Labels, Decoded

Clean Eating & Label Reading

(page 3 of 3)


Natural sounds nice, right? Well, by definition it’s great. It could represent foods that are produced without use of chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, genetically engineered crops, chemical processing aids, and artificial ingredients. However, the good stops there; unfortunately there is no verification, enforcement, or certification process for this label. In fact, each company that uses the word “natural” can develop their own definition of natural, leaving a lot of “natural”foods in the marketplace that actually contain not-so-natural ingredients. The USDA has the capability of holding manufacturers accountable to the proper use of the word “natural,” but there is no verification process in place.


The “kosher” label represents products that have been inspected by a rabbi and are certified to accommodate Jewish dietary guidelines. These foods cannot be processed on equipment that handled pork. Rabbis inspect the food for lesions and imperfections during a unique slaughter, unlike the traditional automated slaughter used in the livestock industry. There are a few very interesting variations of the kosher label which consumers should be aware of. A few examples include “glatt kosher,” signifying that the animal had perfect lungs upon slaughter, and “pareve kosher,” meaning the food is both meat and dairy free.

Non-GMO Project Verified

A “Non-GMO Project Verified” label represents products that have been produced without the intentional use of or contamination of GMOs (Genetically Engineered Ingredients). Products that are at a high-risk of GMO exposure, such as corn and soy, are required annual audits and ingredient laboratory testing. Fun fact: Like some ‘-free’ labels, “GMO-free” assures that products contain levels of GMOs that are less than .5% in foods or dietary supplements, and less than .9% in textiles or cleaning products.

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed breeders and consumers. In 2009, Whole Foods Market partnered with the cause to use the Non-GMO Project's Product Verification Program (PVP) in connection with Whole Foods Market's private label products.

Trans Fat-Free

In January of 2006, the FDA required food producers to label their products with a trans fat amount within the nutritional facts list. Currently, .5 grams of trans fats per serving is considered “trans fat-free” or “0 grams”. Producers are able to omit the label if the FDA has approved that the ingredients have .5 grams or less in the product. Therefore, you may not always see trans fats listed on the nutritional facts list. The FDA states that they are taking steps to remove trans fats from the food supply in order to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks each year. Trans fats are formed naturally in the gut of some grazing animals but are also artificially formed with the combination of hydrogen and vegetable oil during food processing to prevent foods from spoiling.

Gluten Free

The “gluten-free” label, issued in 2013 by the FDA, represents foods that contain a gluten content below the limit of 20 parts per million. This value is the lowest level that can be detected in foods using scientific methods. Gluten-free may also be labeled as “free of gluten”, “no gluten”, or “without gluten”. For consumers with celiacs disease, heads-up: The FDA states that manufacturers may include the logo of a gluten-free certification program on their food labels, provided that its use is truthful and not misleading. Have no fear, the FDA is looking out for you by routinely sampling and inspecting gluten levels within products.

Contains: Soy, Milk, Nuts, Etc..

Back in 2004, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act passed a law that requires labels to clearly identify the food source names of all ingredients that are of the eight most common food allergens (soy, eggs, wheat, nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts). Think about this: before relabeling was required in 2006, these allergens may not have been listed as obviously as they are now. Anyone holding onto 10-year-old Twinkies in their apocalypse emergency food stash? If so, check out those labels!

100% Whole Grain

Regulated by the Whole Grains Council, a whole grain stamp tells us whether or not the grain within the product is 100 percent whole or otherwise, refined. It is classified two ways.

The first includes the label “100%” within the stamp. This represents a product with a minimum of 16 grams of non-refined, 100 percent whole grains per serving. The second is considered “basic.” It displays the words “whole grain” within the stamp and represents products that may contain other refined grains such as flours, germ, or bran.

Craving more ingredients? Check out our other articles on SupplementsSmoothiesTeaMeat, Chocolate, and Mystery Ingredients

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