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Understanding Frequently Used Food Labels

September 19th, 2011 Healthy Living

Food labels are meant to help you make the right choice at the grocery store, but do you really know what they mean?

"Organic" ingredients are made using methods that don't harm the earth. In order to sport this label, products must be certified as having at least 95 percent of these materials. These foods often cost more than nonorganic varieties, but the health benefits of avoiding potentially harmful pesticides or synthetic hormones can make the price worth it.

Natural foods don't have artificial anything. They're free from coloring, preservatives and synthetic flavors. These are often healthier than products with possibly harmful chemical additives, but just because it's natural doesn't mean it's all good for you. A natural product can still have high levels of sugars and fats, which add up to more calories.

These products have fewer calories than their whole counterparts. When labeled light in sodium or fat, the product often contains one-third to half of the amount the regular variety has. These lighter foods can be helpful when you're watching calories, but just because they're light doesn't mean you should eat more of them than you would a regular product.

Meat and dairy products with this label don't come from animals that have been given hormones to increase size or milk production. Some experts think artificial hormones can cause cancer, but no long-term studies have proven it. These products may be more expensive than their hormone counterparts, but if you want to be cautious, consider making the investment.