Playing Label Bingo With Your Food

Playing Label Bingo With Your Food

We all have different bodies and a different set of circumstances, so what is healthy for one person is not necessarily healthy for another. I myself have experienced the phenomenon of being advised something that was contrary to popular nutritional advice. There was a time in my life when I needed to have all my vegetables cooked and I needed to up my (sea) salt intake. Many people would drop their jaw in astonishment, but I was dealing with a particular set of circumstances. Given that we all have our own unique needs, navigating the world of nutritional health can be overwhelming.

The increasing number of food labels out there isn’t helping – and many of them mislead us in this journey of understanding what is healthy for us and what isn’t. Of the labels listed below, how many do you know the meaning of? This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it might give you a bit of an idea of how many are currently being used in marketing food and food products. 

Labels to know and understand     

  • Vaccine-free      
  • Omega 3 enhanced / EFAs 
  • Organic    
  • Vitamin enriched 
  • Free range    
  • Fine Filtered 
  • Free run    
  • Homogenized 
  • Pasture-raised     
  • Whole Grain 
  • Grass-fed / grass finished    
  • Probiotic 
  • Natural     
  • Raw / Pasteurized 
  • Cold pressed, virgin   
  • Local
  • Corn fed/Grain fed  
  • Free From 
  • Chemical Free    
  • Gluten free 
  • Paleo  
  • Fat-free
  • Sugar-free     
  • Antioxidant

It may seem a daunting task to understand all of these labels, what they really mean, and what they don’t mean. Perhaps it’s just a reminder that many labels are in fact marketing terms, and very rarely backed up with inspections. And sometimes even if they are, there are many regulations and subsections in those regulations that all “free range” means is that chickens have to have access to outdoors, but in reality never spend any time outdoors and foraging for grubs. In my mind, the increase in labels is all the more reason to buy from your local farmer and to visit the farmer yourself. 

One thing that currently isn’t properly labelled is whether something contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Whether you want to avoid GMOs or not, there is no requirement that companies declare GMO ingredients in their products (there are a few places popping up that are starting to require this, but it’s not nearly pervasive in the marketplace). 

There are some ingredients that are likely to be genetically modified. Look for these when purchasing as indicators that what you are about to purchase might contain GMOs (unless they’re organic).

Likely GMOs:

  • Canola oil (most bread, salad dressings and any vegetables that are stir-fried)
  • Soy products at all (many wraps/ bread and pantry items contain soy lecithin)
  • Dairy products (the dairy industry is based on a GMO corn diet, so while it may not be directly GM, it is an indirect GMO, as the feed affects the animal’s body, which in turn affects the quality of the animal by-product)
  • Any pork, non-grass-fed (and grass-finished) beef
  • Sugar (synthetic Sweeteners are all GMO)
  • Butternut squash from the USA 

Check out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide and the Institute for Responsible Technology for more resources.

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