but producers must be able to show evidence that their birds are, in fact, not caged.

Heart Check Symbol

This is a label made and certified by the American Heart Association used on items of producers who meet AHA guidelines and participate in their certification program.

Gluten-Free

Products labeled gluten-free are supposed to be free of gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The FDA began regulating these labels in 2013, creating the standard that a “gluten-free” labeled product should have a limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.

Multigrain or Whole Grain

Multigrain products are made with more than one type of grain, however many of these grains are typically refined. Whole grains more than likely contain all the natural ingredients in grains that were stripped from multigrain products. Opt for whole grain!

Pesticide-Free

If a food product has a USDA Organic certification, chances are it’s pesticide-free as well. But sometimes that may not be true. So if you’re concerned about pesticides, look for a pesticide residue-free label, especially on your produce!

We hope this information provides a better understanding of how food is labeled and processed, so everyone can make protective decisions about their health!

Resources:

http://www.labelgmos.org/the_science_genetically_modified_foods_gmo

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/08/22/what-food-labels-really-mean?page=2

http://www.gcbl.org/live/food/healthy-diet/what-do-food-labels-really-mean

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