When it comes to food and other products in your home, naturally you want what's healthiest for you and your family. Navigating grocery store aisles however, can be downright challenging. Bombarded with labels proclaiming "organic,” "all-natural," “gluten-free” and “non-GMO,” it can be difficult to discern what it is that you're actually buying. Read on to find out the real meanings behind eight food marketing claims that appear on food labels and determine which you actually want to be putting in your shopping cart.
What does “Organic” really mean?
According to California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), the definition of organic is, food that is “produced without using harmful or toxic pesticides, sewage sludge or petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from un-cloned animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.” Registered dietitian Rene Ficek further elaborates: "Organic labels can be found on produce, dairy, meat, processed foods, condiments and beverages. Food products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. There is also “made with organic ingredients,” which is a label that can be put on products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients," Ficek says. Bottom line, if you’re interested in shopping for organic foods, look for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic symbol; it’s only carried on foods that are “100% organic” or “organic” (i.e. containing at least 95% organic foods).
What does “Gluten-Free” really mean?
The label and regulation surrounding “gluten-free” is important for anyone with celiac disease or intolerance to gluten. The good news is, the Food and Drug Administration recently released a final rule on the use of “gluten-free” as well as “without gluten,” “no gluten,” and “free of gluten,” – they’re all held to the same standard. One of the criteria under this rule is a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million (ppm), which is the lowest level that can be detected in foods. In addition to meeting this standard, food products that may bear these labels must also not include any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains. If an ingredient in the food was initially derived from one of these grains, it has to have been processed to remove the gluten and the amount remaining needs to be under that 20 ppm threshold.
What does “Non-GMO Verified” really mean?
Today more than 70 percent of the packaged foods in North America contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the top five crops contributing to this are corn, canola, soy, cotton and sugar beets. As people are learning about GMOs, some are making the decision to avoid them as much as possible and there is a Non-GMO Project Verified symbol for food packages that makes this decision easier. “The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization that provides the only third-party labeling program in North America for products grown without using genetic engineering," registered dietitian Rene Ficek explains. "They verify that the process products go through -- from seed to shelf -- are produced according to their rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance," Ficek adds. Another option is to look for the USDA Organic symbol as the USDA’s National Organic Standards prohibit the use of GMOs.