Do you think they’re honest?
The companies that label your food – do they have your best interest at heart? Do they want you to stay fit and trim and be toxin-free?
They couldn’t care less. In fact, if they can get you addicted to their food, all the better!
They’re interested in making foods tastier, cheaper, and longer-lasting than ever before. If they can slap an enticing label with a money-making buzzword on it (think “gluten free”), even better.
And everyone falls for it.
But you and I?
We’re better than that. We’re not interested in buzzwords. We’re not even interested in what’s the cheapest or tastiest (I shun some of my all-time favorite foods because I’m more interested in my health. Like cold Spaghettios…).
A great big step towards cleaning up your health is to stay on top of food label trickery. It’s a sham what they’re allowed to put on food labels that isn’t regulated or doesn’t mean anything.
Before we dive in, here’s a point I’ve heard on the interwebs that I love:
Food is supposed to be natural and organic – but because organic is the exception, it gets the special label.
24 Food Label Shams You Should Stop Paying Extra For
Sure it’s better than nothing, but this term isn’t even defined yet. While they regulate the term a teeny bit, things like preservatives and high fructose corn syrup can still be found in a product labeled “natural.”
- “Cage Free”
Usually found on egg cartons, this simply means that the chickens were literally not kept in a cage.
An egg’s nutrition is directly tied to the nutrition of the hen (just like a pregnant lady who needs to be extra careful what she’s eating). Chickens eat a varied diet of bugs, veggies, flowers, grass, grains, and seeds. Chickens that aren’t free to roam are typically fed grain (most likely GMO), which is like you eating only doughnuts instead of a healthy, varied diet.
So, cage free eggs aren’t any healthier for us than regular cheapo eggs – so save the money.
- “Free Range”
So these are cage-free chickens with some access to the outdoors – often a porch with a screen on it. Whoop-de-do.
- “Farm Fresh”
This is the perfect example of how health food stores prey on the lazy and uninformed.
While trying to find the healthiest eggs possible at our local Sprouts, we came across a dozen of these “farm fresh” eggs for $3 (regular eggs cost $1.80 in our neck of the woods).
So… there must be somethin’ special about these, right?
Turns out, they’re just regular ol’ eggs with the term “farm fresh” slapped on it and the price jacked to nearly double.
Just because you’re at a health store doesn’t mean everything you can throw anything in your basket, confident it’s healthy. Often it’s the exact product you could buy at Walmart for half the price.
But at the same time I’ve also seen “farm fresh” eggs that really are good for you and worth the price. Those people should put “pastured” eggs.
- “Vegetarian Fed”
Another buzzword on egg labels, vegetarian feedcuts out a massively important part of a chicken’s diet – the protein. They’re very clearly omnivorous, and vegetarian fed chickens produce inferior eggs.
As a side note, if you’ve ever cracked open a pasture-raised chicken egg into the same pan as one that isn’t, the difference is startling. One’s a deep orange while the other’s a pale yellow. You can figure out which one’s the healthy egg.
- “Whole Grains”
First of all, at ERSS we don’t believe any sort of whole wheat or whole grains to be remotely healthy. We’re focused on sourdough and sprouted flours mostly in our household. By fermenting, soaking, or sprouting your grains you are making them much more digestible and nutrient available.
But, if you’re unwilling to try sourdough or shell out for sprouted bread loaves, then know this about whole grains:
They can carry that label if 51% of the wheat contains all 3 parts (bran, germ, endosperm). That means there is still 49% of “other” stuff. If you’re taking baby steps and moving from white to wheat, buy only bread labeled “100% whole wheat.”
This fancy sounding high class term only means there is more than one type of grain. They can add a teeny bit of barley flour to a loaf and call it multigrain. You would think it would be something like 50/50 right?
Does that transform it into a superfood? Of course not.
- “Made With Whole Wheat”
As you probably already suspect, it only has to contain a smidgen of actual whole wheat. Don’t fall for that one.
- “100% Juice”
This one’s not too bad – but the manufacturer can still add preservatives and additives.
They’re also allowed to put other cheaper juices in the product and dilute your juice. It can get expensive filling a carton with 100% cranberries, so make sure to read the ingredients to see if they’re adding apple or grape juice.
- “Made With Real Fruit”
You guessed it – they can throw in a teeny bit of strawberry into those fruit snacks and advertise “made with real fruit!”
- “Zero Trans Fat”
On this blog we’re big-time advocates of fat (including saturated) – but not trans fat. That’s the stuff usually found in processed foods like doughnuts, cookies, muffins, and more.
And yeah, “zero” sounds great, but know this:
Trans fat is harmful even in small amounts, and “zero” just means less than .5 grams. Plus, we know that serving sizes are a joke on most foods.
So, let’s say that the food you’re eating has .4 grams of trans fat, and you eat 2-3 servings. If it’s something you have regularly, that adds up.
- “Made With Organic Ingredients”
This means that 70% of the ingredients have to be organic. Of course, that’s better than 0%, but be wary of the price mark-up on a food that can still be heavily processed with chemicals, additives, food dyes, preservatives, etc.
- “No Sugar Added”
This literally means that no sugar or sugar-containing foods have been added besides the main product itself.
For example, apple juice with no sugar added means that they can’t toss in a bunch of sugar on top of the apple juice itself.
