Do Food Labels Really Deliver on Health Promises?
The egg carton says:
• Cage free
• All Natural
You decide that all of those terms suggest super-healthy food and grab that specific carton of a dozen eggs. But what do all those terms really mean? Are they really proof that these eggs are healthier or better for you and your family compared to other less expensive choices? Are these food labels scientifically-proven guarantees of the healthiest choice, or just a marketing ploy? You need to be a choosy consumer when it comes to health promises and ask yourself what do these food labels really mean.
There are certain labels that are government regulated and others that are independent “descriptive words and word groupings” with no clear or concrete scientific definition or research to back them. All natural is one of those terms that grabs consumers but has no real value or legal scientific meaning. If you saw non-GMO on one egg carton and certified organic on another egg carton, which would you buy and which would you be willing to pay more for? A recent NPR story investigated just that. Here’s the thing. Organic foods are typically more expensive but if it’s certified organic then, by definition, it’s also non-GMO.
The science community would also like consumers to know that GMO foods should not be viewed with hostility. There is no viable research to show that you should seek non-GMO foods -at least not at this stage of the discussion.
Here’s a simple guide to common food labels and what they mean:
All natural means pretty much nothing. It’s a term created by food manufacturers with no standardization. Forget about this one.
American Grass-fed means that the animals were fed grass throughout their entire lives and they engaged in zero consumption of grains. It also means the animals received no antibiotics or growth hormones. If the label just says “Grass-fed” there is no consistency to the term.
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) means the animals raised for meat consumption, dairy or eggs were treated humanely during their entire lives. AWA audits farms every year for compliance.
Cage free is really meaningless. It means chickens were raised in coops instead of cages. It can also be used if chickens were raised in slightly larger cages.
Free range is another term that conjures up a lovely life for the chicken, but can be used if the chicken had only five minute access to open air daily.
Certified organic as previously mentioned is a U.S. Department of Agriculture label with strict mandates. These animals receive no antibiotics or growth hormones, and many conventional pesticides and plants they are fed cannot be exposed to many fertilizers made with synthetics, or manufactured through bioengineering and use of radiation is not allowed.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is a trust-worthy participant in global sustainability of seafood and the group updates information on their website every six months to help consumers make informed fish choices. If you see their label you can get more information on their website.
Fair Trade mark means that a product has come from a small-scale farmer and that this farmer will share fairly with suppliers in the profits from sales of the product.
GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, which means the animal or plants it’s fed have been modified through genetic engineering techniques. Almost every processed food has a GMO ingredient.
Zero trans fat can be put on a label even if there is some trans fat (0.5 grams or less per serving) present in the food products. Trans fat has disappeared from most manufactured foods, but if you see this on the label, check the ingredients and look for any “partially hydrogenated oils.” If present, pass on the food.