Lessons in Food Labeling
November 17, 2017
For many, the food label provides the most readily available connection between the farmer and consumer.
Yet, labels too often cause consumers to overthink purchases, says Jodie Shield,
a registered dietitian and president of Healthy Eating for Families Inc., a nutrition communications consulting company based in Chicago. Some labels
tout local, natural and fresh. Labeling products that contain ingredients from crops improved through the use of biotechnology, or genetically modified
organisms (GMOs), has escalated to a political debate. And most consumers misunderstand gluten-free, the latest craze, she says.
Shield, a mother of three, toured a grocery store with a group of Chicago moms. Many of their questions related to food labeling terminology.
“I think one misconception regards anything that’s labeled organic,” Shield says. “They want to know if for health reasons they should really buy organic
products. I told them there is no research saying it is more nutritious or better. It is a lifestyle preference.”
In reality, no legal definition for “local” exists. As a result, the local label becomes a matter of perspective and has little to no meaning nutritionally.
The products may offer greater freshness or taste, she says. And certainly supporting a local farmer provides its economic perks.
Meanwhile, Shield sees the gluten-free label on foods like frozen corn, which never has contained gluten.
“It’s wonderful if you medically need to have gluten-free, but a majority of people still don’t,” Shield says.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not defined “natural,” the agency allows its use associated with no artificial ingredients, no added color
and minimal processing.
FDA came out with a ruling on use of the word “fresh” to include quickly frozen fresh produce.
“Where farming is not readily available, we rely on other people to provide fresh product,” she says. “I encourage people to look at frozen products. In
many ways, they may be fresher than fresh produce. I’m glad to see the definition has changed.”
And politics and emotions escalate the GMO discussion to a complex issue. As a nutritionist, Shield buys food without regard for genetic modification,
a decision backed by research, she says.
“I’m not concerned about GMOs in my food,” Shield says. “I’m OK with it, but I do respect the fact that people want to know more about it.”
As a takeaway, Shield says to start with a commitment to cook and shop with a recipe that fits your family’s health goals and taste qualifications. Then,
look at the labels. Avoid the labeling claims on the front, and focus on the nutrition label on the back. Watch for simple ingredients and quantities
of sugar, sodium, fat or other contents that fall within your family’s food guidelines.
Shield praises home cooks and encourages their confidence.
“The commitment to cook a meal for your family is the healthiest thing you can do,” Shield says. “We nutritionists try to come in and tweak it.”
Originally published by Illinois Partners Magazine.
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