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Label Honesty

Is Your Body In Trouble?

Apr 04, 2022 Barbara Depta

Are catchy labels really relevant for your health?

If you’re trapped in food chaos, learn the truth behind label claims.

Most all delicious packed snack foods feature some combination of sugar, fat, and salt.

But what about the so-called clean, natural, organic, or good for you foods? Are they really healthy and safe to consume?

Do they need to have fat, sugar & salt to be unhealthy? You might be surprised.

At Resync, we believe understanding labels is fundamental to our health. As doctor David A. Kessler wrote in his book “Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs” there is a path out of the lifelong trap of food chaos that leads to lasting weight loss and health. At Resync, we believe it starts with understanding the labels to avoid disappointment, health complications, and wasting money.

Today we will share critical terms that seem to conveniently mislead us to believe that the food we eat is healthier than it truly is.

We believe people are not lazy. On the contrary, they are exhausted from trying and failing. Even the most educated person can be easily manipulated by the marketing that’s allowed on cosmetic and nutritional products. 

whole grain? hormone-free? high fiber? pasture-raised? made with organic ingredients? all natural? 100% natural? grass-fed

Have You Seen These Labels Before?

Take a look at these fundamental claims below. We are sure you recognize many of them, but do you know whether they are backed by sound evidence or just a marketing ploy?

  • All Natural / 100% Natural
  • Whole grain
  • High fiber
  • Hormone-free
  • Grass-fed, Grass-finished, pasture-raised
  • 100% Organic, Made with organic ingredients

The next question we would ask you is, just because a product has this label on it, does that make it healthy and right for you?

We dive into important takeaways for some of the most common labels you might see here. Then, we’ll cover what these claims do or do not mean, what to look out for in products that actually serve your health, and how to avoid the ones that just claim to.

What Does “All-Natural” Really Mean?

Although it is a good rule of thumb, the idea that "natural is healthier" falls apart on closer inspection.

First, just because it is labeled as natural does not mean it has any natural ingredients in it at all. Second, "All Natural" is not a regulated term in food.

It does not matter what is inside the box or the package. Anything can have the "All Natural" label on it.The term is, however, regulated in cosmetics, albeit barely. Since what you put on your skin can penetrate underneath and affect other layers and parts of your body, we feel it is important to address that as well.

Since there have been many legal cases about misleading advertising claims around the use of "All Natural" in the past 10 years, let's take a look at cosmetics regulation to get some perspective on what we might expect in the food regulation space. 

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“All Natural” in the Cosmetics Industry

After a number of legal cases were brought against misleading claims in the cosmetics industry, the “Natural Cosmetics Act” was passed by congress in 2020.

According to the law, “The term ‘naturally-derived ingredient’ means “(A) any substance where the starting material is of mineral, plant, microbe, or animal origin but has been chemically processed; …”

Well, don’t most things start in nature somehow before they’re processed? And to add insult to injury, there are even more loopholes created by the text of the law. Quoting the text here, permitted additional processing includes: “manual, mechanical, naturally derived solvent[s]” and “fermentation, saponification, condensation, or esterification”.

Sure, only those kinds of ingredients can be called “natural”, which is a step in the right direction. But, honestly how many ingredients don’t already fit that definition?

So, that’s how “all natural” is regulated in cosmetics. We can hope that food regulation will follow suit, and may even hope for more stringent terminology. Until then, we only have some outdated FDA regulations and a few legal cases to look to for guidance.

One such example, the lawsuit of Jones v. Conagra Foods in 2014 made it all the way up to the 9th Circuit of appeals. The outcome, though, is not good news for consumer protections.

The case was brought against the manufacturer of swiss miss, hunt’s tomato products, and pam cooking oil spray because they falsely claimed to be “all natural” and “100% natural”, despite having a number of unnatural ingredients.

The bad news?

The case was dismissed on the basis that the (false) claims presented no significant harm. That’s right, according to judicial law, it doesn’t matter if the “all natural” claim is false advertising; it’s up to you to educate yourself and make the right decisions for your health.

Welcome to the world of allowed misleading advertising. 

Is “All natural” Actually Healthy?

  • “Whole grain” and “Gluten-free” are regulated, but does that make them healthy?
  • “Fresh” is regulated (it means “raw”), but allows for waxes, pesticides, and bleach wash
  • “Keto-approved” is not regulated, but usually means low “net carbs” - what does that actually mean though? In practice, nothing. Food scientists have gamed the system to allow synthetic fibers to be included in the definition. Unfortunately, synthetic fibers don’t have the same positive effect on blood sugar, weight, and calorie intake as natural fiber does.

The takeaway here?

  • Read the label carefully!
  • Whether it's a nutrition facts label or a supplement facts label, always read it, and take a look at all of the ingredients, not just the macronutrients. 
  •  Make sure what's actually in the products fits within your all natural lifestyle.
  •  If it is a supplement, make sure it is tested by a 3rd party to verify what’s on the label is actually inside the product. 
young man reviewing and comparing product labels

“Hormone-free”, “Grass-fed”, “Grass finished”, “Pastured”, & “Pasture-raised”

Each of these terms is FDA regulated, but how much?

