The Meanings Behind Common Food Labels
Below is a brief lesson on today’s eating crazes, as well as what actually matters in the pursuit of real food amidst an abundance of marketing messages.
This definition is based on observation. Consumers look at labels and ask, “Can I identify these ingredients?" For instance, a potato chip made strictly from water, salt, and potatoes would pass, but not one that contains cumbersome, unpronounceable items like hydrogenated oils and additives.
This means a food is grown in safe soil with no modifications. In other words, no synthetic pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers were used. Some extremists argue that even these standards wouldn’t produce foods that qualify as “organic," since they’re often processed and mixed with other ingredients.
The FDA actually has no regulation on what this term really means, so consumers should take this with a grain of salt. Think about it: If you have everything in natural soil with non-genetically modified seed, but you’re using a grow light and fortified waters, is it still “natural"? Besides how food is grown, so-called “natural" foods can still contain a wide range of processed sweeteners, “natural" flavors, and preservatives.
This term elicits mental images of chicken, pigs, and cattle roaming green pastures, doing as they please, and living happy lives before they hit the slaughterhouse. But this term can be misleading. “Cage-free" eggs, for example, are often laid by chickens that don’t have access to the outdoors.
Under U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, this term applies only to poultry raised for meat. It means that the animals have been allowed some access to the outdoors, but there is no requirement regarding how much time this is or the quality or size of the outdoor area.
Genetically modified organisms are plants and animals whose DNA has been altered. “GMO-free" foods cannot use these ingredients, although you’d be hard-pressed to find commodity ingredients (like corn) that have not been modified in some way. This is a hotly debated topic right now because GMOs are so prevalent in the ingredients that go into most packaged goods.