Food Labels: The Quick Guide

Just got back from Heidi and Bruno’s gorgeous wedding! While I catch up on some things around the house, please enjoy this very informative guest post from James Kim (

Food Labels: The Quick Guide

Have you ever read a food label? As in really read a food label? Chances are that, if you have, you’ve seen a few terms that you don’t really know anything about. But don’t worry, here’s your quick guide to food labels so that you can move ahead to meal planning with confidence.

1. Natural – According to the US Food and Drug Administration, natural just means that “the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Really, you can ignore this label since it isn’t saying much about how “natural” a product is. Trust your own judgment and take a look at the ingredients that the label lists to determine just how natural something is.

2. Organic – Organic is food that’s “produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” Organic food also has to go through farms and processing facilities that have been inspected by government-approved organizations. There are a few different types of “organic,” too:

  • “100% organic” – exactly what it sounds like
  • “organic” – at least 95% organic ingredients
  • “made with organic ingredients” – 70% or more organic ingredients
  • “contains organic ingredients” – 70% or less organic ingredients

3. Fair trade – Certified by FLO-CERT to say that the product was handled and sold according to standards that make sure everyone involved in the process gets their deserved money (which especially helps small farmers in poverty stricken countries).

4. Local – People like to say that local food has to be sold within a 100 miles of where it was grown, but this is simply not the case. Why? Because no one evaluates their claims; food called “local” doesn’t necessarily have to be from close by since no one checks.

5. Certified – All the Food Safety and Inspection Service says is that “certified” means a meat product was evaluated based on “class, grade, or other quality characteristics.” It’s not an incredibly clear definition, but it’s true that certified meat is of significantly higher quality than meat that is not certified – you should make sure to pick it out at the store.

Hopefully this small guide has given you an idea of what you’re looking at when you read a food label. As long as you actually read about what you’re buying, you can be sure that you’re putting good things into your body other than mysterious products that may or may not contain “all natural ingredients.”

James Kim is a writer for  Food on the Table is a company that provides online budget meal planning services.  Their goal is to help families eat better and save money.


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