"Hormone-free" Is a step in the right direction. It means that the animal has never been treated with synthetic or recombinant hormones. These are conventionally used to make animals grow unnaturally fast or make them produce more milk. FYI, in the US, all pork and poultry must be hormone-free.

Similarly, "antibiotic-free" means that the animal has never had contact with antibiotics. Antibiotics have been used to fatten animals up for decades in the United States, but fortunately, it's falling out of favor.

A better term is "Grass-fed," which is leagues better than the worthless term "all-natural" but still leaves room for improvement. Grass-fed means that most of the animal's life is spent eating grass, but their feed can still include supplemental feed to make animals fatter. This is especially common in the last 6-8 months of an animal's life on the farm, which may be problematic from an ethical and a health point of view.

"Grass-finished", "pastured", and "pasture-raised", on the other hand, mean that the animal has been eating hay its entire life. This is a top-tier certification for animal welfare and health. Since "Pasture-raised" says nothing of the food they are eating, it's best to pair it with an "organic" certification for the healthiest piece of meat you can buy!

"Organic"

For a producer to receive the organic label requires significant inspections and rigorous standards. For example the facility or farm must be free of synthetic pesticides for 3+ years, among many other requirements.

This is a great certification for some aspects of health, but says nothing about the overall healthfulness of a food. It’s a great standard to hold foods to, but still falls short on some things.

Let’s look at where “organic” matters, and where it may not make that much of a difference.

Yes, organic definitely matters for avoiding synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and GMO foods (if those are important to you). However, organic-certified, naturally plant- or insect-derived pesticides and herbicides are still allowed (eg. neem oil, plant-derived pesticides like linalool from lavender). These compounds don’t have the same kind of negative impact on human health as synthetic pesticides, but can still interfere with your health!

Yes, organic matters for the antioxidant phytonutrient content of plants and animal products.

It doesn’t actually matter much for micronutrients though, after you account for the size of conventional vs. organic produce.

Yes, it matters a lot for animal products. The organic label encompasses feed, housing, and breeding practices. The animals may never have had antibiotics, and their feed can never have had pesticides, they must have had access to a range to roam freely. That’s a useful label!

Now, organic doesn’t matter for everything.

For example, eating organic sugar and organic processed foods is still eating sugar and processed foods, ie the foods that cause chronic disease. Synthetic pesticides or not, it’s still not going to serve your health if it’s a hyper-processed food.

Processed foods will wire your brain to overeat, lead to inflammation, and are linked to chronic disease, organic or not.

Also “Organic” doesn’t matter at all for seafood, which can still be farmed or fed some unusual ingredients. (For seafood quality, look for sustainability certificates here.)

Lastly, organic is a step up, but it’s costly for small farms and not a true solution to the environmental sustainability issue. Look for local, regenerative agriculture at your farmers market or local grocer to go beyond the organic label.

Takeaways:

  • You have to be the one to take responsibility for your health. The FDA isn’t going to protect you and most food companies aren’t going to prioritize your health over profits.We live in an environment that attacks your health from all sides, you have to fight back if you want a chance at health.
  • Read the nutrition label or the supplement facts label, and don’t skip all the ingredients. Don’t be played by the advertising tactics on the front of the box, always go to the back!
  • Always make sure a statement is backed by a rigorous certification. If organic is important to you, choose certified organic. The same goes for animal products, and can’t be stressed enough for all supplements - doesn't matter if they are created by a doctor or supported by a professional athlete. They need to be verified on multiple levels. 
  • Lastly, the most successful diets have one thing in common - limited processed, white, “fast carbs”.

Keep in mind that highly processed food triggers your brain to want more. They increase the speed you eat and the amount of calories you ultimately will consume. Then they take the place of other healthier foods you could be eating.

Do your best to reduce or eliminate how much processed carbs you eat. Choose high fiber, “slow carbs”. Things like non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and whole grains in their unprocessed form, such as quinoa or plain steel-cut oats, are always higher in nutrients and fiber, which are critical for gut health.

Ultimately, we want to empower you to be your own best advocate and do not fall for the marketing tactics on those processed food labels!

If you want more tips, check out the videos recorded on this topic.

If you liked this, you’ll definitely like our other articles:

Sugar vs calories
51. ways to sugar proof your home
5 critical reasons to stop eating processed foods

Want the practical details on how to eat and supplement to support your exercise recovery, heart health, beauty, and energy levels? Subscribe to our feed and never miss out!

While other companies push clickbait and fake news, what we say is backed by research. When you have the right information, you are empowered to make the right best decision possible. That’s why we break down complex science into practical takeaways you can use today.

If there's something you want to know more about, let us know by contacting us or getting in touch on social media!

Wishing you the best in your health,
The Resync Team

Disclaimer

This content is for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute the practice of any professional healthcare service, INCLUDING the giving of medical advice. No provider-patient relationship is formed. The use of this information, and the materials linked to this content is at the user's own risk. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should abide by the advice of their healthcare provider, and should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they may have.