Dieters are trained to notice food labels. Wandering the food aisles looking for the right foods to eat to shed those excess pounds and remain vital, we are inundated with calorie and nutritional counts. The latest food crazes make it difficult to sort through the grocery store shelves to find the most healthy foods that will deliver solid nutrition while helping us slim down.
The push towards consumer education has given us more labels than ever. Just what is natural food anyway? How close to us should food be grown to be labeled local? And, what does organic really mean?
Here is the lowdown on what the new labeling system really covers and where the confusion sets in.
The Natural Label
During weight loss, it seems to make sense to buy products that are labeled natural but even the Food and Drug Administration is unclear what the natural label actually means. This lack of a formal definition doesn't necessarily mean that the food is bad for you. However, you should take the time to read the ingredients list before you put one of these beauties into your cart.
Products labeled natural may contain lots of added sugar. To get this designation in the grocery store, food manufacturers must simply omit food coloring, synthetic additives, and artificially developed flavors. Before you buy, check out the sidebar. If you see sugar listed at the top, it's a good bet that this item won't help your weight loss efforts.
The Local Label
Foodies are increasingly embracing the localvore term. Localvores restrict themselves to food that has been produced nearby, thus eliminating the waste that comes from transportation and, hopefully, eating food that is fresh from the ground or vine.
What local doesn't mean is pesticide or herbicide free. In fact, local food can sometimes come from hundreds of miles away, depending upon how ‘local' is defined in your area. Most grocers restrict the use of the word to food that has been grown within 100 miles of their store, but in some cases it gets the designation if it was grown within the state.
Since many local foods are grown or manufactured by small business operations, you probably won't see an ingredients label. While it's great to save the environment, use your eyes to check for freshness and be sure to properly wash all produce.
The Organic Label
To get the USDA Organic label, farmers and food companies must provide ingredients and food dishes that were made without manufactured pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms. Meats must come from animals that have had access to the outside for grazing or feeding, be free of hormones and antibiotics to promote growth, and be fed a diet of organic vegetation throughout the course of their lives.
The USDA further modifies this label with percentages. A 100% Organic labels means that all conditions for the organic label were met while the Organic label means that at least 95% of the conditions were met. In addition, a label stating that a product was made with organic ingredients means that at least some of the foods used meet the organic criteria.
When it comes to the Organic label, a dieter's best bet is to either know the producer themselves or to carefully check the nutrition label. Some organic foods are filled with sugars and can be devastating to a weight loss plan.
The Grass-Fed Label
Perhaps one of the least understood labels is the Grass-Fed one. When most people see this one, they think of cattle ranging out on the pasture for their daily feeds. While this may be true in some cases, it isn't the case for most.
The Grass-Fed label simply means that cattle can only consume their mothers milk and forage throughout their lifetimes. The majority of that forage doesn't necessary come from the wide open range, as many dieters think. In fact, grasses may be mostly stored and feed to the cattle on a feed lot. The forage doesn't necessarily have to be organic, either.
Cattle and other meat animals may receive this label even if they have been given antibiotics and growth hormones as well. To eliminate these unwanted additives from your diet, make sure that the label states that the meat you buy is both grass-fed and organic.
The Gluten-Free Label
The current war on gluten is attracting lots of attention. Food manufacturers are taking note of this and are labeling food items such as vegetables like carrots and peas and fruits such as peaches and apples as non-gluten foods.
Gluten comes from foods such as wheat, barley, and rye. Anyone who is gluten intolerant can switch to breads made from oats or pastas created from an alternative source. Keep in mind that gluten-free foods may be highly processed and contain lots of corn based sugars that will sabotage your diet.
Grocery store aisles are frought with dangers for dieters on a weight loss expedition. Choose your foods judiciously and be sure to understand what the new labels really mean.