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Food Labels De-Coded – Which Words Really Matter?

There are seemingly endless descriptors starting to pop up on the labels of our favorite foods. Some supermarkets are even creating entirely new sections in their stores which are fully dedicated to some of these labels. Let’s first define each product label ‘mystery word,’ then find which ones really matter, and which ones do not.

The first is of utmost importance to diabetics. The words ‘Sugar’ and ‘Added Sugar’ can both appear on food labels. The words are found on the product’s nutritional label itself, but don’t forget to check the ingredient list, as well. Some manufacturers try to hide the sugar in their products under different names: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, maltodextrin. All of these are forms of sugar, and all are detrimental to your health.

Check your food and beverage labels very carefully, sugar is hiding in places you may never expect. Condiments like barbecue sauce, ketchup, and spaghetti sauce all contain sugar. Even ‘healthy foods’ like fruit juices and yogurt can shoot blood sugar through the roof.

Speaking of yogurt, nearly every container your find in the dairy section is labeled ‘low-fat.’ What’s worse, many people think that those words make yogurt a healthy choice. The next time you’re in the supermarket, pick up one container of low-fat yogurt with one hand, and choose a full-fat yogurt with your other hand.

Flip both containers over and check the labels – the low-fat yogurt will contain nearly double the grams of sugar that the full-fat yogurt contains! This is because manufacturers add sugar in place of the fat they remove. Full-fat dairy is always the best choice, even more so for diabetics. Full fat, unsweetened Greek yogurt makes for the most stable blood sugar.

A similar offender to ‘low-fat’ products are those bearing the label ‘light.’ These products are manufactured to have fewer calories, as well as less fat. We know what that means… more sugar! However, to keep calories low, manufacturers use artificial sweeteners instead of real sugar.

This fact does not make these foods more beneficial. Science is now showing us that artificial sweeteners could be just as harmful to the body as real sugar. Heck, some artificial sweeteners literally destroy your body from the inside out on a cellular level. Aspartame, anyone? Sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame are all names for artificial sugar and can wreak havoc in the body.

When it comes to food labels, the opposite of artificial is organic. Organic fruits and vegetables are farmed using natural compounds instead of industrial pesticides, and organic meats come from animals who do not consume hormones or antibiotics. To name themselves organic, farms must become certified, a process which can take five years.

The ‘organic’ label is regulated at the federal level, providing benchmarks and standards that the products must live up to. This allows the certification of ‘organic’ to be more transparent, and offers reassurance to consumers regarding the maintained quality of the products they purchase. That quality comes with a price tag – most people cannot afford to eat 100% organically, but there are a few foods you should pay the extra dollars for.

Vegetables and fruits which you eat whole, including the skin, like apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuces, etc. are worth the extra few dollars. This is because the industrial pesticides used in non-organic farming remain in the skins of the fruits and veggies, which you then consume. Avocados, grapefruits, cantaloupe, onions, etc. are considered ‘lower pesticide’ foods; while selecting organic is preferable, it is not critical for these foods. When it comes to organic meat choices: beef should be grass-fed, chicken (and eggs) should be free-range, and seafood should be wild-caught. Farm-raised seafood is not the healthier choice, and wild-caught seafood cannot be certified as organic because… well, it was created in the wild instead of on a farm!

Do not confuse ‘all-natural’ food products for organic ones. This term is so over-used and under-regulated that it means essentially nothing when it comes to product quality or nutrition.  For example, an apple is picked off the tree in an orchard… natural, right? Then it’s sprayed with a preservative to keep it fresh longer, and then with a gloss coating to make it look shiny and appealing to the consumer. Still natural? Not anymore! Because the apple was natural at the point of harvest, its label will bear the words ‘all- natural.’ Pretty sneaky! This fact makes the ‘all-natural’ label essentially meaningless.

Another label you’ll see more frequently is ‘GF’ meaning gluten-free. Gluten is comprised of two proteins, and contributes to the chewy texture of foods like bread, pizza crust, and bagels. Some individuals are especially sensitive to gluten and the foods that contain it, as it can cause damaging inflammation in the gut. Your physician can easily test for Celiac disease, gluten intolerance or sensitivity in your next round of blood work. If you do not have Celiac and are not gluten sensitive, don’t let the presence of (or absence of) the GF on a product label worry you.

We hope this information offers helpful insight into the constantly changing product labels appearing on our supermarket shelves. When it comes down to it, whole, clean foods are the best fuel for our bodies. So when it comes to your next grocery list, cross your T’s, dot your I’s, and choose the letters (and labels) that are best for you!






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