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The Real Meaning Behind Food Nutrition Labels (Guest Post)

Everyone’s trying to find the secret to healthy living, but it’s hard to make healthy choices when food labels are so misleading. Sorting through all the jargon can be difficult to say the least.

For example, what do you think nonfat means? You may logically assume it means there’s no fat, but that’s not always the case. Given the confusion and misconceptions surrounding food labels, we’ve made this list of common phrases and what they really mean according to the FDA.

  • All natural – All Natural is one of the most tossed around phrases and is always advocated in healthy eating plans, but what it means can be confusing. Most people consider naturally occurring food like fruits and vegetables natural, and when you see all natural on a label, you might assume the same. However, the FDA doesn’t have a definition for what All Natural means and they allow it on any foods that don’t have added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances, but anything else could legally fit this label.
  • Organic – Organic is a bit more reliable. The USDA regulates this heavily, so farmers can’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and the soil can’t have used any of those substances for at least three years. There’s actually a lot more criteria to be considered organic. For meat, the animals must be raised in “living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors” and given all organic feed, and can’t be given antibiotics or hormones.  We’d recommend sticking to this definition if you’re looking for a more natural diet.
  • Free Range/Cage Free–PETA explains Cage Free and Free Range don’t mean much. Chickens aren’t literally roaming free and happy – they are in close quarters, have their beaks cut, and still don’t go outside.  Typically, this is not worth the extra cost.
  • Whole grains – According to the Whole Grains Council, foods with 8 grams or more of whole grains for every 30 grams can use a Whole Grain label. Looking at the ingredient list, the first ingredient should say wholegrains. Go for this definition if you’re preferring more whole grain in your diet.
  • Multigrain – Contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to do with whole grains at all. As long as the product has more than one kind of grain, they can use label Multigrain says Women’s Health Magazine.  While it’s a bit healthier than some of the options in the market, don’t put too much stock in this verbiage.
  • Non-Fat – As long as a product has less than .5 grams of trans fats, they don’t have to list it and can use the labeling Non-Fat. Be aware that artificial ingredients often take the place of real fats in your favorite foods.
  • Reduced-Fat – The FDA allows the Reduced Fat label if the product has at least 25 percent less fat than the normal version.  Which means that the amount of fat in this food product is relatively arbitrary
  • Low-Fat – If the product has 3 grams of fat or less it can use a Low-Fat label.  Similar to non-fat, be sure that you’re checking the ingredients to find out what may be taking the place of regular fats in the product.
  • Sugar-Free – Something marked Sugar Free must have less than .5 grams of sugar, but can contain artificial sweeteners – just think about sugar-free baked goods. Continue to read the ingredient and nutrition facts to see what’s included in your Sugar Free products.

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Why make low-fat foods in the first place? Understanding the fat-free craze


As NPR points out, in the 1970s dieticians knew something was wrong in the American diet. Some research around this time had started to show that saturated fat and LDL cholesterol might have something to do with the high numbers of heart attacks. But the connection between fat intake, cholesterol, and cardiovascular health was still a bit of a mystery.

Even so, the government came out with its first dietary guidelines, and fat wasn’t part of their healthy eating plan. We’ve demonized fat ever since, and the word does bear a striking resemblance to the fat people are usually trying to get off our own bodies. However, fat in food doesn’t necessarily translate to more fat on your waste.

Actually, now studies are showing some fat is necessary and even healthy! The American Heart Association writes that monounsaturated fats, the kind found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and other foods can actually help reduce bad LDL cholesterol and improve heart health.

What’s more, if you think about it logically, you might wonder how a company took a product like yogurt and got rid of the fat. According to the Telegraph, removing fat removes flavor, and to make up for it, they add tons of sugar! This sugar, whether refined or artificial, comes at sometimes harmful levels. So choosing products that are low in fat, may actually be harmful to your health.

How can artificial sugars be harmful?

Harvard Health Publications reports that artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, and low-calorie ones like stevia may not be conducive to health and fitness for the following reasons.

  • Psychologically, since people think they are eating less sugar, they may be more prone to treat themselves to something actually sugary later.
  • Artificial sugars are extra sweet, and the taste buds might get so used to this heightened flavor. Natural sugars in fruits and vegetables may seem dull and unappealing in comparison, causing people to choose healthier foods less.
  • Since many artificially sweetened foods don’t have calories, your body may think the taste of sugar doesn’t come with energy, so you might start craving the taste of sugar and end up eating more.

Previous studies haven’t been able to prove that artificial sweeteners are harmful, but according to Scientific America, a recent study showed that artificial sugar altered the bacteria in the guts of animals, causing the bacteria to process energy more efficiently. If they make more energy more quickly, your blood sugar rises higher, you don’t use all the excess energy, and it turns to fat. In sum, artificial sweeteners may be contributing to obesity and diabetes.

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What can you do about it?

Food labels are confusing – they create a false sense of healthiness and even drive misconceptions about what it means to be healthy in the first place. It takes a savvy buyer to correctly interpret this deceptive labeling, so keep these labels in mind while you’re shopping.

Research what works best for you and your body.  Often, real fat is okay for most people – even better than the artificial stuff.  Read ingredients and nutrition facts and try to eat whole foods (regular fruits, vegetables, and meats) as often as possible.  You’ll be off to a running start!

Author Bio

Vaileria Dennis is a Health and Beauty expert, having 10 years of experience in Beauty industry and providing  healthy living tips. She is also passionate about fitness, women’s issues and more. In recent  years, she has had an opportunity to learn about Food and Nutrition. She always excited to share her ideas related to beauty tips, healthy food recipes, and diet plans. Join Vaileria on Twitter, Facebook and G+

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3 Comments

  • Reply Heather @ Polyglot Jot

    I look for weird ingredients and i put it back if i cant pronounce or if i dont know what an ingredient is!

    July 20, 2016 at 12:58 pm
    • Reply semisweettooth

      Genius! That’s such a good idea to live by. 🙂

      July 20, 2016 at 3:46 pm
  • Reply The Sunday Skinny 8/21/16 - Skinny Fitalicious

    […] The Real Meaning Behind Food Labels  – What does low fat, organic and all natural mean? Find out! […]

    August 21, 2016 at 5:00 am
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