Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Food Labels, Like “Organic” or “Natural,” Really Mean

Ending this week of skepticism, I want to include a quick run-down of what your food labels really mean. We’re bombarded with advertising labels every day, “Low Fat,” “Low Sodium,” “All Natural,” etc. Because we’re hit with so much advertising, many Americans are unconvinced by what they see and hear. Still, most people don’t know where to find information about these labels. Rather than rolling out a lot of corny jokes (like usual,) I feel this information would be better suited as a straightforward list.

USDA Organic

If you see the following label, your product comes from at least 95% organic materials. For meat, this means the animal was raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. The animal was also fed a strict diet of organic food. The organic label exists to encourage conservation and eco-friendly practices.

100% Organic 

Rest assured, if your label has both the USDA Organic label as well as the words “100% Organic,” every last part of the product is organic. The FDA is strict about the organic label. Any wrongful labeling levies an $11,000 fine per each count.

Made With Organic Ingredients

Although the label sounds good, this phrase means that the product is a minimum of 70% organic. Better than nothing, I suppose, but misleading nonetheless.


The term “Natural” is only monitored and enforced for meat and poultry. For these products, “Natural” means the meat does not contain chemical preservatives or artificial flavors/coloring. On other products, this term means nothing as it is unregulated.
“Non” or “Free”

Examples of these phrases include “Fat Free”or “Non-fat." The terms “Non” and “Free” mean that, per serving, there must be less that 0.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams in sugar, 2 mg of cholesterol, or 5 mg of sodium, depending on if the product is “Fat Free,” “Sugar Free,” “Non-Cholesterol” or “Sodium Free,” respectively.


Similar to the above, for a serving of “Low Sodium” the product must have less than 140 mg of sodium, for “Low Cholesterol” the product must have less than 20 mg of cholesterol and for “Low Fat” the product must have less than 3 grams of fat. Notice that in both “Low” and “Free,” the product can still contain a small amount of the avoided ingredient.

“Rich In,” “High” or “Excellent Source Of”

The product must have at least 20% of the daily recommended amount of the nutrient per serving.

“Good Source”

Instead of 20%, the product must have between 10 and 20% of the daily recommended amount per serving.


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