When walking down the aisles of any supermarket or heath food store you are flooded with all kinds of trendy health food buzzwords. Some are legit, while others are simply a marketing gimmick. So, how are you to tell which products are healthy, and which ones are phonies? It can be quite tricky with anything from apples to protein bars to soda being adorned with these various, confusing labels.
‘Organic’, ‘free-range’, ‘non-GMO’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘natural’ – these are all ‘buzzword’ examples.
It can be really hard to keep all of these definitions straight, so here is a quick run-down of the really important ones:
The most common place you will see ‘organic’ is on your produce. It is commonly misconceived that all organic produce is free of pesticides, but that is not necessarily the case. Organic food can still possibly be treated with herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides, but they are USDA approved, and much safer than the conventional alternative. Research has shown that organic produce and meat is worth the extra price tag.
Sorry to say, but the term ‘superfood’ is mostly a marketing term, with little scientific basis or oversight. It very generally refers to nutrient-dense foods that are not only beneficial to overall health, but also help prevent disease and illness. These are pretty much always still really awesome foods to eat though, so don’t be too discouraged.
Does this word make you think of grandma handcrafting dough in her brick kitchen? That’s exactly what marketers want you to think. Technically this term refers to products that are made using more traditional methods, but since you are seeing this term on packaged products that are sitting on grocery store shelves, the term is nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
GMO is a relatively mainstream term at this point, but there is still much confusion surrounding it. Non-GMO means that the product is not made from ingredients that have been genetically altered or manipulated in a lab. Although there is research showing that GMO’s do not pose a health threat, what much of that research fails to mention (intentionally or not), is that these foods are modified to withstand much higher levels of pesticide use. THIS is the biggest issue with GMO foods.
You probably see this term slapped on your plastic water bottles and canned food items. BPA stands from Bisphenol A – it is a chemical that is used to create a barrier of separation between the food and the metal or plastic container it was stored in. This process eliminates that gross metallic or plastic taste, however, it’s also very bad for you. Even in small amounts, BPA is found to cause asthma, diabetes, cancers, infertility, obesity, ADHD and, get this, even causes men to grow breasts. Want to avoid man boobs? Buy products sold in glass or cardboard containers.
Natural does NOT necessarily mean healthy. The FDA does not regulate the term ‘natural’, so it is often slapped on many artificial products. Make sure to read the label on anything boasted as ‘natural’ to make sure it is what it says it is.
This one is also a farce – the only thing ‘sugar-free’ means is that the product is free of refined cane sugar. Sugar-free means NOTHING in regards to other sweetening options, such as syrups, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. Long-story-short, your ‘sugar-free’ snack or drink could really have over 15 grams of sugar in it. Make sure to read your nutritional labels.
If you do not have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, there really is no reason whatsoever for you to spend the extra dollar on gluten-free products. Gluten is an umbrella term for proteins found in certain grains. These are what help give bread its light, fluffy shape. The only benefit to eating a gluten-free diet (if you do not have celiac or a gluten sensitivity) is that you eliminate many processed white breads and flours, which is great for weight loss.
This term also might evoke calming images of chickens pecking through tall grass bathed in sunlight, but that is just not the case. ‘Cage-free’ just means that the chickens are in a small, enclosed barn with no access to the outdoors. Free-range means that same thing, except there is a door in the barn, but with limited outdoor access. The only high-quality eggs you will find will be pasture-raised, organic eggs.
Made With Real Fruit:
If you are buying a product that necessitates this kind of label, you should probably put it back on the shelf. This hardly ever means fresh fruit was involved in the preparation – it usually refers to some kind of fruit juice concentrate. These concentrates have much lower nutritional values and are often laden with sugar.
Whole Grain and Whole Wheat:
This one is important, so here’s a good summary: “Here’s your one-minute biology lesson for the day: Cereal grains—like wheat, rye, oats, and barley—are really just edible seeds from grasses. Each whole seed is made up multiple layers surrounding the germ/embryo (science lingo for a little baby plant), like the endosperm, bran, and husk. When a grain is refined, like it is for white flour and white rice, the husk and outer layers of the grain are removed. The issue with this is that these protective layers are rich in nutrients, particularly energizing B vitamins and digestion-slowing fiber. Besides the hard exterior husk, whole grains come complete with the first three layers. If a product says “made with whole grains,” it may still contain a majority of white flour. Make sure the label specified “100% whole grain” to reap the benefits of high fiber foods.”
Moral of the story: READ YOUR NUTRITIONAL LABELS. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. That’s it.
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