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By: Mary Alice Shreve Date: 9/17/10

Is a free-range chicken… that has been minimally processed, is found in a store specializing in the sale of whole foods, comes from a fair trade, local farming facility with sustainable practices and where the farmers partake in the slow-food movement as well as offer whole grain products that are also all-natural…considered to be organic? 

If that isn’t confusing enough for you, try walking into the grocery store and reading a few food labels! Today’s food vocabulary, though well-intentioned, often flabbergasts consumers more so than helps them. Here’s a guide to aid you in deciphering such terms and to ensure you are purchasing the most healthful products. 


·         General definition: plant and animal products grown in the absence of artificial chemicals (such as pesticides), growth hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms,  ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge

·         Different “organic” titles given by the USDA

o   “organic”= ≥95% of ingredients are organic

o   “100% organic”= contains all certified organic ingredients

o   “made with organic ingredients”= ≥70% ingredients are organic (does not receive USDA organic seal)

·         Does not necessarily mean product is local or sustainable

·         Organic health benefits are a hot debate and research has both proven and dismissed such 


·         Not the same as “organic;” no certification standards set

·         Not made from artificial ingredients, including synthetic flavors or coloring, and do not contain preservatives or additives 


·         Think farmers’ markets!

·         No exact definition but typically food grown within 100-250 miles of an individual’s home (may vary by season, location, or other such factors)

·         Concept is popular due to its support of local economy/farmers 


·         When foods are in their most natural form, with little or no processing

·         Nutrient-rich

·         Examples include fish and meats, milk, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables 


·         Prepared following Jewish Dietary Laws

Fair trade

·         Produced under terms calling for respectable working conditions and wages for laborers, sustainability, and more direct market accessibility to producers of developing nations 


·         Foods that are grown under healthy procedures without harming the environment or animals and that are produced through practices that are  fair and respectful toward workers

·         Focuses on both local and fair trade practices 


·         System of farming where animals are allowed to venture beyond a containment pen or are given a considerable amount of room in which to move around

·         Such additional space allows for the animals to feed on natural grains as opposed to being fed substances with growth hormones or chemicals

·         Some debate that “free-range” means that the animals are given the option to roam but that they do not necessarily choose to roam 


·         When vitamins and minerals that were naturally found in a food but were stripped from it during processing are later added back (such as white bread enriched with iron) 


·         When vitamins and minerals have been added that were not originally there in the first place (such as milk fortified with Vitamin D or orange juice fortified with calcium) 


·         Simply anything that has been “packaged, canned, jarred, or enclosed in a container,” according to the USDA, and may include cooking, chopping, separating, mixing, heating or any other form of manufacturing

·         In other words, while a bag of potato chips  is “processed,” so too is a bag of romaine lettuce 


·         An actual “whole grain” is any grain still containing its entire kernel (the endosperm, germ and bran)

·         Numerous health benefits including reduction of heart disease risk

·         Popcorn, brown or wild rice, and oatmeal, among others

·         Products made with whole-grain ingredients (such as whole-wheat flour)

·         Check out this IFIC fact sheet about whole-grains for more information: 

Slow food movement

·         Emphasizes growing one’s own food, cooking it without modern conveniences, then enjoying it over a long, pleasurable meal

·         Farm-to-table (fork) is the style of eating at the heart of the movement 

Do you pay particularly close attention to any of these food terms?


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