From January 2011:
You’re not alone. Let’s face it, labels on food packaging can be overwhelming. Natural, Organic, Whole Grain, Gluten-Free, Kosher…what do they really mean??? Below is an “easy to read” guide to navigating your way in food packaging land.
Zero Trans Fats/Trans Fat Free: The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allows a food manufacture to make a claim of zero trans fats if the food manufacturer uses .5 grams or less/serving of a trans fat. Make sure to check the ingredient list to see if indeed the product is “trans fat free”…in most cases, the product will have trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) and you should steer clear.
Whole Grain: The FDA has defined a whole grain as a “cereal grain that consists of the intact, ground, cracked, or flaked fruit of the grain whose principal components – the starchy endosperm, germ and bran – are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain.” To use the term “whole grain” on a label, it must meet the above definition. The term “whole grain” is not as strictly enforced as “organic” but it is regulated and trustworthy when found on a label. Beware of terms such as “wheat bread”, “100% wheat”, and “multigrain” – they are often used in place of “whole grain” to confuse the consumer. It behooves you to check the ingredient list and make sure one of the first ingredients is indeed whole grain. Wheat bread is NOT the same as whole wheat bread.
Natural: There are no regulations regarding the use of the term “natural” and can be applied to any product. When a product advertises itself as being “all natural”, chances are, it’s not. If it were all natural, it wouldn’t have to advertise as such. If you are skeptical about the product’s claim, you can always contact the product manufacturer directly and ask. Most products will/should have ingredients listed on their website.
Organic: Unlike the term “natural”, “organic” IS highly regulated and strictly enforced. The National Organic Program follows the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to ensure “site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” If you see the term “Organic” you can be certain that the products have been inspected to earn the label. If you’re trying to watch your sugar intake, “organic” sugar is no more nutritionally sound than non-organic sugar…keep that in mind.
Gluten Free: Another term not regulated by a governing agency and one that is appearing on more and more labels. When a product states “gluten free” it can mean any number of things specific to the particular product: it may be tested to ensure the absence of gluten; it may simply not contain any gluten-containing grains (such as wheat); it may be inherently free of gluten, but not tested (such as milk or orange juice). If you or someone you love has a serious problem with gluten, call the manufacturer to make sure the product was made in a 100% gluten-free facility. If not, cross-contamination could exist and have an affect. The government is due to release a gluten-free regulation in the near future, which will give me more peace of mind.
Kosher: The term “kosher” refers to “foods that are in accord with Kashrut, the set of Jewish dietary laws that regulate how food is processed and what food is safe to eat when.” Basically, kosher foods are foods that have been inspected and blessed by a rabbi to ensure that the food met the dietary laws of Judaism. A couple of Kosher symbols exist: K, which represents that the product has been inspected and approved by a kosher certifying agency. K-D means that the product contains dairy.