Understanding Food Label Buzzwords

fresh strawberries from the farmers market

We live in a really amazing time for consumer choices and information. Just the other day at my local grocery store, I spent about 15 minutes comparing a dozen different options when I was looking for salsa. And while I appreciate the amount of information on every label, all of these options can be overwhelming. We all want to make healthy choices and ethical choices but sometimes it’s hard to figure all this stuff out. I recently came across an interesting blog post that makes some suggestions on what information is helpful and what you can probably ignore.

Companies are really good at marketing their products, even on the grocery store shelf. So they use a lot of terms to make stuff seem like a superior choice. Sometimes even though the words sound good, they can be misleading, or even meaningless.

Misleading Terms:


One of the most often used misleading terms is “natural.” There is no legal or even regulatory definition of “natural,” so you will see it slapped on everything from health-focused brands to 7up and Pop-Tarts. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s healthy.


“Superfood” is another word with no accepted definition. You will see a variety of foods labeled as either superfoods, “derived from superfoods,” or including superfoods, but it’s mostly just a marketing buzzword.


“GMO” or Genetically Modified Foods are often avoided by consumers seeking healthier choices. But the truth is, a huge amount of the produce in our stores is modified in some way. The common carrot our grandparents bought and that we buy today is an example of genetic modification, the result of selective breeding for it’s orange color.

Things to Pay Attention to:

Added Sugar

Many products add sugar to make things taste better. But if you are looking to make the healthiest choices, you probably want to avoid things with high amounts of added sugar.

Serving Size

We have all been tricked by the whole serving size switcharoo before. You buy what looks to be a single serving snack and after you finish it, you see it was supposed to be 2.5 servings. What?! Sometimes companies make serving sizes oddly small so they can advertise a lower amount of calories, fat, or carbs, per serving. If you’re watching your intake of any of those things, pay attention to the serving size.

One interesting tip from the article that seems like great advice for ethics and value is to only buy as much food as you need. Food waste is a huge problem in this country in general and Daniel and I definitely see that first hand on trash day. We often find ourselves throwing away a shameful amount of meat or produce that we bought too much of or forgot to use. I think sometimes it’s better to just buy for the next few days and if you have to make another trip later in the week, so be it.



10 thoughts on “Understanding Food Label Buzzwords

  1. Joy krison

    It’s too bad food labels do not distinguish between added sugar and the sugar that occurs naturally such as in a fruit that is part of ingredients. Cooking Light makes that distinction in their nutrition info,

    1. Jaime

      Hi Joy!

      The new food labels do distinguish between added sugars and natural sugars…just not all companies have switched over to the newer label. If you look around though some products have made the switch and you will see a line that says “Added sugars” right under the sugar line. :-)

  2. Sandy Miller

    Great post. I just wish I could have read the Washington Post link in the article. They only allow so many articles to be viewed for free and then you have to pay money to read more. I have missed out on reading so many articles because of this. I refuse to pay money to read these online articles.

  3. Vince

    I find marketing terms so frustrating. There are so many emotions tied into the phrases. Words like natural often have a subconcious impact on our decisions, even when we know better.

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