Identifying healthy foods is not as easy and simple as it may seem. Though the USDA regulates much of the information seen on packaging and nutrition labels, there are still some unregulated terms that can make unhealthy options look like much more appealing and wholesome selections. To increase your awareness, here’s a look at the terms to take seriously and the ones to ignore when you’re stocking up on groceries.
Terms to Look for:
Organic – Organic foods are not necessarily healthier than non-organic foods, but they do have more rigorous manufacturing and production standards that can increase food safety. Organic meats, for example, are required to be sourced from farms that allow animals to graze freely and do not administer hormones or antibiotics.
Antibiotic-free – Antibiotic resistance is a substantial challenge facing modern medicine, and the problem has been perpetuated in part by the presence of antibiotics in food. When food is antibiotic free, it not only reduces unnecessary exposure to antibiotics, but it indicates a higher standard of living for the livestock you are consuming. That’s because antibiotics are often used as a preventive measure to avoid the spread of infections in tightly enclosed living quarters.
Free of artificial ingredients – Artificial ingredients are not always bad for you, but it is beneficial to seek products that do not contain artificial colors, preservatives, and other additives. There are many natural, healthy ways of preserving and coloring food, and more manufacturers are turning to these methods as consumers become more aware of what they’re eating.
Free of added sugars – A common trend among American consumers is that we eat way too much sugar. This is largely because added sugars have become so commonplace for prepackaged goods. It is impossible to avoid sugar altogether, because it is naturally occurring in almost all foods. However, you can make a big difference in your health by only purchasing products that have no added sugars so that you can avoid empty calories.
Terms to Ignore:
All-natural – The term “all-natural” has been co-opted by food manufacturers, because it is completely unregulated, but it sounds healthy. Virtually any product can be labeled as all-natural, but this will indicate no promise of whether the food is organic, free of artificial ingredients, or free of GMOs.
Fat-free – In the 1980s and 90s, a war was waged on fat, and the effects are still seen today. Though some fats like trans-fat are very bad for your health, others are a necessary component of your diet. Unfortunately, many people are still under the impression that dietary fat makes you fat, so fat-free is a popular food label that gives the illusion of healthiness, but when the fat is missing, it is often supplemented by added sugars and salt.
Multigrain – Whole grains are, in fact, better for you than their refined counterparts, but it is important to know how to spot the presence of whole grain in a product. If a label simply says multigrain or whole grain, it may only contain a small fraction of whole grains in the total grain content. Unless it's marked as 100% whole grain, chances are you are being duped by the label.
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