The Truth about Food Labels
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The Truth about Food LabelsRead beyond the vague terms.
I want you to become an expert at reading the label! If you have kids, teach them to do it, too. Know that the truth is in the fine print, not the big banners on the outside of the box (that’s marketing).
Don’t be fooled by vague terms like natural, pure, and enriched, or even organic, organically grown, pesticide-free, all-natural, and no artificial ingredients. Trust only labels that say certified organically grown. These are the only words that mean the food was grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, in soil free of these substances.¹
According to the USDA, all food labels must list the product’s ingredients in order by weight. The ingredient the product contains in the greatest amount is listed first. Sometimes labels can be purposefully confusing; don’t buy foods that play these tricks:
- Vague labeling. Vegetable shortening and Made from healthy fats sound healthier than lard or bacon fat, but most shortenings are made with hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats—far worse than lard. Look for a more explicit label, such as trans-fat-free. Also beware of the tricky no trans fats claim. Manufacturers are allowed to claim this if there is less than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving. Many of us eat more than one serving in a day, so the half-grams can add up.
- Natural claims. Made from (or made with) natural ingredients can be a big red herring. Most processed foods begin with natural ingredients—it’s what happens to them on their way into the box that should concern you. For example, a lot of sugar cereals are now boasting that they are made with whole grain—but who cares when they also contain so much sugar?
Buy certified organic when you can, or shop at a trusted natural food store or farmer’s market for local produce.