North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Reading labels: The good, the bad and the truth

With all of the claims on food packaging it's had to know what the best choices are for you and your family


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Reading the labels of the foods you buy is important to know what's actually in everything you are eating.

Wondering what all the claims are on your food packaging? Organic, Non-GMO, natural, gluten free, etc. There are so many claims out there, many of which are clever marketing gimmicks to get us to buy a higher priced item when, in fact, it isn't any healthier than the item next to it.

What do all of these claims mean and what should you look for?

n Organic: Make sure your organic items are done with a seal "certified organic" otherwise they may have just used one or two organic ingredients and say so only in the fine print. Also make sure it's spelled correctly, many brands use natural colors and terms similar to organic to trick consumers.

n Non-GMO: This means your item has not been genetically modified, or changed in a lab. Corn and soy are some of the high risk crops. To ensure your food does not contain GMO's buy organic. Organic items cannot contain genetically modified organisms.

n All Natural: This term is used very loosely. Sometimes it is meant to mean no added dyes, preservatives or artificial flavors. Read the ingredients when a product is labeled natural as many food marketers have used this term as a marketing gimmick.

n Made with: Take a closer look at items that are "made with" a healthier item. While it may be true that an item is made with real fruit, it may also include food dyes, preservatives and artificial ingredients.

n Gluten Free: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Avoiding gluten means a lot more than not eating bread. If you are trying to avoid gluten due to Celiac or an allergy make sure it's certified gluten free as trace amount can be found in many non-bakery type foods you wouldn't expect.

n Vegetarian: This means the product contains no meat, poultry, fish and or seafood.

n Vegan: This takes vegetarian one step further. Items that are pure Vegan do not include anything derived by animals; no dairy, egg, honey, etc.

n Whole Food: A whole food item is an item that has been processed or refined as little as possible. Farm to table claims would be an example of whole foods. The farmer picked it, you prepped it and ate it.

n Kosher: A kosher item means it conforms to the regulations of kashrut. Put simply, meat and dairy are not prepared or eaten together.

When making changes in what you purchase at the grocery store review the ingredients also. If the claim on the front of the items was that it is "made with" real fruit, flavor, etc, check the list of ingredients to be sure it's all real items not just one real item and a pile of artificial colors and flavors.

With all of these claims floating around it's hard to know what the best choices are. If you can only make one change, purchase as many items you can that are organic. This ensures they will also be "all natural", "made with real ingredients" and "non-gmo" as an organic item encompasses all of those claims.

Vegan, Vegetarian, Kosher and Gluten free items will depend on your dietary, philosophical and or religious beliefs. Are they healthier? Sometimes. But an Organic, non-gmo, gluten free cupcake is still going to have lots of fat and sugar in it. But it will be 100% real and your body knows what to do with real food.

Challenge yourself to read what's actually in everything you consume today. It may take some extra time the first few trips to the grocery store, but try to remove a few items from your pantry with ingredients that you can't pronounce. Your body (and brain) will thank you.

Emily Countryman is a board certified health coach and owner of Ideal Wellness in Marysville. She can be reached online at


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