However, companies can still use artificial sugars and sugar alcohols. Read the label to be sure there isn’t anything like aspartame in there.
- “Lightly Sweetened”
So… not even regulated by the FDA. Could mean anything the manufacturer wants it to mean.
This one’s hilarious, I’ll let the FDA answer this one for me:
The term “fresh” means that the food is in a raw state and has not been frozen or subjected to any form of thermal processing or preservation, except:
– The addition of approved waxes or coatings;
– The post-harvest use of approved pesticides;
– The application of a mild chlorine wash or mild acid wash on produce;
– The treatment of raw foods with ionizing radiation not to exceed the maximum dose.
Well! I’m glad that “fresh” foods can still have wax, pesticides, be washed with chlorine, or treated with radiation.
Good to know!
- “There Is No Difference Between Cows Treated With rBST And Cows Not Treated With rBST”
When companies first advertised on their milk cartons that their milk didn’t have rBST, Monsanto (the creators of rBST) sued. Now the FDA mandates that this bulky phrase be added.
The only problem is that rBST HAS been shown to be severely damaging to health.
In my favorite health book, The Unhealthy Truth, Robyn O’brien talks about rBST’s role in increased breast, colon, and prostate cancers, among other health issues.
In other words, this statement (that rBST cows and non-rBST cows are the same) is a flat-out lie. I’d highly recommend reading her book as she highlights the issues with our dirty food supply.
Besides the rBST issue, according to Dr. Axe’s research “a single glass of milk can contain a chemical concoction of up to 20 different chemicals, such as antibiotics, growth hormones, and even painkillers!” Do you think it’s time to switch to raw milk yet?
- “Enriched” or “Fortified”
These very similar terms mean that nutrients have been added back in that were either removed in processing or weren’t there to begin with. It’s how your Nesquick has iron in it (even if it is just powdered chunks of ore).
However, nutrients found in their natural state are in their most bioavailable form. They’re accompanied by phytonutrients and often come with other nutrients and minerals required for them to be most readily available by the body (like how vitamin D is fat soluble and is found mostly in meat).
When a nutrient is added into a processed food, it’s nearly useless to you. It’s a low-quality form of the nutrient so they can save money. Instead of going to your Cheerios for Vitamin A, eat a peach.
The FDA regulates this term to mean that the food is in lock-step with their recommendations. If it falls within their guidelines for fat, cholesterol, and other nutrients, it can be branded “healthy.”
My recommendation to be wary of this term is more an indictment on the FDA – I don’t trust anyone who says the foundation of your food pyramid should be bread. Fat, from good sources, will always be a healthy nutrient no matter what the FDA says.
Doesn’t mean a danged thing. At least is sounds cool right?
This is a buzzword meant to play off the sacred “pasteurized” term.
Raw milk contains healthy bacteria that fights off invaders. It’s a living food that adds to your body’s ability to maintain and protect itself.
On the other hand, milk from normal dairy cows contains pus cells as well as traces of hormones and antibiotics – so they have to pasteurize it.
So, essentially ultra-pasteurized is like shooting someone after their dead – pasteurization kills everything, and ultra-pasteurized just, um, kills it more? You’re paying more for less. In Mexico, they keep their ultra-pasteurized milk on the shelf… as in with no refrigeration.
- “Gluten Free”
Yes, this label is helpful for some products, obviously, but it’s getting out of control.
When you see “gluten free” slapped on a food that never has and never could contain gluten, you know it’s a marketing ploy. If they’re ticking up the price on gluten-free salmon, don’t fall for it.
No wonder people are getting all confused about what is and isn’t gluten free!
- “Cholesterol Free”
Like gluten free, foods that would never contain cholesterol get this label. It’s tapping into our decades-long aversion to cholesterol and trying to make a buck from it.
I’ve seen potatoes labeled cholesterol free. How dumb do they think we are?
- “Fat Free”
When you take the fat out of something (say yogurt), you’ve got to put something back in (sugar, additives) or it tastes terrible.
So yes, the term “fat free” isn’t a misnomer. But, it means that something healthy is taken out, and something harmful is added back in (and often with a higher price tag).
- “Sugar Free”
Similar to fat free, you can’t take all the sugar out of something and expect it to taste alright.
They have to add something back in for flavor – like aspartame (a known neurotoxin).
If I know someone who absolutely, positively, not-in-a-million-years won’t get rid of soda, I tell them to ditch the diet stuff and go back to full sugar (not high fructose corn syrup).
If the choice is diet vs. sweetened with HFCS, I say “noose or firing squad?”
This list is by no means ALL of the misleading food labels we come across while grocery shopping, but it’s a good start.
The main takeaway I got from researching this article is to avoid most packaging and labeling shenanigans and go straight to the ingredient list. I mean we saw an awesome looking bag of sprouted tortilla chips only to find out they were fried up in canola oil.
You’re smart enough to determine for yourself what’s healthy and what’s not. You can figure out if something’s gluten free, healthy, or a superfood.
If you don’t know how to pick a healthy food from a shelf, it means you’re relying on companies trying to make a buck to teach you about food nutrition (or the corrupt FDA). Check out our beginner’s real food guide to get started in picking out healthy food.
I only trust a few terms thrown on labels, one of them being “certified organic.” It’s not GMO, no pesticides, and doesn’t contain additives or anything synthetic.