Natural, Healthy, Organic…what does it really mean?
By Lisa Metzgar, PhD, Nutrition Tidbits
With school in session I am back to packing lunches every morning. I usually boycott the whole school lunch (which is very annoying to my daughter) and pack her a healthy lunch. I am not sure how much of what I pack gets eaten by my daughter). I have found something alien wrappers coming home in her lunch bag.
Going to the grocery store you have to become a detective to make sure you are buying healthy foods, especially in the center aisles. There are many marketing ploys that mislead us into thinking that "natural" products are really healthy for us. It helps to be armed with a little information before you go shopping.
The FDA defines "natural" as a food that has no synthetic or artificial ingredient. That is the only criteria for putting this claim on a label. Here are a few "natural" ingredients that can be found in these foods:
High fructose corn syrup (as long as there are no synthetic ingredients)
Hydrolyzed soy protein
Partially hydrogenated fat
Just to name a few…
The food companies are hoping that you won't actually read the ingredients label and just trust their claim that "natural" means healthy.
It is a good practice to read health labels before you buy.
Here are a few guidelines to help you make healthier choices for your family.
The fewer ingredients the better
Make sure you can identify every ingredient. If you have a long list of names you can't pronounce, it is not healthy.
Look at the first 5 ingredients. If sugar is listed in the first 5 then there is too much. Ingredients are listed in order from most to least.
Look at serving size. Most serving sizes are way smaller than anyone actually eats. You could be getting a lot more salt, sugar, fat than you think.
Watch for the label claim "no trans fats". This claim can be made if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. Again, if you are eating more than a serving you could be getting quite a bit of trans fats and not know it. Look for partially hydrogenated fat on the label.
The optimal way to shop is to stay away from the center aisles of the grocery store for the most part.
Other labeling you should look for if you are buying packaged foods is "healthy" and "organic". "Healthy" labeling is not necessarily the best but it does mean that there are limits on how much saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. It also must contain a significant amount of a healthy component like vitamins and fiber.
The term "organic" refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Specific requirements must be met and maintained in order for products to be labeled as "organic".
Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventional products. Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic is always the best choice if you can get it.
If in doubt, don't buy prepackaged foods. It is always best to eat fresh unprocessed foods. Prepare your own foods and make more than you need so you have yummy and truly healthy lunches for your children. It does take a little bit of planning ahead but it is well worth it!