A complete guide to grocery store labels

Ever find yourself mid-isle at the grocery store with a nearly-identical version of the same product in each hand, pondering whether to buy the one labelled “organic” or the one labelled “all-natural”?

You’re not alone. While many of these labels sound similar, they can have vastly different meanings, both in terms of how the food is grown or processed and how nutritious it is to eat.

Here’s a complete guide to the plethora of food labels you’ll find.


YouTube/The Eyes of Nye

What the label implies: The non-profit Non-GMO Project, whose members include several health food companies like Eden Foods and Nature's Path, started labelling foods with a 'Non-GMO Project Verified' sticker in 2007. The standard claims that products carrying the label have 'been produced according to consensus-based best practices for GMO avoidance.'

The low-down: Most Americans are confused about what GMOs are. Nevertheless, research shows many actively try to avoid them. Here's the general consensus from the scientific community: GMOs are safe. A large study from 2013 found no 'significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.'

'No added sugars'

What the label implies: Products can carry the 'no added sugars' label so long as no sugar is added during processing.

The low-down: This label does not mean a product is 'sugar-free.' A container of Mott's 'no added sugars' label, for example, still has 22 grams of sugar (which is just under the American Heart Association's recommended amounts for an adult woman). This sugar isn't added, though; it comes from the naturally-occuring sugar in the apples.

'Gluten free'


What the label implies: In 2013, the FDA established a criteria for 'gluten free' labels that requires that they have a gluten content of less than 20 parts per million, the lowest amount that can be reliably detected in foods. Gluten is the protein composite in wheat, barley, and other grains and is what gives bread its chewiness.

The low-down: Unless you're amongst the 1% of Americans who actually have celiac disease
, a genetic, autoimmune disorder that causes people who eat gluten to experience damage to their small intestine, you don't need to pay any attention to these labels.

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