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Woman looking at food labels to see if it's healthy

How To Understand “Healthy” Claims On Food

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When you see claims on food like non-GMO, Organic, Whole Grain, etc, do you truly know what they mean?

I didn’t a few years ago.

Well, I thought I had an idea on some of them, but I was WAY off.

I thought eating organic somehow made me vegan. That gluten was something that made us fat.

I had no idea why cage-free was being pushed. Whole grains? What the heck is that?!

I hate how these new ways of eating are pushed upon us.  No one wants to tell us anything about what it means. Just that we should follow it.

We just hear conflicting information:  Fat is bad, fat is good, carbs are bad, carbs are good, eat organic, etc..  It’s enough to make us frustrated and give up even trying to be healthy.

How can we be confident in knowing what we are eating is right?

We need to know what these labeling terms mean and figure out if they apply to us.  This will help us to determine if we need to pay attention.

Lets jump in.

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GMOs

GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are food that, you guessed it, are genetically modified.

Ever see Jurassic World? Remember where they take DNA from an animal, mix it with dinosaur DNA to make a dinosaur that takes on qualities of the other animal? That is a genetically modified organism.

With our food, sometimes the DNA mixed with the food item isn’t even from another food item. It could be from anything.

Why do they do this? Because if a certain kind of insect (example) is resistant to chemical weed killer or frost, then that is the DNA they extract and put in the food, to make the food resistant too. Yummy.

Should we pay attention to it?

I do. There are many arguments for and against GMO’s. The studies for GMOs I have found are usually funded by big food industries, whereas the studies that show GMOs are bad are usually from non-biased third parties.

I recommend you do your research and make your own judgement on this and who you want to trust.

I prefer to buy non-GMO versions as much as possible, because I like to know exactly what I am eating. If I want to eat an apple, then I want to know it is purely an apple.  Not an apple injected with fish DNA.

More Information

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit who researches companies to ensure their products are non-GMO as advertised. When you see their sticker, you know the research has been done and the product does not contain any GMOs.

I highly recommend to check out the book or documentary called Genetic Roulette.  This answered every question I ever wanted to know about GMOs and what dangers could be associated with them (the documentary interviews the actual scientists who found links between GMOS and illnesses, who all were fired shortly after they announced their findings.) .  This book and documentary is by far the best research I have seen about GMOs and it was easy to understand.  It ultimately was the turning point that made me realize my stance on GMOs.

All Natural

Most of the time you see this, companies are using it to tell you that there are no artificial flavors or dyes in the food item. That it contains true ingredients that were not produced in a lab.

However, there is no legal definition to this, so companies can use this term to mean whatever they want.

For instance, chickens are natural, so a chicken manufacturer can put all natural on their label and be telling the truth, no matter how the chickens are raised, fed, or processed.

Should we pay attention to it?

For the most part, yes. But I wouldn’t just grab the item with this labeling without looking at the ingredients too.

Many times, the product is void of chemicals, but I would double check just to make sure.  I once saw a product claim “All Natural”, but it had High Fructose Corn Syrup as its second ingredient as well as dyes in it, which makes it completely unhealthy.

Organic

What it means

Basically, when you merge Non-GMO and All Natural together, you get Organic. Organic means the item is free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes. It must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering.

Should we pay attention to it?

In my opinion, and most nutritionists’ opinion, yes.

Organic is pure. There are no chemicals or anything to worry about putting in your body. When you eat an apple, you are actually eating an apple that hasn’t been modified in any way.

My husband and I found organic versions of fruit and meat taste better and fresher than the non-organic versions.

A lot of new studies are showing that when produce and meat is organic, it carries less pathogens and has higher amounts of nutrients.

Word of caution

The USDA Organic sticker is on items that are shown to be at least 95% organic. Which means it still might not be 100% organic. I still think it’s worth it though. If you read my post How to Lose Weight When You Have Chronic Pain, you understand why I believe this is critical.

Because something is labeled organic, does not always make it healthy.  There are food items that are organic that are overloaded with sugar, so if you start eating organic foods, make sure to check how much added sugar it has!

Gluten Free

Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. If a product does not have this protein, they can list the product as gluten free.

Should we pay attention to it?

Not really, unless you have Celiac’s Disease or a Gluten Intolerance that has been diagnosed by your doctor. Celiac’s Disease and Gluten Intolerance are rare, only affecting 1% and 5% of the population respectively.

You remember me talking about leaky gut in my Ranch Dressing recipe? This is similar to what happens to Celiac’s when they eat gluten. If you don’t have Celiac’ s or a gluten intolerance, it won’t help you to avoid it.

Some research has shown that gluten can affect your immune system, however, other studies have shown it does not affect anyone who doesn’t have the intolerances listed above.

It’s impossible to do long term studies on this with people to get a complete accurate reading, so we can not know 100% for sure .  So it is really personal preference on which research you choose to believe.

I choose to ignore gluten when reading labels because my body works fine when I eat it.  I haven’t been sick since I started eating Whole Grains/Organic,, so it doesn’t seem to be hurting my immune system.  But that is my personal preference.

Myth Busted

Going Gluten-Free has never been a proven way to lose weight. Its only affect is on the people who can’t process it, and it only affects their immune system, not weight.

