Natural Foods, Labeling, and What It Means

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Nutrition News: Natural Foods, Their Labeling and What it Means

By Elizabeth Blessing, MSN, co-founder and chief nutritionist of Green BEAN Delivery

Once sold only in health food stores, all natural and organic foods can now be found in most mainstream markets nationwide. The demand for natural and organic foods has steadily grown in the U.S. since the 1970’s. It is currently at an all time high with sales of organic food and beverages at $29.22 billion in 2011.

Organically grown foods have been available for more than 40 years, but have only recently been regulated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a national reference standard to define what is and what is not organic. In 2002, regulations were put into place to regulate foods labeled “organic,” whether grown in the U.S. or imported from other countries.

Food manufacturers and retailers use terms to draw people to their products. Some terms are strictly regulated while others are not. If food contains a “USDA Organic” label, it means it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards and that at least 95 percent of the food’s ingredients are organically produced. If the label states “made with organic ingredients,” then these products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal cannot be used on these packages. Foods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can’t use the organic seal or the word organic on their product label. However, they can include the organic items in their ingredient list.

Foods that are labeled “all-natural” are not subject to government regulations except meat and poultry. This term applies broadly to foods minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and other artificial additives, hydrogenated oils, stabilizers and emulsifiers.

Free-range is a method of producing livestock where animals are allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner. The USDA certifies free-range chickens as those raised for their meat and have access to the outdoors. There is no USDA certification for free-range beef, pork or other non-poultry products. Free-range eggs also have no legal definition.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are the result of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. The foreign genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. The term “non-GMO” is not legally defined and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not even require the labeling of GMOs in food ingredient lists.

To be sold or labeled as organic a farm must go through a USDA certification process to prove the food has been handled without the use of synthetic chemicals; does not contain genetically modified organisms; are not processed using irradiation, chemical food additives or industrial solvents; and livestock do not receive growth hormones and routine doses of antibiotics.

When it comes to unregulated terms used on food packaging, it is important to do your research and know where your food comes from. Get to know your farmers and artisans. Ask farmers about their growing practices and artisans about their ingredient sourcing.

To stay up to date on the latest food and nutrition news or to get recipe ideas, check out Green BEAN Delivery’s Healthy Times blog.

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About Author

Elizabeth Blessing is co-founder and chief nutritionist of Green BEAN Delivery. Originally from Noblesville, Ind., Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Indiana University and a Master of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. After graduating from Bastyr, she worked as a nutrition educator for Washington State University King County Extension’s Food $ense Program. While at Food $ense, she co-authored nutrition education curriculum. Now Elizabeth is the on-site Nutritionist and a Food Service instructor at The Chef’s Academy, the Indiana Business College’s culinary school. Get her nutrition tips and recipes each week on the Healthy Times blog.

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