Reading Food Labels Increases Healthy Food Choices

Any serious athlete knows that optimum performance starts with a healthy diet.  But what is a healthy diet?  Many people learn what products are healthy for them at the grocery store by reading food labels. However,  a wise consumer must understand that the food industry is highly competitive. After all, there are hundreds of products on grocery shelves vying for the consumer’s attention at any given moment.

[box type=”note”]Manufacturers know that graphics, color, fonts, and words play a big part in the purchasing decision. It is a wise consumer that learns how to interpret the words on the package.[/box]

The USDA has defined the word “organic” as those plants produced without the use of pesticides, sewage sludge (for fertilization) or synthetic fertilizer…or those animals raised without hormones or antibiotics.

Tips for Reading Food Labels…

What Does “Organic” Mean on Food Labels?

By federal law, if the word “organic” is seen anywhere on a food’s packaging or display materials it must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients, this also applies to the “made with organic” phrase.  “100 Percent Organic” is the wording that reflects a product with absolutely zero chemicals, additive, synthetics, pesticides or genetically engineered substances.

Watch for the logo, or “seal” that says “USDA Organic” inside of a bold green and white circle. When that seal is present it means that the product must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. The other five percent can include additives or synthetics if they are on an approved list.


The term “natural” is only a marketing word and is not defined by the government. It could mean whatever the manufacturer wants it to mean. For example Breyers labels its ice cream “all natural,” but it is high in fat and saturated fat.


The term “low-fat” does not mean the same as “non-fat”. Low fat is defined as 3 grams or less of total fat per serving. Low saturated fat means 1 gram or less. Low calorie” means 40 calories or less per serving. Low cholesterol means 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving. Low sodium means 140 mg or less of sodium per serving and “very low sodium” means 35 mg or less. Non-fat means less than .5 grams of fat per serving.

Lean and extra-lean refers to the fat content of meat, poultry and seafood. “Lean” means less than 10 gram of fat and “extra-lean” means less than 5 grams of fat.


The term “reduced” means that the food contains at least 25% less of an ingredient or calories than the regular product.  The term “light” or “lite” means the food must be reduced in calories by one third or have half the fat or sodium than the regular product. Light could also mean that the bread might have been made with white sugar versus brown.

The word “fresh”  means exactly what it seems to. The food has not been frozen, heated or chemically preserved. When “fresh” is used as part of a phrase “fresh frozen” it means that not only has the food been frozen, it might have been blanched, quickly scalded, as well. This process deactivates enzymes in vegetables.

“Free Range”

“Free range” can be used on a label,  per USDA guidelines, as long as outdoor access was made available to the bird for an undetermined period each day. This could literally be translated as anything from the cage door being opened for a few minutes to the bird spending 12 hours a day lounging in the sunshine. As far as eggs being “free range”, the USDA has no definition requirements at all.

Also, it’s important to note that just because the USDA has defined a term, it does not necessarily carry with that term a mandatory usage. For instance, “grass-fed” cattle must be fed only mother’s milk (and/or milk replacer which is often medicated) and forage (grass and other greens) during their lifetime. The forage can be grazed or consumed as hay or other stored forage. But the term is only a voluntary requirement. So it is possible for any manufacturer to apply the “grass fed” label with their own definition. It’s also important to note that an animal can be fed grass but still be given dosages of antibiotics and hormones.

[box type=”important”]So, the bottom line is, that while reading food labels is helpful, it is still only part of the story. If possible, it is always best to purchase food as close to the source as possible. If not, then it is important for a consumer to trust and know the reputation of the producer. It’s also important to always read the ingredient labels.  An educated consumer will always make more healthy food choices than the one who is not.[/box]

Author Bio

DiAnna is a freelance writer. She provides articles to various websites about health related issues. Her writing is sponsored by Gelish Nails. Gelish is a UV manicure that is offered in many salons around the U.S. It stays on for weeks at a time and has women flocking to the salons to get it!


The LDwriters network provides quality content to multiple sites. Our writers provide original content by experience and detailed research. If you are looking for free online content, then our writers are perfect for you.

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