The only way people lose weight on this is if they stop eating processed carbs. Gluten has nothing to do with it.

Whole Grain/Whole Wheat/Multigrain

Refined/Processed, which is what most people eat, is where the food manufacturer removes the portion of the grain that provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Whole grains, on the other hand, still have all health benefits intact. They can reduce risk of stroke, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation and heart disease, and even help you LOSE weight.

Whole wheat is basically a type of whole grain. It might have slightly different nutritional values but is good for you according to Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Multigrain just means it was made with different grains, which could include or not include whole grains.

Should We Pay Attention to It?

Absolutely.

When we buy flour or pasta, we are usually only buying partial grain, which can hurt you more than help you. It can cause weight gain, blood sugar levels all over the place, increased risk of heart attack and higher blood pressure.

If you want to keep eating pasta, cereal, and food containing flour, and want to help your health, buy 100% whole grain.

Word of caution

“Contains whole grains” or “Made with whole grains” is not the same thing as 100% whole grain.

“Contains” or “Made with” means exactly that. They left whole grains in the product, just so they could put a whole grain label on it to make it seem healthier, but most of the product is refined.

Multigrain is about the same thing. It just means it contains different grains. It doesn’t mean it contains whole grains or is any healthier for you.

So when looking at a product that says “Contains Whole Grains”, check the ingredients list.  If Whole Grains aren’t the only wheat type ingredient on there, put it back on the shelf.

No Antibiotics/Hormones

It means antibiotics and hormones were not used on the animal.

Should we pay attention to it?

YES.

Any hormones or antibiotics that are given to an animal are passed along to the person who eats the animal. It can make our hormones go off balance, it can make us resistant to antibiotics and medications, etc.

Random Fact

Many large food corporations are starting to put this label on their product. Read closely because “No Antibiotics/Hormones Ever” is very different from “No Medically Important Antibiotics Used”.

Unfortunately, the USDA doesn’t often inspect companies who make the claim of “No antibiotics ever”, so look for either the USDA Organic seal or the USDA Process Verified Seal, which means that company has been inspected and shown true.

Cage Free/Grass Fed/ Pasture Raised

What it Means

Cage Free-  It means the animal was living outside of confined cages. However, it doesn’t always mean the poultry was able to run free and isn’t crammed by the thousands in a very small barn with no sunlight. Beware of that deceptive labeling.  I would look elsewhere for other labeling to see what they mean by that.

Grass Fed/Pasture Raised- The animals were being fed grass on a pasture, like what they are meant to eat in their natural environment.

Should we pay attention to it?

Yes.

Factory farms generally give their cows feed, feces, dead animals, and even Skittles (you read that right), which is hard for them to digest, so makes them very unhealthy and subject to illness and disease, which then gets passed on to us.

CDC reports show animals in factory farms carry pathogens and other illnesses at a high rate and can transmit to the person eating that animal (source: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf ) .

It is much safer to eat an animal that was raised in a natural habitat they are supposed to be raised in because they don’t carry as many pathogens.

Why is there a cost difference?

You may notice a cost difference between factory farm animal meat and pasture raised organic animal meat.  There is a reason for that.

It is much cheaper to pump your sick animals full of antibiotics and sell their meat, than it is to only butcher the good animals that never got sick.  It’s also cheaper to store the animals by the thousands into a tiny barn instead of letting them roam free on acreage and be natural.

Side Note:  Grass fed and humanely raised taste so much better and you don’t have to put your health at risk.  The extra cost is worth it, because you will pay yourself back with less medical bills in the future (I am proof of this, as my medical bills went from $3000 per year to $30 a year by just changing what I eat!).

Dr. Mark Hyman talks about Grass Fed/Pasture Raised a great detail in his book “What The Heck Should I Eat”  if you want to learn more about it from an expert.

Misleading Diet Labels

Low _____ (insert ingredient here)

There are a lot of labels out there, from “Diet” to “High Protein” to “Low Fat”, etc. Please keep in mind that when food companies take out one ingredient, they always replace it with something and it most likely is worse for you than the ingredient that was taken out.

Look very closely at the Nutrition label for these kinds of products. Usually extra chemical ingredients were added, or “Low Fat” or “Low Sugar” may mean twice as much sodium. Or vice versa.

Diet labels

“Diet” products (like diet soda) don’t have the sugar, but the artificial stuff they put in there actually does the same exact thing to your body that sugar does. Even worse because our bodies aren’t meant to metabolize that stuff!

Did you know that when our body metabolizes artificial sweeteners (aspartame), our body converts it to formaldehyde?  Yup, same thing we pump into dead people.

Gross huh?

High Protein

High Protein sounds like a good idea, because we need protein to be healthy.

Protein is essential to our bodies and something we can’t do without. However, like most things, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Nobody tells you that if you aren’t a bodybuilder, too much protein can actually make you gain weight and have digestive issues.

The amount you normally eat is most likely enough for you.

Something to Think About

When researchers tell us about what to eat, they usually never explain what it is in detail or why we should avoid it (or consume more of it).

And the most important question of all:  Is the recommendation for everyone?

This post went through each of the major food labelings and I hope it gave you some clarification on what you should be paying attention to and what is all hype.

I told you about my biggest misconceptions about food labels, what are some of yours?

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