3 Misleading Food Labels You Need to Understand

3 Misleading Food Labels You Need to Understand

With the move towards higher quality food items, many of us can be confused about the way our foods are described today on packaging food labels and through advertising. Here’s a few common food labels and what they really mean.


The foods that we are selecting today are the very best they can be, right? And yet many times it is difficult for us to figure out or define whether or not a food item is “Natural” enough for our family’s use.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is the governing agency over food labels. They do not object to using the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

A greater concern comes when certain foods, such as high fructose corn syrup or genetically modified foods, come into play because they start out as natural foods but don’t end up that way. The FDA is not into the regulatory business and therefore has tried to work with consumers on food definitions. Being “natural” does not address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor does it address food processing methods, such as, manufacturing technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation.

And, lastly, the FDA does not see a relationship between the word “natural” as one that provides better nutrition or health.

“Free Range”

The next food label you may want to be aware of is “Free Range”. This term is an agricultural term for livestock, especially for poultry, beef, and eggs. It relates to having the animals kept in natural conditions with freedom of movement.

It also denotes a method of farming husbandry where the animals, for at least part of the day, are in the outdoors. In addition, there is a diet where the practitioners only eat meat from free-range sources called ethical omnivorism, which is a type of semi-vegetarian.


Next, and last, we will look at the term Organic. You may have recently read our post on the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists of fruits and vegetables. These were clarified in 2010 by the Environmental Working Group www.ewg.org and www.foodnews.org. Primarily, the issue has to do with whether or not you need to purchase produce as organically grown due to high levels of pesticides used during the normal growth process.

Today, because growers have responded to consumer request, many grocery store chains have begun to find sources of good quality organic foods. They are much better quality today and comparable in price to the traditionally grown foods. Ingesting pesticide residue is no longer an issue in the research. Most consumers agree that the use of organic fruits and vegetables is on the minds of all clean food consumers.

A safe food supply continues to be important to us all. “Free range” farm animals and “Organic” fresh produce are easy to define. More unclear is the matter of what is considered “natural”. Many restaurants are working hard to provide clean, unprocessed foods which are truly better for us than in previous years. Some surprising ones worth mentioning are Chipotle, Panera, and Chick-fil-a.

Rita Larsen Registered Dietitian at Elite Sports Clubs

Written by Rita Larsen, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Nutrition Educator & Diet Counselor

Rita is certified in Positive Psychology, University of Penn; has a BS in Dietetics from Kansas State University; and an Internship and Masters at the Indiana University Medical Center.

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