North Americans are becoming more health conscious. The global market for healthy foods is booming. With this trend, one way to get a better grasp on what we are putting in our bodies is through reading and understanding food labels. By looking at food ingredients and nutrient composition, you are able to make informed, educated decisions about what you eat. In order to do this accurately, you need to know what the label is explaining. Keep on reading to find out more!
Who oversees our food safety?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are tasked with the job of regulating the safety of food, and how it is “processed, packaged, and labeled.” The USDA regulates meat, poultry, and eggs while the FDA handles other foods. The nutrition facts label that you see on most foods usually includes the following items to help with food selection and dietary considerations:
- Serving size
- Servings per container
- Calories (and calories from fat) per serving
- Total fat (including saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats)
- Vitamins and minerals (such as iron)
Organic and natural – what’s the difference?
If you are checking the label and classification of your food, chances are you may have seen a few terms crop up including organic and natural. As “health food” became a major trend, the FDA found it necessary to regulate what these terms mean in the legal sense. They have been in the process of defining them and it looks like a revamp to the terminology may be coming very soon. In 2000, the term “organic” was clarified as being any food that is “free of synthetic chemicals.” Produce could be called “organic” if it was grown on soil without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides for the three-year period prior to harvesting. Meat can be classified as organic if it came from antibiotic and hormone-free animals who were allowed to freely graze.
Furthermore, organic food can be classified as either 100% organic, organic, or “made with organic ingredients” depending on the percentage of organic ingredients that fit into these categories.
This is already very close to the FDA’s proposed definition of “natural” which involves three points:
• No artificial preservatives
• No genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
• No irradiated food (that which is dosed with x-rays to kill bacteria)
However, while there may be some crossover with the definitions, it is already expected that it could be a boost for the natural food industry as a “2016 Consumer Report survey says [consumers were] even more likely to buy natural over organic” foods.
Once this official definition is put in place, expect to start seeing more common use in grocery stores across the country. And be sure to look at the labels on your food so that you understand exactly what went into making your food.
Currently, however – there is no regulation for the term ‘natural’ – so buyer beware when you see that and be sure to read your labels.
Tips for Reading Food Labels
1) Start with the ingredient list.
2) Look for foods that have five or fewer ingredients.
3) Avoid artificial colors, ‘natural flavors,’ preservatives, and additives. These add no nutritional benefit outside of increasing shelf stability and enhancing food taste/appearance.
4) Ingredients should be whole foods.
We hope you find these tips and information helpful.