3 Tips to Help you Understand Food Labels
Reusable bags in hand, money in wallet, checklist in pocket, and cart clattering away in front of you; you’re ready to tackle the grocery store!
The idea behind purchasing groceries is quite simple; go to the store, grab the food you’re looking for, and leave with full bags and an excited belly. What can be daunting though is the amount of options you have.
Take peanut butter for example. It seems like there are thousands of different types. It’s ground up peanuts, how many options do we need? The contents inside the jar look the same, but of course the labels claim different things. What’s the difference between organic and certified organic? Natural versus regular, and what the heck is a Non-GMO?
Here are a few simple terms to help you learn how to read food labels the next time you’re at the grocery store.
The best way to describe organic is by using the National Organic Standards Board definition of organic which was adopted in 1995. It states:
“Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”
What this means is that these foods should be grown without the use of most herbicides and pesticides that may or may not be harmful to the person consuming.
In order for a product to be certified organic and have the certified organic logo, the product must pass all the organic regulations of the USDA. Any product can claim to be organic, but without the certified organic seal of approval, it isn’t actually organic. Whether organic is more nutritious or not is still to be determined, but the amount of chemicals on or in the organic product has been greatly reduced.
What on earth does natural mean anyway? Honestly, nothing. In theory, natural can mean there isn’t any added color, synthetic ingredients, or other artificial flavor. There are no regulations of the word natural, so any product can be “natural.” Have you ever seen the term “natural flavoring” on a food label? Quite frankly, this is very misleading. Whenever I see these claims on packaged meat I get a little apprehensive.
A GMO, or genetically modified organism is a product that has gene alterations by a genetic engineer. Have you ever heard of cloning? It’s similar to that. A person takes the genetic information from one product and mixes it with another. Many times GMOs are used to make a product more resilient to variable weather and pest conditions.
As of now, there isn’t enough evidence to support that a GMO is harmful to the human body, but studies are continuing to be done. The longer GMOs are around, the more information we will have on them and what they will do to our bodies’ long term. If you look for the project Non-GMO label, this will indicate that the product has not used any genetic modification in any way. All certified organic products are also part of the non-GMO movement and cannot use any sort of genetic modification.
Why Runners Need to be Educated
As runners, we are always looking to fuel our body so we can train harder and run faster/longer. Eating the right foods obviously helps with this. The grocery store can be a daunting place and sometimes feel confusing with all the different labels. The best advice I can give you is to read labels. If you don’t know how to pronounce the ingredients, chances are it’s probably not the best thing for you to eat.
The next time you find yourself meandering down the food aisles, notice the items you are putting into your cart and decide for yourself if you are really making the best decisions for you and your training.