#10: Understanding Buzzwords

Do you get confused when shopping at the grocery store? Natural, gluten free, low-fat, dairy-free, low carb, vegan, sprouted, cultured, sugar-free to name just a few. Labels are full of confusing information and a new buzzword pops up almost every week. This week’s post is meant to help you understand health buzzwords so that you can make better choices for you and your family. So what do they mean? Let’s take a deeper dive.

Natural:

When the word “natural” is plastered on the front of a bottle of orange juice or a milk carton, it evokes an image of orange orchards in sunny Florida or happy cows grazing on a grassy hill somewhere in middle America. According to Consumer Reports, 60% of consumers look for the word “natural” on the packaging and 80% of those people think that natural means free of GMOs, pesticides and added hormones. But, before you put that package of chicken in your cart, you will definitely want to continue reading. That is because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no formal definition for natural and they do not inspect or regulate products with that written on the label. Although the FDA states that products labeled “natural” should contain no artificial or synthetic ingredients, that leaves plenty of gray area for food companies to add all kinds of preservatives, antibiotics, growth hormones and poorly sourced ingredients.

Takeaway: A “natural” label doesn’t equal natural ingredients and you’re likely not getting any more health bang for your buck. Check out this Guardian article for more information on the recent legal battles surrounding this topic.

Organic & GMO:

Organic products are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which means that any product labeled “organic” must comply with federal standards. The USDA defines organic as food cultivated with renewable resources, soil and water conservation methods, without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, bioengineering (GMOs), or radiation. All foods labeled “organic” are inspected and certified.

So is organic healthier? Most who buy organic believe that they are getting more minerals and vitamins in organic food vs. conventionally grown and raised food. One main reason for this is that organic growing methods use fertilizers and pesticides that do less harm to the soil thereby preserving its integrity and nutrient profile.

Organic food does not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When a crop is genetically modified, its gene composition is altered in a laboratory in order to make that particular fruit or vegetable resistant to weather, pesticides, insects and can even be formulated to extend supermarket shelf life. The problem is that humans consume that same food which when consumed by an insect, causes the insect to die or their stomachs to explode! While many food companies maintain that GMO-based foods are generally safe, there is continuing evidence showing that they do, in fact, harm humans.

Organic produce can hit you in your wallet, with prices often times being double that of conventional produce. That is a lot for any family, so when in doubt, follow the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen vs. Clean Fifteen list. The dirty dozen includes the 12 fruits and veggies with the highest residue of pesticides - always buy organic for these.

Takeaway: Organic food contains less pesticides, harmful antibiotics and GMOs that alter the composition of food. They are however, more expensive and if in a bind, use the Dirty Dozen-Clean 15 List as a guide.

Local:

“Local” is another one of those buzzwords which seems to be everywhere nowadays. If a food is locally sourced, it implies that it is grown or raised within a short proximity from where it’s sold. But remember a few things here: first, local can mean different distances. It’s been said that Whole Foods’ definition of local is within 200 miles, while others use a stricter definition of a 100-mile radius. Second, local doesn’t mean the food is organic, so buying local could also mean that you’re buying produce farmed with pesticides and animals fed GMO-feed or raised on antibiotics.

The best advantage to buying local is that you are more likely to get produce that is in season, which would also suggest that it tastes better and has more nutrients. Produce grown farther away are often picked prematurely, which prevents some of their nutrients from maturing, leaving you with less nutrients. 

Takeaway: Buy local, if and when in season but make sure the farms are using sustainable farming methods, without pesticides and GMOs. Don’t assume that they’re organic just because they are local.

Grass Fed:

When you go to the meat section in your supermarket or butcher shop, you might have noticed certain packages of beef labeled “grass fed”. There are also products like butter, milk and cheese that are made from dairy from grass fed cows. So what are grass fed beef and dairy products and why do they cost more than the conventional ones?

In simple terms, grass fed cows eat grass! You might be saying to yourself, “Isn’t that what cows are supposed to eat?” The answer to that question is a resounding YES! Unfortunately, however, with population growth, the rise of big agriculture and other government policies, most livestock farmers confine their cattle to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), are given hormone injections and are fed grains which is not their natural diet. The goal here is to fatten the cow up as quickly as possible before it gets slaughtered. The reality is that animals live in unsanitary conditions, get disease and are given antibiotics to maintain them. In fact, up to 80% of antibiotics used in the US are given to the animals that we eat! Yikes!

So how does the way that the animal is raised affect the nutritional profile of the meat you consume? Well, the answer is a lot! Recent studies have shown that grass fed beef has a higher Omega-3 fatty acid content than conventional beef and also has about 2-3x the amount of a nutrient called Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which does everything from reducing inflammation, improving your immune system, regulating your blood sugar, and reduce body fat. Yes, I just told you that eating the right kind of steak can help reduce body fat. Grass fed beef has a nutritional profile that is closer to salmon than it is to conventional beef - now that’s a big difference!

Takeaway: Grass Fed beef is more expensive than conventional raised beef but delivers way more health benefits without the harmful effects of antibiotics and synthetic hormones.

Grocery shopping wasn’t meant to be so confusing but we hope that with a little T+W knowledge, your choices for eating healthy will be easier. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you make better food choices, click here.