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Jan 7, 2020

What to Look for When Reading Food Labels

Are you trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle? If so, we encourage you to pick the city closest to your current location – perhaps Charlotte, NC, Dallas, TX or Phoenix, AZ – to find organic restaurants that are nearby. If you’ve made the commitment to eating organic, you’ll want to know where you can find professionally made organic food, and that’s what Organic Restaurants exists to do – help you find organic eateries no matter where you are.

Food Labels and the Term “Organic”

Just like we can help you find organic restaurants no matter where you might be, we can also help you understand food labels. In order to stock your pantry and fridge with the healthiest foods possible, it’s vital that you’re able to decipher food labels so you can make the appropriate food choices.

If you’re committed to eating organic, you need to understand how the term “organic” can and can’t be used on products. For starters, you should know that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t oversee how organic is used on packaging. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the National Organic Program and enforces the regulations for using the word organic on food products.

For a food product to earn the USDA certified organic food label, it must satisfy stringent standards in the contexts of production and processing. Those standards cover many things, such as growing methods, soil quality, animal raising practices, weed and pest control and the inclusion of additives.

Organic farmers who sell more than $5,000 of goods per year are required to get certified by the relevant authority before they can claim their products or their ingredients are organic on their packaging. If farmers aren’t certified, they can’t make any organic claim on a package’s main display panel or use the USDA organic seal on the packaging in any location. Uncertified farmers can identify certified organic ingredients as organic on their product packaging, however. They can also share the percentage of organic ingredients used.

The USDA has three levels for identifying products as organic:

  • 100 percent organic: products bearing this label are entirely organic.
  • Organic: Goods with this label are made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients.
  • Made with organic ingredients: This label indicates that the package’s contents were made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients, with the remaining 30 percent including zero genetically modified organisms.

Deciphering the Nutrition Facts Panel

While it’s up to the USDA to ensure that the word organic has meaning when it’s on a food package, other enticing terms aren’t regulated at all. “Fresh,” “no additives” and “natural” are descriptors that may or may not have actual meaning, but you’ll have to figure it out on your own. How can you do that? Looking at the nutrition facts panel that’s also on the packaging can help.

Serving Size

The nutrition facts label includes all sorts of valuable information for people who are trying to eat healthier for any reason, such as losing weight, controlling their diabetes or lowering their bad cholesterol. When you’re trying to make sense of the nutrition facts panel, it’s wise to start with the serving size.

All the information on the nutrition facts label pertains to a single serving size, which may or may not account for an entire package’s contents. Look at the serving size and then check out the number of servings per package. If a package contains four servings and you typically consume half the package’s contents in one sitting, you are consuming twice of everything that’s listed below, including dietary fiber, sugar, sodium and fat.


Even though a lot of people focus on carbs or fat when they’re examining a nutrition facts label, calories are still an important consideration. The number of calories a serving contains is particularly important for anyone who is trying to lose weight.

Percent Daily Values

When you’re trying to figure out if a given food will fit into your daily meal plan, you should pay close attention to the percent daily values. These values represent the percent of what an ideal consumption allotment of the related nutrient is by consuming one serving of the product based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. For example, if the product has five percent DV of sugar, one serving of the item will take up five percent of the sugar a person adhering to the 2,000 calorie per day guideline should consume.

In general, a food is low in something if the related percent daily value is five percent or less. A low percent DV is good in the contexts of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and cholesterol.

On the flip side, a product has a high level of a nutrient if its related percent daily value is 20 percent or higher. It’s great when foods have high percent daily values for vitamins, fiber and minerals.


The federal government mandates that manufacturers list all the ingredients a product contains by weight even if the product is a jam that only has a handful of ingredients. Because ingredients are listed by weight, it stands to reason that the main ingredients are listed first followed by lesser ones. This information is essential for anyone who has food allergies. It’s also important for shoppers who want to get the most bang for their buck because it makes it easy to spot products that are made with fillers rather than the “real deal.”

What “Light,” “Reduced” and “Free” Mean on a Food Label

As we mentioned earlier, some terms on food packaging aren’t regulated. That’s not the case with all descriptors, however. If a package describes the food within as “free” of something, the food can only include very small amounts of the related ingredient. Fat-free products can only have 0.5 mg of fat or trans fat, for example.

If a label describes a product as reduced, the item has to have at least 25 percent less of the relevant ingredient compared to the regular version of the same product. Similarly, a light food must have one-third fewer calories or 50 percent less fat than the regular version of the item.

Do you want more tips that can help you make sense of food labels? If so, contact Organic Restaurants today.

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