Organic, Health Check Guarantee, no artificial ingredients, made with real fruit… there is so much to note on packaging now that we just don’t know where to begin. Perhaps you feel this way, too? Part of you just wants to trust what you see on the box and part of you knows that this is probably just another marketing coy.
Where can you place your trust? Let’s explore!
Firstly, if you haven’t read our article on organics, take a moment to read it. It covers the basics of whether or not shopping organic has benefit.
What actually qualifies a food as “organic”?
“USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible. As with all organic foods, none of it is grown or handled using genetically modified organisms, which the organic standards expressly prohibit.”
Sounds good, right? And for the most part, it is. What you need to watch here is a little trick that some less-than-ethical companies have developed to stay in the marketing trend. They write “organic” in the product name, or brand, which then bypasses the regulations of claiming that the ingredient is organic. Do you follow?
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re staring at the pasta aisle. You see a brand of pasta whose name looks a lot like the word ‘organic’. It displays words saying “quality”, “gourmet” and, of course, “natural”. While it sounds very wholesome, not one of its ingredients is organic. There’s no lie on the package; it merely offers a suggestion of organic through its labels and images.
Similarly, some muesli bars have the word ‘organic’ in their brand name, but are made of a mix of “natural and some organic ingredients”.
What is the best way to trust that a product is organic? It must have the following:
- The product bears the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official USDA Organic Seal.
- The product has been certified organic.
- The product contains 95 percent or more organic ingredients.
The USDA allows those products with at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients to use the words “made with organic ingredients.”
When it comes to fresh produce, there is also a way to decipher if the product you’re purchasing is truly organic. That’s by looking at the PLU sticker. If the produce is organic, the code will contain five-digits beginning with the number 9. Non Organic produce will have four digits. For example, organically grown bananas will be 94011, compared to 4011 for those treated with chemicals and pesticides.
It’s also interesting to note that “organic”, in terms of the actual definition, means pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
What are genetically modified organisms? By definition, GMOs are organisms or microorganisms that have had changes introduced to their DNA by means of genetic engineering. Since the commercial sale of such products only started in the early 1990s, the scientific studies do not have enough longevity to know the true long-term effects of these products on human health. As it stands now, the government seems to think that there is no foreseeable threat to health by having genetically modified foods commercially sold. As of 2015, 92% of corn, 94% of soybeans, and 94% of cotton produced in the US were genetically modified strains.
Fortunately, as of July 2018, the FDA requires that food manufacturers disclose the presence of foods or ingredients from GMO crops. Their disclosure can take three forms:
Option 1 – use text, such as “This product contains ingredients from a genetically engineered crop.”
Option 2 – to use a symbol on the food package. Currently, the symbol is a yellow triangle with a “T” inside it which represents “transgenic”.
Option 3 – to disclose the information through an electronic or digital link on the packaging (such as a QR code, barcode or SmartLabel).
Many manufacturers are opting to use option 3, the use of barcodes or links to inform consumers of the ingredients of their products. They state that this will give them the opportunity to educate their consumers on much more than simply the fact that their product is GMO. However, it also alleviates the need for them to have any mention of GMO on the product itself which, if listed, may cause a negative view of the product.
Our stance is always to take an informed choice. We don’t know the long-term effects of GMO foods. But we do know that your body recognizes whole and natural foods, made by nature and not by engineers. Read labels and websites to familiarize yourself with the products you are eating. This will give you the knowledge you need to make a choice that best suits your lifestyle and health.
Are they bad? It seems that they are somewhat natural and the FDA states that there are safe daily limits. What is the conflicting information around nitrates?
Nitrates are actually a natural compound of nitrogen and oxygen that helps plants to grow. In fact, some believe, through studies, that the nitrates found in celery and spinach are one of the nutrients that help keep hearts healthy. The trouble comes when they are artificially introduced as a color enhancer and preservative to cured and deli meats. In which case the body will convert these additives into nitrosamines. And nitrosamines have been linked to an increased cancer risk. The naturally occurring nitrates in food are combined with other nutrients, such as vitamin C, which inhibit the conversion of nitrates to nitrosamines.
You may have noticed that food labels of lunch meats will often state “Nitrate-free” or “All Natural”. Are they safer to eat? These labels can actually be misleading. Lunch meats with the “no nitrites or nitrates added” can, in fact, contain preservative nitrates. This is because the regulation only requires limitations on synthetic sodium nitrates. This means that manufacturers can use organic nitrates, made from celery juice and sea salts, to cure their meats. As always, check your labels’ ingredient list to know exactly what is in the product. Since studies are showing that the addition of ascorbic acid, erythorbic acid or alpha-tocopherol (vitamin C and E) can inhibit the formation of nitrosamines, there may be these added nutrients in the ingredient listing. It’s not ideal, but it’s a step in the direction of health.
If you’d rather not take your chances with deli meats, why not just cook your own fresh meat? You’ll be eliminating your intake of added nitrates and also reducing your sodium intake. Bake lean turkey or chicken breasts, then slice them thin for sandwiches and wraps. Freeze any leftovers to prolong “shelf life”.
Fortified With Vitamins & Minerals
These are foods that have added vitamins and minerals added to them to boost their nutrient content. Think of iodized salt or vitamin-D enriched orange juice. Is there a benefit?
At first glance, this probably seems incredibly helpful, especially if you are vitamin D deficient. If that was the case, wouldn’t a large, cold glass of orange juice just make sense? Well, not really.
Firstly, let’s explain the difference between fortified vs. enriched. Fortified foods are when a nutrient is added to a food that never contained that nutrient. Like the example of orange juice used earlier. Oranges do not originally have vitamin D. Enriched food, such as white bread, is when a nutrient or nutrients are lost during the processing of the food and then added back into the food after processing.
Initially, the FDA encouraged food fortification as a way of “maintaining and improving the overall nutritional quality of the food supply” in the U.S as a “public health objective.” If a particular nutrient deficiency caused disease in the population, the nutrient may be added to help prevent the health problem. Sounds like a good idea, right?
Unfortunately, many experts agree that your body does not absorb individual nutrients added to foods in the same way that it absorbs nutrients that naturally occur in whole foods. Plus, the whole food has complimentary nutrients that help metabolize the nutrition in the food. For example, let’s look at skim milk that has been fortified with vitamin A and D. The milk has been stripped of it’s fat but vitamin A and D are fat-soluble vitamins. Which means, that they need fat to be properly metabolized. If you don’t have a fat source, you most likely will not benefit from the added fortification. Finally, most manufacturers are using synthetic versions of the micronutrients. This may keep their costs down but it won’t improve your health. Synthetic nutrients are not processed the same way as whole food based versions.
As always, you will gain much more nutrition by eating the whole food, unprocessed and in its natural state.
Let’s start by saying, real fruit is fruit. An apple. An orange. Not an orange that has been juice, pasteurized and then dehydrated into a concentrate to be added to a gummy bear.
If a label states “made with real fruit” or “contains fruit juice”, it is generally being used as a marketing tactic. Most of these claims are found on products with high amounts of sugar. And, once a fruit has been processed to change the constitution of that fruit, the nutritional benefits are pretty much lost and what’ left is just that – sugar.
How do you make sense of all this information? If there is one takeaway, it is this – take the time to read more than just the packaging. Look at the ingredients. Read the nutrition label. But most importantly, focus on eating non-label foods. The best way to keep your body happy is by providing it with foods that are as close to their nature as possible. The more you provide your body with nutrient-dense foods, the more your body can heal, eliminate toxicity and remain energized.
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