Consumers are flooded with different labels that imply healthy foods and pure ingredients. With all these terms it’s easy to lose sight of what’s truly “unprocessed” versus “processed” products with “whole” ingredients. Vague terms like “Natural” mislead consumers into thinking products contain “whole” or “unprocessed” ingredients. In order to provide some clarity over this food label nightmare, LeanWagon has created this Food Label Cheat Sheet.
Natural: Products that don’t contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Natural cannot be used in the ingredients list except for “natural flavors”. This term is regulated for meat and poultry.
Whole: Foods that are not processed or refined. Examples: fresh produce, whole grains, meat, and fish. Be aware of foods that have “whole ingredients” but also contain other additives like sugar (e.g. kid’s cereal). This term is not a tightly regulated definition.
Organic: Foods processed according to regulations of the Natural Organic Program (NOP). To learn more of these guidelines check out the: United States Dept. of Agriculture. There are different levels of certification for organic labels:
- “100% organic”: contain only organic ingredients.
- “Organic”: at least 95% is made up of organic material.
- “Made with organic ingredients”: contains 70-95% organic ingredients.
- 70% or less cannot be labeled as an organic product but can label each organic ingredient as organic.
Processed: Foods that have undergone a change of character. Example: raw nuts (unprocessed) vs. roasted nuts (processed) or a head of lettuce (unprocessed) vs. cut and prewashed spinach (processed).
Local: Food produced closely to where it is purchased. More specifically, food must be transported less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced. No general consensus regarding the definition of local.