Ugh, grocery stores…amirite? I HATE going shopping for so many reasons, but who enjoys it really? I’ll tell you who. Psychopaths like my good friend who I shall call, “Raymondio.” Like some freakish, alien-esque creature from the abyss, he actually likes grocery shopping.
But for the rest of us normal people, shopping can be a real drag, man. And to make things even worse, the food companies and the F.D.A. have created an “X-Files-like” environment for us at the grocery store, meaning that you can “TRUST NO ONE.”
That lack of trust comes from food labels my friends. In this post I’ll explain what the most common food labels actually mean. Unfortunately if I explained every lie/half-truth this post would be 100 pages so I can’t hit them all…
Let’s get started!
Nutrition Facts Label
We’re all pretty comfortable with these by now right? Here’s an example of one from a box of mac n’ cheese:
There are only three things you need to worry about with these labels:
- The serving size folks!!!
So often we don’t realize that a bottle of juice (for example) is broken up into 2-3 servings sizes on the label, leading us to believe that the whole bottle is only 100 calories and 20 grams of sugar. When actually, the entire bottle is 16 ounces or more, with the serving size listed at 8 ounces! So the whole bottle is actually 200 calories with 40 grams of sugar. Cereal is a perfect example of this. WHO ONLY EATS ONE 8oz CUP OF CEREAL?? Lizard people, that’s who.
2. The nutritional information provided is usually based on a diet of 2,000 calories.
So if you’re eating a diet of less/more than 2,000 calories, the information provided in regards to Percent of Daily Values, i.e. Vitamin C, Fat, Sodium, etc. will be different for you. Good luck calculating that.
3. It’s estimated that calorie counts can be up to 50% inaccurate.
It’s expensive and time-consuming for companies to get accurate calorie counts, so a lot of them choose to use the U.S.D.A.’s published nutritional data for thousands of foods instead. Unfortunately recent studies have revealed that information to be inaccurate and outdated. For instance, a study found that the estimated calorie count for almonds was off by about 32%.
That may not seem like much to most people, but to starving, obsessive-calorie-counters that’s a HUGE difference.
Ingredients must be listed in descending order based on weight, meaning that the first ingredients listed will make up most of the product. The popular cereal Trix can show us a good example of how companies try to draw your attention away from this fact:
LOOK OVER HERE FOLKS! Our first ingredient is WHOLE GRAIN! Good for the kids!
But if you look at the ingredients label, you’ll find that the “whole grain” is actually just corn, with the second ingredient being sugar. So the majority of this “healthy whole grain cereal” is made up of sugary corn-goo, with corn syrup (more sugary corn goo) and canola oil following closely behind. Awesome.
But that’s what you get for eating Trix and thinking it’s healthy!!!
Another good example is Activia “healthy” yogurt:
Notice that HALF of the first four ingredients are sugar (FYI: anything with -ose at the end is usually a sugar, i.e. fructose, sucrose, lactose), which is great because the first ingredient (milk) naturally already has sugar in it. Yay for healthy yogurt!
Also side-note, why the freak do they need to add water to yogurt?? It’s already a liquid!
Back in the day, when the F.D.A. actually kind of gave a crud about what food companies were telling us, health claims on food products were required to be backed with strong scientific evidence. However, now-a-days, the F.D.A. allows what are called, “structure-function claims.” These claims mimic the structure of a health claim, but require only notification to the F.D.A. and no prior approval before being released.
The difference between a health claim (backed by science and approved by the F.D.A.) and a structure-function claim (possibly not backed by science or approved by the F.D.A.) is very subtle:
- Lowers Cholesterol (health claim)
- Helps maintain normal cholesterol levels (structure-function claim)
How can you easily tell the difference? If the product has a structure-function claim, it is required to have somewhere in tiny print that the F.D.A. “has not evaluated the claim” and that the product, “is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
You’ll notice that every supplement you purchase also has this statement on the labels because they are not required by law to be evaluated by the F.D.A. But that’s another horrible story for another day.
Organic vs. U.S.D.A. Organic
Let’s get even MOAR confusing shall we?
U.S.D.A. Organic and 100% Organic
- Free of most synthetic pesticides, but are allowed 10 synthetic exceptions.
