By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
"Every day is voting day at the grocery-store where you can choose
what food system you want to promote by what you buy."
- Gary Hirshberg
With all the buzzworthy words in the food industry now, it's become tough to fully understand what is real and what is not. We hear terms such as GMO, MSG, synthetic hormones, antibiotics, cage-free, free-range, and organic everywhere without fully understanding what these words mean.
Reality is, what we consume has a major effect on our lives and those of the people we love. As consumers, we have a choice and a responsibility to understand what we are putting in our bodies and know which "buzzworthy words" are worth paying attention to. Whether we decide to ignore the labels or pay close attention, it should always be our personal choice. Understanding what the terms on the labels mean is the first step.
We are simplifying the label and have identified the most important terms to be aware of (both the good and the bad!).
Here are our top 6 terms to scan for while grocery shopping:
1. GMO - GMO stands for genetically-modified-ingredients. This simply means these foods have not been grown naturally but rather been modified in a lab (as a scientific experiment) to either resist infection, increase growth rates, enlarge product, or respond better to pharmacological agents. Pharmacological agents can include pesticides and antibiotics.
2. MSG- MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. It has been used for years in order to add flavor to processed meats, soups and chinese food. It can also be found in powders and seasonings. It is typically used in order to enhance the flavor of otherwise tasteless and cheap ingredients. Though not everyone is sensitive to MSG, some have found it can increase/aggravate migraines, inflammation, and muscle pain.
3. BHA & BHT - BHA stands for butylated hydroxyanisole and BHT stands for butylated hydroxytoluene. They are synthetic ingredients used as preservatives in foods and cosmetics. They are typically found in boxed cereals, bags of chips and cookies. They have been banned in England, Japan, and most European countries.
4. Synthetic Growth Hormones- Growth hormones are typically given to cows in order to produce more milk. However, these hormones (rBGH and rBST) have been found to increase the likelihood of cows developing infections. Thus, they are given antibiotics (another food additive worth knowing about). This practice has been banned from many countries including Australia and New Zealand.
5. Natural- Natural is not the same as organic, yet it has been marketed as if it were. There is no regulation over the term "Natural" and even though no artificial colorings or additives are used, there is no real assurance over the harvesting process. However, labels identifying a product as natural suggest the ingredients have been minimally synthesized and/or processed.
6. Organic- The USDA Certified Organic seal on foods is the only way to get reassurance that we are consuming a product without pesticides, GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, or preservatives. In order for a product to receive the USDA Certified Organic Seal, it needs to be regulated and monitored by the USDA. When wanting to confirm if a fruit or vegetable is certified organic, look for the code placed on the sticker. If it starts with #9, this means it is certified organic and has not been genetically modified.
Keep these terms in mind the next time you find yourself navigating the grocery aisle. This basic knowledge is bound to help you become empowered and choose more nutrient dense products without becoming overwhelmed. To check the ingredients and nutritional value of a product in particular or simplify your search for healthier options, try downloading the apps EWG's Food Scores, Fooducate or Chemical Cuisine. Some of them let you scan the barcode while breaking down the nutritional information and label in an easy and concise way.