4 Food Label Terms To Read Twice

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Do you know many people are fooled into thinking they are eating healthier than they are? And while doing so they are paying more than they should. Because – due to unregulated health claims on labels, lots of food labels gussy up, gloss over and carefully omit the truth!

I know it’s a hassle to have your guard up all the time, looking out for products that are the wolves in sheep’s clothing. But I’m going to pass on to you a 4 general purpose tips that will hold you in good stead as you shop.

A view from 30 000 feet; a digestible summary on a very intricate subject so you don’t have to get a magnifying glass, or phone Ralph Nader, before you hit the supermarket.

There’s just so many food products to choose from (which I think is a good thing?). But it means that manufacturers must push the outer limits of advertising laws to stand out from the crowd of products – in order to get your attention/money.

Today’s bread makers for example know there are 30 other bread products on the shelf that they are competing with. So they are forced to get very creative in their marketing messages to outshine the others.

This is not to say all food advertising is smoke and mirrors, because it’s not. But if you read on you will learn how and why you can’t rely on government to screen you from harm and unscrupulous claims when you shop. But with these handy tips you can become your own gatekeeper of quality.

There are times when we all are tempted by a ‘cheat’ day. We get seduced by ‘comfort’ foods, knowing they are empty and meaningless – of nutrient value that is.

But when you are shopping, and paying a premium for the good stuff, you should rightfully be getting it, not a cheap imposter, don’t you think?

So when shopping for a healthy loaf of bread and more, here’s how to separate the wheat from the chaff with…

4 Food Label Terms To Read Twice:

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  • Natural – I’m willing to pay more for a product that is “natural”, or “all-natural” aren’t you? And Madison Ave. knows it, so the word is used liberally in your supermarket. It’s an easy and free addition to a label that allows a product to subtly compete with actual Certified Organic products.

    However it often is meaningless as the FDA only regulates the word “natural” for meat and poultry products (to denote those that contain no artificial substances). Yet even for meat and poultry it’s confusing as your chicken can be labelled “natural” and still contain genetically modified organisms. Even that same PoGo hot dog that keeps spinning under the heat lamp at your local 7-11 can be called “natural” as it did once emanate from the earth.

    So until this loophole is locked up, you must deduce for yourself how “natural” any given product is, and buy accordingly.

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  • Local – Another term used liberally in the marketplace which commands a higher sticker price. However, you may not be aware that in the U.S. there are no legal standards for the word!

    So many shoppers will lunge for the “local” labelled oranges – because the font size is bigger than the one underneath that says ‘Product of Chile’. Other than taking a few moments longer to investigate further, something you can do is whenever possible, shop at farmers markets that truly do sell products grown nearby.

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  • Free Range – Take note that this term, according to the USDA, can only legally be applied to poultry and eggs. Well that’s straightforward enough, right? Not quite, because they don’t stipulate how free is free. The law says that poultry must have “access to the outside”, but there are no stipulations on how big the outside must be, and how many you can crowd into the area…The reality is that a lot of chickens are roaming as freely as Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank prison yard, able to see blue sky, but still shoulder to shoulder.

    But you can research and find out the farmers that really do set their chickens free on large expanses, which you will feel better about when you’re paying at the till.

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  • Made with Whole Grains – Another example of marketing that is not technically untrue, but is definitely disingenuous. Because the manufacturer knows the customer will take this statement at face value…and never discover that an accurate version of the label would say:
    “Made with (5%) Whole Grains AND A Bunch of (95%) Refined, Nutrient Poor Grains Too!”

    Because it is not regulated, there’s nothing illegal about this deceiving practice.
    Again, there are food products that are worthy the extra money, and they will sport labels that say something like: “Made Only With 100% Whole Grains”.



Modern technology has allowed for an abundance of food for most people. Though much of mass produced food is much lower in minerals than previous generations, at least now there’s fewer arm wrestles for a last potato.

However, because there’s so much to choose from, it’s hard to not be the donkey who starved because the three hay piles were all the exact distance away from him!

Ever wonder why there are 20 different crackers to pick from? Well, corn as an example could never be patented. So manufacturers learned to make 50 different products from the golden grain, like Corn Flakes, that could be patented.

The result is the explosion of choice in the market, which means shopping just gets more and more complicated, if you’re particular about what you put in your mouth.
Add to that the fact that labelling laws are less than perfect, and a trip to the store suddenly takes on Columbo type investigative skills.

But ‘it is what it is’. So just keep in mind today’s 4 Food Label Terms To Read Twice
and next time in the checkout line, instead of picking up ‘People’ magazine, take a shrewd look at your label’s fine print. That’s likely where the truth lies!


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Michael Dewey

About Michael Dewey

Michael is AlgaeCal’s Editor in Chief, and was born in Toronto, Ontario. He is responsible for most of AlgaeCal’s writing material such as blog posts, and you might recognize his face from the AlgaeCal newsletters as well. Outside of work, Mike pursues both sporting and creative pursuits. He enjoys beach volleyball, cycling hockey, baseball and snowboarding, but also uses digital technology to compose his own music; merging and stacking layers of instruments and vocals, one-by-one, to make a full band sound.

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