Paying attention to the information on food labels can help you make smarter choices. But packaging wording sometimes forces us to pay more for a product that doesn't live up to our expectations. Organic or natural? Whole Grain or Multigrain? We will tell you how not to be mistaken.
Natural or organic
“Many consumers feel that foods labeled 'natural' and 'organic' have a lot in common,” says Charlotte Valleys, senior policy and food labeling analyst at Consumer Reports... But these terms are not synonymous. “Organic has strict federal standards for growing and processing food, with a lot of requirements and bans for farmers and processors,” says Walleys. For example, organic products can be manufactured without the use of synthetic pesticides, artificial flavors, colors, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Natural has only one regulated definition - for meat and poultry, which means: the product has been minimally processed. When mentioned on the packaging of other products, this term does not in fact make sense.
- Buy wisely: until government agencies provide a statutory definition of “natural,” look for the “organic” stamp from the USDA. It can keep you healthy: A new JAMA study of nearly 70 adults over five years found a link between higher consumption of organic foods and a reduced risk of cancer. While the study does not prove a causal relationship, those who ate organic foods were more likely to have a 000% lower risk of cancer than those who rarely ate them.
Is Multigrain a healthier choice than whole wheat?
“Multigrain simply means that the package contains a mixture of grains, most of which can be refined,” says Alice Lichtenstein, Ph.D., director and senior research fellow at Tufts University. Unlike whole wheat or other whole grains (such as oats), refined grains are processed to remove outer bran and inner germs. This leaves only the endosperm, which is mostly starchy carbohydrates that are low in nutrients. While some (but not all) vitamins are added back to refined grains and flours (hence the term "enriched"), little of the essential fiber remains. A diet high in fiber helps protect against age-related diseases such as diabetes, certain types of cancer, and heart disease.
- Buy wisely: If whole wheat (such as whole wheat, oats, or brown rice) is high on the ingredient list, the package may contain enough whole grains. But the best option is to look for foods in which all of the listed grains are whole. For example, "100 percent whole wheat" or "100 percent whole grain". Be careful if the box says "made with whole grains" - there may be very few of them in this package.
Free grazing or growing without a cage
None of these statements mean that chickens and chickens roam the farm freely. Wallace says that cage-free chicken is not raised in a cage, but it can still be housed in a room with tens of thousands of other birds that are unable to roam freely and peck at grain. Free-range birds have access to open outdoor space, but there is a caveat - there is no state standard for the amount of space for grazing. In this case, the room can only have one door to the outside, which is inaccessible to most birds. “It's possible that free-range chicks never go outside,” says Valleys. For “organic” chickens, chickens are not caged and raised on organic feed, and organic standards require access to open air. But some certifying agencies consider a small concrete porch sufficient for such grazing. So if you're looking for meat or eggs from chickens that may have gone out into the fresh air, don't rely on the organic stamp alone.
- Buy wisely: To make sure that the chickens could indeed access the open air and graze in the fresh air (in particular, 108 square feet of vegetable space per bird), pay attention to the statement “pasture-raised” in combination with the stamp of American Humane Certified or Certified Humane. If you see the inscription “pasture-raised” without one of these stamps, the situation is quite different, says Vallace.
Does an organic cow eat grass?
In accordance with federal standards, cattle grown for organic meat should receive at least 30% of daily food from pasture during the grazing season. However, as in the case of normal cattle, organic cattle can feed on grain in the feedlot before slaughter.
- Buy wisely: if you want grass-fed beef, look for the specific indication “100 percent grass-fed”. Some of them have strict standards: "American Grassfed", "NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed" and "PCO Certified 100% Grass Fed," Wallace noted. Whenever possible, it is wise to buy beef and dairy from grass-fed cows because their total fat content is lower and the mixture of fats they contain may be healthier for the heart. In particular, a more beneficial ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Too much omega-6 fat in the diet can cause inflammation, which can lead to heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. But omega-3s have anti-inflammatory effects. Beef from a grass-fed cow contains stearic acid, a type of fatty acid that does not raise blood cholesterol levels.
"No artificial colors" means less processed product?
As more and more consumers are interested in products with “clean” labels and short lists of ingredients, many food manufacturers exclude these additives. And this is good, because some artificial colors and flavors are associated with potential health risks. But just because the food does not contain them, you should not assume that it is useful or not processed.
- Buy wisely: colors and flavors are only part of the story when it comes to nutritional content. “It's important to evaluate all food, not just one or two of its ingredients,” Liechtenstein said. Consider the Jell-O Simply Good strawberry-gelatin mix. It is advertised as containing no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, but a half-cup serving contains 19 grams of sugar - the equivalent of 76 calories and almost 5 teaspoons. This is about half of the sugars that an adult man can get in a day, and almost all women are recommended no more than 6 teaspoons a day.
What does “humanely raised” mean?
A recent Consumer Reports poll of 1000 people found that 38% of people look for this label on their packaging, and 45% said they were willing to pay more for products that ensure the humane treatment of animals. But Wallace says the generic “humanely raised” claim on the label cannot be trusted because there is no single standard for its meaning and the farm cannot be verified.
- Buy wisely: These stamps indicate programs with strict animal welfare standards: Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership Step 1 to 5 + (the standard is raised with every step), American Grassfed, and Certified Humane Raised and Handled.
Is it safe to eat after use-by or sell-by?
It is generally safe to consume products after use-by or sell-by periods have passed. Manufacturers provide such dates to tell consumers when food is of the best quality. In both cases, the product must be safe when handled correctly until it deteriorates. Spoiled food often has an unpleasant smell and taste, changes in texture or color. It is no longer possible to eat such a product.
- Buy wisely: Sell-by is a date set by manufacturers to tell retailers when to take a product off the shelves. Use-by - the date until which the manufacturer guarantees the best quality of the product. But if you are buying products for small children, such as infant formula, consider the use-by date - in this case, the safety of the product is guaranteed.