As organic, healthy eating becomes any increasingly popular trend, more and more companies are starting to label their food products with claims of being “all natural” or healthful in some way. But don’t be fooled! Crafty marketers know how to make their labels appealing, whether the product is actually healthy and nutritious or not. So, how do you tell the difference between real health food products and the fake?
Learning the language of food products and their labels will enable you to choose healthy foods that live up to their names.
Organic Food vs. Made with Organic Ingredients
In order to earn the USDA Organic label, crops must be raised without conventional pesticides, sewage sludge fertilizers, and petroleum-based fertilizers. Animals must be fed organic feed, have access to the outdoors, and may not be given any growth or antibiotic hormones. As for packaged or prepared foods, they must contain a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients to be labeled organic. If they claim 100 percent organic, they must actually contain 100 percent organic ingredients.
Now comes the part where it is easy to be fooled by clever labeling: “made with organic ingredients.” These foods only require 70 percent organic ingredients. So, the important question is what makes up the other 30 percent? Artificial preservatives, additives, colors, and flavors – all of which work against a healthy human body, instead of promoting it.
Choosing Organic Food is Safer
Perhaps the best benefit of consuming organic versus conventionally grown foods is that we ingest fewer toxins. According to the World Health Organization, pesticides can damage the central nervous system, which in turn leads to a multitude of neurological and behavioral problems. And while organically grown food isn’t 100 percent toxin-free, it certainly has far fewer pesticides than conventionally farmed foods. Making the switch to organic foods can significantly reduce your intake of dangerous toxins.
Choosing organically grown food isn’t just healthy for our bodies, it’s also more environmentally friendly. Organic farming practices are highly regulated and designed to reduce pollution, preserve soil quality, and conserve water.
Here are some ways you can stock your cupboards full of organic food:
- Look for the USDA Organic certified label. With the rapid increase in demand for healthier foods in the last ten years, organic foods should be plentiful at your local supermarket. If you have a hard time finding the label, or if you are curious about foods labeled “locally grown,” inquire with the store manager or a worker in the produce department as to whether or not these foods are grown using organic methods.
- Purchase foods from farmer’s markets as much as possible. The benefits of this option are numerous, as you can typically speak directly to the farmer regarding farming methods. Shopping at a farmer’s market also allows you to support your local economy and possibly even boost your immunity by consuming foods grown in local soil.
- Learn to decipher food labels. Fruits and vegetables have product look-up (PLU) codes that tell you how the food was produced. The first number in each PLU code indicates whether it is genetically modified, or if it is conventionally or organically grown. GMO foods start with an 8, conventional foods start with a 3 or 4, and organic foods start with a 9.
- Avoid processed foods that contain artificial sweeteners, coloring, flavoring, preservatives, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Be Aware of Imposter Foods
Some foods that we tend to think of as ‘all-around healthy’ foods are merely masquerading as such.
Yogurt is an example of this guilty imposter. While a truly healthy yogurt is a great way to get nutritious calcium and protein, be sure to choose a low-calorie, low-fat variety that has at least 6 grams of protein and less than 12 grams of sugar.
Pasta is also something to be aware of. Unless it is 100 percent whole grain and has at least 7 grams of fiber, you should avoid it. The same goes for rice. If it is not high in fiber (brown rice has more than white) and has high sodium (as found in flavored rice products), don’t eat it.
Frozen vegetables are okay, as long as they don’t contain extra flavoring or sauces, which typically rack up fat, calories, and sodium.
Beware of microwave foods posing as healthy or low-calorie. The fact of the matter is, the majority of convenient microwaved foods often contain far more than 30 percent of your daily sodium intake and high amounts of saturated fats from butter and cream. If you must purchase these items, select ones that have less than 500 calories, and at least 10 grams of protein.
Another temptation is snack bars. Many of these snacks have far more sugar and calories than any nutritional value. Choose snack bars that contain nuts (as they are a great source of healthy fats and protein), 3 or more grams of fiber, 5 or more grams of protein, and less than 200 calories.
Avoid white bread products, and know that not all wheat bread is created equal. Search for labels that state 100 percent whole grains as opposed to 100 percent whole wheat. The first ingredients listed should be some sort of whole grain, such as wheat or oat, and not refined flour. Additionally, you will want a bread that has no more than 100 calories, 150 milligrams of sodium, and at least 3 grams of fiber per slice.
Understanding the difference between ‘organically certified’ and ‘made with organic ingredients’ will help you avoid being duped by brands posing as healthy choices. Educating yourself on the possible dangers of ingesting toxins will protect you and your loved ones from future health problems that are directly connected to pesticides and other toxic farming methods. With the ability to choose proper organic foods and avoid imposters, you are well on your way to living a nutritious lifestyle that supports your health, as well as the health of the planet.
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