July, 2012 – What’s in a Food Label?

0
583

bryan-hayesLiving Green

What’s in a Food Label?

By Bryan Hayes

For the healthy and environmentally-conscious consumer, food labeling can be extremely difficult to understand because there are so many options.  The beautiful thing today is we have more options than we have ever had before.  On the flip side, the painful thing is we have “too many options.”   It’s the duality of life.   With the masterful use of marketing and advertising, seemingly every product on the market is not only good for you, but it’s the best thing you have ever seen, and of course, you just have to have it.

There has been more than one occasion where I have thought I was making a sound decision in purchasing a product that not only has a good track record for its processing procedures but also is a healthy alternative to other choices.   It is easy to be hurrying and not fully read the label only later to realize that the sugar content is twice as high as you would expect, for example.   With all the food labeling, what are some of the things to look for?

What is organic?  Let’s start there.   Organic is the process by which farmers grow, handle and process their food.   The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has established a set of standards for a food to be labeled organic.  In order for a food to be labeled as organic both the farm and the processing plants are inspected to ensure the specified standards have been met.

A food must be at least 95% organic to use the label “Organic”.   A food may also have a label that reads “100% organic”, which means that 100 percent of the ingredients are organic.  If you see a label reading “made with organic ingredients” that means that less than 70 percent of the ingredients are organic and therefore do not qualify for the Organic label or the USDA Organic label.

The biggest question though is whether organic makes a product healthier?   The answer is that it one does not necessarily equate to the other.   Organic is a buzz word that has become quite the rage, but keeping a watchful eye on the ingredient list is still just as important.    Just becomes something is organic does not necessarily make it healthy, as it can have a ton of added sugar, sodium, fat and is loaded with calories.

Sometimes and especially with financial constraints, organic foods are not an option as they are more expensive.    Products that are not organic have been around forever and also include safety standards too.   Organic is a relatively new alternative.    And whether it is organic or non-organic the same principles apply:  read the label, and especially with fruit, it’s always a good choice to buy that which is in season and buying locally can allow you to know where and how the food is processed.    Last but not least, whether it’s fruit or vegetables, (and just like washing your hands) it’s always good practice to wash them with running water.

Whenever I am in place where I am not sure about the labels, and I have two products that I am comparing sometimes it is simply a matter of number of ingredients listed.  If one product has twenty five ingredients (all of which looks like they are in a foreign language) and the other only has three ingredients listed, then I will pick the one with the small number of ingredients if all else is equal. 

We live in a unique age.   There is a myriad of choices available.  Use it to your advantage.   Find what works for you, and your body, as every body (two words) is different.      Food should not only be a staple part of sustaining life, but also to be enjoyed as a part of living.     Bon Appetite!

Bryan Hayes is an actor, amateur photographer, business consultant and full-time lover of all things living.  To check out more from Bryan Hayes, please visit his blog at:http://outofthehaze.wordpress.com/.