- No industrial solvents, genetic engineering, etc.
- Requirements must be met in regards to added hormones, feeding practices of livestock, etc.
- 95% of the ingredients satisfy these requirements, where the remaining 5% are allowed to be processed with additives from an approved list.
Look for this label:
There’s WAY more that goes into this, but that about sums it up. If you want to know all the details, check out the U.S.D.A. website here. Also, the regulation for Organic farms is absolute BUNK, but again, that’s another horrible story for another time…
Organic or “made with organic”
70% of the product must meet the requirements above, while the remaining 30% does not. They are required to list in the ingredients which foods are organic, and are not allowed to use the U.S.D.A. Organic label.
If they don’t list which ingredients are organic, but claim to be organic/made with organic, that is a red-flag for being dirty liars.
Foods labeled “Natural”, “All Natural”, “100% Natural”
This is the most bunk label out of any label I’ve ever seen. You know what else is natural? A dead rat, arsenic, and foot fungus. So basically, any product out there can safely put “Natural/All Natural” on their packaging and be o.k. in the F.D.A.’s eyes. A perfect example:
Am I the only one who lol’d at natural Cheetos???
Not only is this claim not regulated by the F.D.A. or required by law to be verified, but there is no definition as to what it flippety doo dah means! Each company is allowed to come up with their own definition. SAY WHAT???
*jumps out window*
Again, this is about as bunk as “Natural.” Usually natural flavors are added to replace flavors lost in the process of making a product low-fat/sugar, through processing, pasteurizing, or from preserving the food.
What’s the difference between artificial and natural flavors? Not much at all. Natural flavors are defined as originating from a natural source (like literally one molecule stolen from a fruit, plant, etc.), and then blended with either “natural” or synthetic chemicals. So many ingredients can be defined that way, i.e.:
- Aspirin: Made from salicylic acid, which originates from the bark of a willow tree.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: Comes from coconuts
- Botox: Formulated from a very natural, yet frightening toxin (botulinum toxin), which is known to cause a teeny, little, fatal disease called BOTULISM.
Artificial flavors, however, are completely man-made by scientists in a lab somewhere with synthetic chemicals. Not much of a difference right?
The real forehead-slapper is they don’t need to list what natural flavors are in the product. So while you read “natural flavors” at the bottom of the list, that could include up to 100 different types of natural flavors. Woooppppeeee!
And for you lovely Vegans and Vegetarians, Natural Flavors can include flavors created from “meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.” Holyeeee Crap.
Cage-Free, Humanely-raised, Sustainable
Would you like another serving of lies with your dinner? I know, this is totally frustrating…
Cage-free makes you think of happy chickens running around in the sunshine, feathers blowing in the breeze. While cage-free chickens are better off than most chickens, it does not mean they’re free to roam or are happy. It could simply mean they’re shoved in a warehouse sans cages. Here’s an easy graphic to help you choose your eggs/chicken more wisely:
Humanely Raised and Sustainable
Unfortunately these statements are also…wait for it… The bunk. The U.S.D.A. was recently outed by the Animal Welfare Institute for approving labels such as these without requiring any proof that the claims were true.
Is the U.S.D.A. freaking monkeys with stamps, slapping “APPROVED” on whatever they feel like???
The AWI found that 80 percent of the label claims provided ZERO evidence whatsoever to support those claims, and were still totally approved by the U.S.D.A. That’s like me telling my teacher, “I totally got an A on your test,”, without showing her the results of the test, and her just saying, “well, ok! I guess you did!”
So…awesome. Thanks government!
How can you go wrong with this one? Either an animal is grass-fed, or it’s not!
A company is allowed to claim “grass-fed” if at some point in the animal’s life, it ate grass. It is also common practice to grass-feed an animal until about 90-160 days before slaughter. At that point the animal is fed grains and all kinds of other crap to fatten it up. In some cases, up to 70% of the animal’s diet is allowed to be something other than grass.
Grass-fed doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the cows roamed free in a pasture either. So look for labels such as “Animal Welfare Approved,” although as we learned earlier, that doesn’t seem to mean much either. 🙁
The term you’ll want to look for and/or ask your butcher about is not only “Grass-Fed”, but “Grass-Finished” as well. Ohhh sooo tricky…
At this point we’ve screwed with our food so much that it is practically impossible to guarantee that a food-product is 100% GMO-free. For instance, good luck finding a soybean or corn kernel that’s non-GMO (THANKS MONSANTO). The package may claim that the soybean is non-GMO, but it’s quite difficult for them to prove it.
