Food Labeling 101: Understanding Label Claims


By: , – Katie Cavuto-Boyle, Food Network’s Healthy Eats
5/9/2012 10:00 PM   :  6 comments   :  12,215 Views

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The supermarket aisles are flooded with health claims from "healthy, all-natural" frozen dinners to "cholesterol-lowering" granola bars. We're constantly getting conflicting messages on what to what to eat — from organic produce to free-range or grass-fed meat — and what to avoid — from trans fats to high fructose corn syrup. It's not surprising that most consumers are left wondering what to believe and what it all means.

When it comes to making your selection it can be simple. Leading nutritionist and author of What to Eat, Marion Nestle, Ph.D, MPH advises
"Never buy anything that has more than five ingredients, any ingredients you can't pronounce, anything artificial, with a health claim, or with a cartoon on the package."

The goal of this article is break down the information on the front of the packaging so you can make a more informed decision on the quality and content of the product you are purchasing. Words like organic and free-range may not be what you thought; can you trust these terms on labels or is it a marketing ploy? While certain labels are regulated, others are not. We have offered you a reliable list to follow when making your selections.  The outcome: more conscious food choices that will benefit your body and the planet.

This list is organized alphabetically:

Bird Friendly coffee is grown on farms in Latin America that provide forest-like habitat for birds, rather than farms that clear the land for direct sunlight and faster growing. Bird Friendly coffee is shade-grown and organic, meaning it is grown without the use of pesticides, which poison the environment. Farmers undergo a periodic audit by the Smithsonian Center to maintain this certification.

Certified Humane can be found on dairy, eggs, meat and poultry.  Certified Humane meets the Humane Farm Animal Care program standards, which includes animals fed a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones, raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and with the ability to engage in natural behaviors. Manufacturers who maintain this certification must comply with the American Meat Institute’s standards.

Demeter Certified Biodynamic can be found on cheese, eggs, fruit, meat, vegetables and wine. A holistic approach to farming, Demeter Certified Biodynamic emphasizes organic fertilizer, healthy soil, and farmer-customer relationships.   Food displaying this label is produced without fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, animal byproducts or genetically modified crops.

Dolphin Safe labels can be found on tuna and verifies that tuna in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean was fished without deliberately harming dolphins. Vessels must have an independent observer on board attesting to the compliance. While the National Marine Fisheries Service doesn’t monitor catches from other regions, tuna can still be labeled "dolphin-safe." It's still recommended to look for the label as these catches are better than those without the label.

Fair Trade Certified labels can be found on tea, rice, sugar, chocolate, coffee and tropical fruit. TransFair USA verifies that organizations pay Fair Trade prices and premiums and submit to rigorous supply chain audits. Ensuring that farmers and farm workers are paid a fair price for their products, TransFair USA prohibits the use of child labor and encourages sustainable farming practices.

Food Alliance labels can be found on meat, milk, wheat, vegetables, dairy products and frozen fruits. Farms and ranches must provide safe and fair work conditions, follow good environmental practices, and treat animals humanely. Food bearing this label is free of hormones and therapeutic antibiotics. Farmers also do not grow genetically modified crops.
Click here for more information on food labels from Food Network
More from Food Network: What foods do you buy or try to avoid based on food labels?

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  • 6
    People still buy shortening and hard margarine That is loaded with trams fat Never bake with it or eat it - 11/11/2013   11:42:56 AM
  • 5
    Thanks I was afraid I was getting flamed. I am looking to find an article I hadnt claimed points on yet. - 5/20/2012   10:12:22 PM
  • 4
    CHRIS3874: I'm Canadian, and assumed that was a positive with the 'health check.' Thanks for informing people. - 5/10/2012   11:29:03 AM
  • 3
    Great information - I was surprised the term GMO wasn't included in this article however as its becoming more of a buzz term. Guess I'll have to Google it :D - 5/10/2012   10:29:36 AM
  • 2
    So, so happy to see this list and explanations, particularly to see the ones that deal with social justice! Thanks for posting. - 5/10/2012   5:21:25 AM
  • 1
    In Canada they have this company called "health check " and its misleading as they put their endorsement on things that they shouldn't. They were even called on this on a show on CBC, - 5/9/2012   10:25:10 PM

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