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Non-Nutritional Food Labeling Terms

Food labels offer a lot of very important nutritional information to those of us with diabetes, but what about other terms that have appeared on food labels– organic, natural, antibiotic free or no added hormones? They are relatively new terms, but do we really understand what each of these new words actually means? It’s time to sort out the confusion.

“Organic” designates foods produced using materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems, and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. To consumers it often suggests food that is produced without synthetic chemicals, especially pesticides and herbicides. This doesn’t mean the food is produced without any pesticides, however. Organic farming does use natural compounds as pesticides, such as copper, sulfide, and arsenic (yes, arsenic), but there are established standards which define “organic” foods. Since organic foods require more land and more attention, they tend to be more expensive.

“Natural” (unlike “organic”) is a term for which there is no standardized definition. It generally means minimally processed, but then again there is no standard to define that commonly accepted meaning. Whole foods such as produce, whole grains and protein foods should be emphasized in the diet, but this does not mean artificial ingredients can’t be part of a healthy eating plan. Both artificial and natural ingredients are used for flavoring, coloring, texture, and even to improve nutrition (as we see in vitamin-enriched foods).

“No antibiotics added” is a label which requires that both meat and poultry pass safety requirements showing the food is free from antibiotics. There are strict guidelines that will take any animal receiving antibiotics out of the “antibiotic-free” food chain. USDA “organic” meats, eggs and dairy are produced without antibiotics.

“No added hormones” refers to synthetic hormones, which are sometimes used in beef and dairy products, but are not allowed in poultry and pork. Many studies have shown there is no ill effect on human health from consuming animals given synthetic hormones, but processors can provide documentation to support this label.

These non-nutritional food labels all have some meaning for informing consumer choices. But, it’s important to note that these practices DO NOT improve the nutritional value of the food. Choosing organic, natural foods produced without antibiotics or hormones may be the right choice for you, but with diabetes the more important choice is nutrition.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.