What does GMO mean? This:
Living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, or GE. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
As most of you probably know, big-whig companies with a lot to lose have consistently and successfully lobbied against requiring labels for GMO products in the U.S., even though 60 countries either do require labeling or have strict regulations against them, AND a 2012 Mellman Group poll found that 91% of American consumers want GMOs labeled.
However, there is a group called the “Non-GMO Project”, which is a non-profit group dedicated to labeling Non-GMO foods. This is the label to look for:
To find out what their requirements are to provide their label, click here.
Also a list of foods they’ve approved as Non-GMO here.
Any other non-GMO label you can’t trust. Fortunately, there have been rumors of the U.S.D.A finally stepping in to regulate non-GMO products.
Whole Grain vs. Multi-Grain
A “whole, untouched grain” is a grain with all three layers still intact, those three parts being the bran, germ, and endosperm. To give you an idea, white bread contains grains stripped of the bran and germ (which contain important nutrients and fiber), only using the endosperm.
Look at this cute little bugger
More grains doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. All it means is that different types of grains were used to make the product. It also means those grains were most likely stripped of the bran and germ. So while you’re getting a variety of grains, you’re getting them in the same form as freaking Wonder-bread.
You can’t go wrong with this one. This means that the grains used in the product were completely whole with all three parts of the grain left in tact. This is the label you want to look for because a whole grain has way more beneficial nutrients than one that has been stripped of its dignity.
Other Miscellaneous Crap
- Always be wary of foods that state they’re, “Sugar-Free” and “Low/non Fat”. This is a 99% guarantee that harmful artificial sweeteners, flavoring, weirdo-fats have been added to make up for the loss in flavor.
- “No cholesterol” and “Gluten-Free” products usually didn’t have cholesterol or gluten to begin with. And I’m not talking about “gluten-free” bread products here. I’m talking about marshmallows, apples, canned beans, etc. that in no way would naturally have wheat inside of them. It’s just a company’s way of jumping on the million-dollar gluten-free industry. Vultures.
- Snack foods with “Omega 3’s”, “Fiber”, “Vitamins” added. None of these added products will make a pop tart somehow better for you folks. To learn more about the B.S. in fiber-added products, read my post here.
- The claim that their product is “Clinically Proven.” A lot of the times it’s either totally not, or it’s “backed” by one study the company conducted themselves. For instance, Activia was involved in a lawsuit because they claimed their yogurt was “clinically” and “scientifically” proven to improve digestion and immunity. Shock of shock, it wasn’t.
Three reasons why you should be royally pissed off about this nonsense:
- Foods with these bunk labels are notoriously more expensive than those that don’t have them. For instance, a pound of “regular” chicken breast may cost $5, where an Organic, humanely-raised, cage-free, Omega-3 added, pound of chicken breast could cost up to $15 dollars! But as you’re learning, there might not be a difference between the two. YOU ARE BEING RIPPED OFF.
- For those of you who genuinely care about the welfare of animals, you are also being ripped off. You may think you’re helping and making a difference, but because these companies are liars, you are not.
- For those of you who are genuinely concerned about the health of yourself and loved ones, you’re also being ripped off. You may think you’re serving your kids healthy and nutritious foods based on the labels, but you could unknowingly be putting their health at risk.
SO GET PISSED. Radical change needs to happen to change the state of our food industry. Vote, complain to your grocers, and vote with your wallets.
It’s amazing what we can do with just our purchasing power, it’s called the Free Market baby! Because of the pretty recent push of consumers to purchase whole grains, healthier foods, organic foods, etc., many companies (not wanting to miss out on your money of course) are quickly stepping up to meet that demand!
Finally, it’s good that organizations are standing up to do the very jobs that our government is failing at. For more info on those groups, here are links to their sites:
Animal Welfare: https://awionline.org/
P.S. If you there are labels I have missed that you’d really like me to cover, feel free to send me a request: http://letmelearnya.com/contact/