Meal Plans

Nutrition 911: Misleading Labels

The foolproof guide to label-lingo from organic to gluten-free.

man reading food label

Strolling down the aisles of the grocery store, labels jump at you, "organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, natural." You grab it, it says organic so it should be healthy right? The reality: food labels are confusing and often misleading. What you may be purchasing could be loaded with ingredients that you can't even pronounce. Eating clean shouldn't be a chore, your muscles want to be fed with quality food.  

Before stocking up on groceries, become well-versed in organic-label lingo -- understanding the true definition of some controversial labels like gluten-free, organic, and natural. With this comprehension, you'll be the expert label-reader of the gym. It's all about quality. 



Getting past a food's nutrition profile and dietary claims, what does "organic" really mean? Organic not only refers to the food alone but also how it's made. Certain federal guidelines have been set by the USDA regarding the term, "organic" -- developing three categories. If the food product is made with 100 percent organic ingredients than it's 100 percent ogranic. When the product is simply labled, "organic," the food product is then made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients. As for when the label says, "made with organic ingredients," then the food product contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients with limitiations on the last 30 percent; this doesn't include GMOs. And lastly, food items that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients can list which ingredients are made organically on a side panel. However, this type of food item cannot claim that's it's organic on the main label. 

The USDA defines organic as food that's produced by farmers who use renewable resources, and any meat and poultry products are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Food is also grown without pesticides and developed without bioengineering. For a product to be organic, it must be labeled with the USDA organic official seal.

Plot twist: it's expensive for farmers to get the seal and some farmers disregard the regulations -- believing that pesticedes shouldn't be a qualification. So if you do come across a label without the seal, read the ingredients and do a quick search on your smart phone.  


To make labeling matters even more convenient there isn't a true deffinition for "natural." Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a survey of 1,000 people. The results: 60 percent said they search for a "natural" food label when shopping. Two-thirds of the survey said people believe that "natural" means that a food is made without any artificial ingredients, pesticides, and GMOs. Even GMO-containing foods may have the "natural" label. Given the survey and no-formal standing definition, what do you do? Answer: avoid processed food and call the manufacturer. If the company doesn't reveal what it's made of, then you know it's not a "natural" product. 

While we're on the topic, the FDA does regulate "natural" when it comes to flavoring. Natural flavors are any flavors that come directly from a plant or animal. As for artificial flavors, they are mostly found in processed foods, and they're synthetically made -- imitating natural flavors. 

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