Food Label 411
Everything has a label these days and sometimes it takes a detective to figure out what they all mean! Dietician and author of The F-Factor Diet, Tanya Zuckerbrot, demystifies the meaning behind four of the most popular health food labels.
These foods are grown without chemical pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers. "To identify organically grown foods, a sticker deeming the item USDA Certified Organic can be found on the produce," explains Tanya. "If you don't see a sticker on the food item, there may also be a sign over the bin letting you know it is USDA approved organic."
People typically buy organic food for health reasons. "They do not want added chemicals and toxins in their produce," says Tanya. It is also good for the environment since the foods have not been sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers that may otherwise be absorbed into the soil. Tanya believes that certain fruits and vegetables have more residue than others, like the foods you're going to eat whole and not peel off a thick skin or shell. "You may want to consider buying foods such as grapes, strawberries, pears, apples, and vegetables from organic vendors," Tanya says. "Foods with a thicker skin or shell that peels off, such as bananas, absorb less chemicals."
The USDA has only placed free-range/free-roaming rules on poultry and not on any other livestock. Tanya explains that free-range means the birds have access to the outdoors through a little door in the henhouse, so they can enter/exit at any time. If you see that label on non-poultry products, then you are taking the monitoring of the animal conditions on faith as opposed to government guidelines.
According to Tanya, "free-range or free-roaming poultry does not have a nutritional effect on you. It is strictly an ethical label. You have to decide if you want to pay more for peace of mind."
This is when hens have the run of an indoor space and are not kept contained in cages. This is considered to be a more humane approach for the birds.
According to Tanya, "the nutritional benefit is negligible. It's more about the moral aspect of how the birds are treated than anything else." Keep in mind that cage-free egss are more expensive because they have to be hand-collected since the hens are allowed to lay eggs anywhere in the henhouse.
Tanya says that the FDA does not approve the use of "hormone-free" labeling on meat and dairy products because all of these products contain hormones animals produce naturally.
Tanya calls this label "a marketing ploy. What it should really say is that the product contains no added hormones."
Web exclusive! Tanya answers more of your food label questions:
Q. When packages of noodles say "semolina flour," is this whole-wheat and good carbs? Or unbleached wheat flour? And which is better?
Tanya: Semolina is produced from durum wheat, which is used almost exclusively for making pasta. Semolina is high in protein and gluten but low in fiber. What makes whole-wheat pasta a better choice is the fact that it has more than double the amount of dietary fiber than semolina pasta. That extra fiber not only stabilizes blood sugar -- which curbs cravings -- it also helps you feel fuller longer, both of which contribute to weight loss. Whole-wheat pasta also outdoes semolina pasta in antioxidants and other protective substances, as well as vitamins and minerals.
Whichever pasta you choose, be sure that it's accompanied by plenty of fiber-rich, nutrient-dense vegetables and lean protein (like turkey meatballs or shrimp) to create a well-balanced, nutritious and delicious meal.
Q. I'm confused about the difference between whole-wheat and whole grain. I thought that whole grain was supposed to be better. Recently I bought some whole-wheat rolls that had 5g of fiber, and the whole grain rolls had only 3g of fiber per serving. Isn't more fiber better? What gives?
Tanya: "Whole grains" is one of the most popular marketing claims and the most confusing. Lately it seems that you can find "made with whole grains" on almost all products, including sugary breakfast cereal. But don't confuse "whole grain" with "whole-wheat." The impression may be that "whole grain" is a good source of fiber. In reality, refined white flour (no fiber)--with just a touch of whole wheat flour added back in - can be listed as "whole grain." That's why many items that say "made with whole grains" have virtually no fiber.
Instead, look for products made from 100% whole-wheat. If "whole wheat flour" is not the first ingredient, skip it. It's the whole wheat flour that contains fiber. Fiber is essential for weight management (it keeps you feeling full on few calories) and for reducing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, adult onset diabetes, breast and colon cancer.
Q. My question is about "hidden sugars" in processed or prepared foods. What ingredients are really refined sugar but you wouldn't know it by the ingredient on the label? I would love to see a whole list of these ingredients. Thanks!
Tanya: Besides the commonly known names of sugar such as white sugar, brown sugar and powdered sugar, the following are a list of "hidden sugars" often found in processed or prepared foods: turbinado, honey, maple syrup, molasses, fructose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maltose, glucose and fruit juice. As far as the nutritional benefit from sugars, one is not better for you than the other. All simple sugars are empty calories, about four per gram, so remember to consume refined sugar in moderation.
Q. I was wondering if you could explain to me a little bit about high-fructose corn syrup. What is it?
Tanya: High-fructose corn syrup is a high-calorie sweetener derived from corn. It is widely used by manufacturers because of its low cost and is used in so many sweetened products such as breakfast cereals, muffins, soft drinks and salad dressings. Just like any added sugar, high fructose corn syrup can contribute to obesity when consumed in excess.
Q. What are "natural flavors"? I see it on the ingredient list of many things that are considered pure and healthy, it seems such a mystery. If it were so natural, why don't they just come out and say what exactly "it" is?
Tanya: Natural flavors can be ingredients such as ginger, onion powder, black pepper, garlic powder and garlic oil. They may be designated as "natural flavors" because they are substances used mainly for flavor and do not add any nutritional value to the food. Sometimes, food manufacturers label those ingredients as "natural flavors" rather than using the actual name of the ingredient to protect the identity/recipe of the product. For example, if a certain food contains a secret ingredient, the ingredient may be labeled as a natural flavor.
The views and opinions expressed by Tanya Zuckerbrot are those of the individual speaker and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Rachael Ray, the television series Rachael Ray, KWP Studios Inc. or any of their respective parent companies, subsidiaries, affiliates or employees.
- latest show clips
- celebrity friends
- cooking videos
- rachael between the scenes
- backstage pass
- tips and stories
- be on the show
- set tour
- audience tickets
- rachael's bio
- what's rach wearing
- rach on the radio
- follow us on twitter
- join us on facebook