Food marketers spend billions of dollars per year (yes, billions!) trying to convince us to buy their products. And sadly, they know what works even if that means using a buzz word that can’t exactly be taken at face value. This all goes back to reading the ingredient label (instead of the front of the package) to determine if your food is “real,” but, since it can be easy to get distracted at the store, here are some terms to be on the look out for…
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One would think the word “natural” would mean no artificial ingredients were used – and it should in my opinion! – but I once saw a canister of powdered “lemonade” that said “natural” twice on the front of the package, and I turned it around to see not one, not two, but four different artificial additives (and of course no actual lemon in sight) on the ingredient list. Long story short – the word “natural” is currently unregulated so unfortunately meaningless when used on the front of the package.
The new-found abuse of this term has been driving me nuts. I’ve seen numerous fast food companies touting their highly processed products as being “straight from the farm.” Okay, obviously corn and other produce has to be grown in the ground on some kind of farm, but not all farms are created equal (not even close!). Do you want to eat food that’s been grown in a massive monoculture setting, sprayed with potentially harmful chemicals, picked before it’s even ripe, trucked thousands of miles away, and then processed in a factory to resemble an unhealthy, yet edible meal? No, thank you.
I covered this topic in detail recently, but here’s the short of it – grass fed is not a regulated term either so it can really mean anything. It can mean the animals are 100% grass-fed or 1% grass-fed and since grass is the natural (and healthiest!) diet for some animals, such as cows, it’s an important one.
Sure, being “free” is better than being locked up, but this term means nothing more than having access to the outside. Because yes, as sick as it is, many factory-farmed animals never even see the light of day (not to mention they’re crammed in coops with soooo many other chickens there is barely room for them to walk around). But, sadly, the term free-range could only be marginally better with animals in similar conditions simply with a door that leads outside to a small patch of dirt. The even better option would be “pasture-raised,” which would at least mean the animals have access to a field that actually has grass on it.
When the front of the package claims it’s “made with whole grains” this is another one of those terms that can mean 100% or 1% – quite a range! So this is one where you REALLY have to check the ingredient label to make sure the whole-grain ingredient is listed BEFORE any refined grains (the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first) or ideally is the only grain that was used.
Did any of these come as a surprise to you or are you already on the lookout for these tricky terms? I’d love to know any important ones I’ve missed!