Organic? Free range? Don’t believe everything you read

Food marketing is just like car or major appliance marketing: you need to shop informed and arrive with a healthy dose of skepticism. The following is a demystifying primer on a few key words found in the grocery aisle that should help you shop informed:

I generally do not buy organic because the word can have so many meanings. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has Organic Products Regulations which requires that anyone who is going to certify a product as organic first be accredited by them. Once certified the product gets a logo. However, it is quite common to find foods with other logos certifying them as organic. You have no way of knowing how accurate their information is and what their standards are without searching the Internet first. Given the confusion, I figure if I buy from the farmer I can ask about how things are raised, I can reduce my pesticide load and I can avoid the higher prices that come with buying organic.

Free-Range, Free-Run Chicken or Eggs
These words seem pretty meaningless to farmers and the CFIA. There is no regulatory body checking these terms and they are more about the conditions the birds and the eggs are produced under rather than about any nutritional or health value. Most chickens raised in Canada have free-run of a large barn with access to water and food all day. A free range chicken may also have access to an open barn door half an hour a day. As for the eggs, a large barn with hundreds of egg-laying hens roaming freely is a recipe for disaster. Only farmers with relatively small flocks of hens can live up to that lovely image of farm children going out to gather the days fresh eggs.
Light or Lite
The proper spelling is light and to Health Canada this means a food is 25 per cent lighter in calories, fat, sodium (salt) or sugar than the original. Lite could mean lite-tasting, lite-coloured, lighter packaging or whatever.

According to the CFIA, foods labeled natural cannot have any vitamins, minerals, artificial flavours or food additives added to it. So natural is regulated and you may not see it much, what you will see is naturally raised or natures way as these are unregulated and their meaning is open to the manufacturers interpretation.

Made or Produced In Canada

Who among us was not surprised to discover recently that made or produced in Canada could be anything but! The federal government jumped on this issue right away and now Product of Canada has to mean all, or virtually all, major ingredients, processing, and labour used to make the food product are Canadian. However there still remains: Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients, Prepared in Canada and Processed in Canada. Some people may see this as meaning the same as Produced in Canada but that would be a misconception.

Spending more for foods labeled with some of these words may be foolish. Check your reactions and the labels when you see these words and make sure you are getting what you want.

Published by maisievanriel

Welcome to my website. My name is Maisie Vanriel and I am a Registered Dietitian. I am a graduate of The University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Food and Nutritional Science and a Diploma in Food Safety from the Guelph Food Technology Centre. I realized a few years ago that some of the best times I have had in my career as a Dietitian have been those times when I was writing. For many years I was part of the Editorial Advisory Board of Diabetes Dialogue Magazine (The Canadian Diabetes Association) which afforded me the opportunity to write articles and editorials on diabetes. I contributed to the first Ontario Healthy Eating Manual and recently reviewed the lesson plans in the updated version launched this March 2012. In May of 2011, I won the Toronto Star’s MoneyVille section Next Blogger’s contest beating out 265 other contestants for the chance to write on nutrition and sensible shopping. My winning Blog was entitled: 5 things your grocery store won’t tell you. Writing is one of my favourite ways of communicating and like cooking it relaxes me; so in some ways your allowing me to communicate with you will contribute to my health and I hope in return I can contribute to your health and wellbeing. The inspiration for this website is my grandmother who lived 97 years and enjoyed excellent health for almost all of those 97 years. She believed in healing power of herbs, a plant-based diet and in paying attention to the type of fuel (food) that she put in her body. So my postings will be less about the constant stream of research and studies around what and how to eat and more about reminding us that we have always known how to eat. We just need to get back in tune with our bodies and focus on providing it with the best possible fuel, quality foods.

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