Decoding Green Food Labels – Podcast
Nutrition Tidbits Podcast – Bonnie Taub-Dix discusses which green label term really means it.
Host: Gloria Tsang, RD
Guest: Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN
With Earth Day approaching, there’s a renewed interest in our food supply and how they impact the environment and our health. Dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of the book Read It Before You Eat It, helps us learn which label term really means it, and which one is just marketing gimmick.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Welcome to the Nutrition Tidbits podcast. This is Gloria Tsang, Editor-in-Chief for Healthcastle.com. With Earth Day approaching, there’s a renewed interest in our food supply and how they impact the environment and our health. Joining me today is dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of the book Read It Before You Eat It. She is here today to help us learn which label term really means it, and which one is just marketing gimmick. Thank you for joining me Bonnie.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: Hi Gloria!
Gloria Tsang, RD: Now there are so many terms that we are going to talk about so let’s just dig right in. Does organic produce mean that the product is good for the environment?
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: You know that really depends. Organic products are better for the environment but question is when you see the word organic on a label, is that product better for you? And the answer is that it really depends upon the product because organic is a word that is like a health halo where a lot of people assume that organic means local and sustainable and some people even believe that organic means low in calories; which of course it doesn’t have anything to do with it because organic on a candy label still means organic candy or organic cookies, it is still the product that it is.
Gloria Tsang, RD: That’s good to know. For most of our readers, the most confusing thing about organic is that when they see organic on meat products. We often see now there is humanely treated, you know, things like that are on meat products. What about organic in meat products. What does that mean to us?
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: Well, organic poultry, dairy and meat and eggs usually mean that it is produced without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. Humanely raised and slaughtered definition doesn’t tell you about the nutrition quality of the food. That really depends upon the product. And that’s the very, very important thing, probably the most important thing about organics products, is that it really is more important to look at the profile of the food. The total profile: does it contain sodium, sugar, trans fat, saturated fat. Organic shouldn’t override or supersede looking at the nutrition facts panel to see what’s really in your food.
Gloria Tsang, RD: With the local food movement, again getting back to orgnanics. Does purchasing organic food mean we are actually supporting the local economy?
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: No, in many cases it does but again, you have to check your label. We have so many organic products that come from other countries like China and that is far from local. So organic doesn’t mean local and also local doesn’t mean organic because there are many local farmers that may not use organic methods of raising their produce. So again, you want to look at organic, local and sustainable. Those labels should be on your food to give you the total picture.
Gloria Tsang, RD: That is a good point. So the next most confusing term is natural. I have seen this term on an array of products from snack bars to ice cream to cereals. So what does it mean when it says natural on the front of the package?
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: I can answer that quickly. It doesn’t mean anything. All that it means is that you are probably going to see a lovely earth tone package maybe with flowers on it or a farm in the background. It is the most popular nutrition labeling term across the globe. And people definitely think that when they see natural that they are getting a healthier product but it doesn’t mean anything. It could have just as much sugar, salt, fat and white flour stripped of nutrients and any other counterpart that doesn’t say natural. So it’s not really regulated by the government.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Now that next term is GMO. For example, I see on the package on some soy milk that I am drinking, I can see it was made from non-GMO soy beans. I don’t see a lot of consistent terms about GMO. Do you know anything about the regulations of labeling GMO products?
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: It’s not as carefully regulated at this point. And just so that people know what it means, GMO means genetically modified plants grown from seeds that were engineered in labs like soy beans or corn or cotton crops, that have been genetically modified. The reason why it’s modified is to resist pesticides or insects. But it’s really a subject that is kind of up in the air now. It’s not as regulated and there are lots of buzz in the news about how regulated it should be. I think we are going to be hearing more and more about it.
Gloria Tsang, RD: That’s good to know. Now for tea and coffee, other terms that we see often now is fair trade and organic. Should we bother buying those products?
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: Well, again, organic it depends on what you are looking for in terms of the foods that you have in your home. In terms of fair trade, that is something that is important to look for. I think, that again, goes with humane treatments of animals and it depends on what your philosophy is, what you are looking for. It really is very personal and become something that you have to believe in for yourself and for your family. So there are many things to look for in the label of coffee; like bird friendly, there is fair trade, organic. With all of these terms, you may want to take the time and look into them. They are all by the way, all of these terms, are defined in my book.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Good information Bonnie. Can you tell us more about your book then?
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: Yes. My book Read It Before You Eat It really is meant to be like a GPS of the supermarket. It tells you every word on that label and what it means. But also, the second half of my book is literally an aisle by aisle tour of the supermarket, to teach you how to choose the healthiest food because I don’t believe that shopping the perimeter is a healthy way to shop for your families because there are so many things in the middle aisles that are healthy. In the 250 pages of the pages, not even 1 brand name is mentioned so I wanted to write a book that people could use in a friendly fashion to shop in any store, anywhere in the country and also at any price point.
Gloria Tsang, RD: Great information. Check out Bonnie’s website betterthandieting.net. Thank you for joining me Bonnie.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN: Thank you Gloria, I really appreciated.
Gloria Tsang, RD: We have been talking to Bonnie Taub-Dix. Author of the book Read It Before You Eat It. For more information about this show go to HealhCalte.com.
Alumni: University of British Columbia – Gloria Tsang is the author of 6 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.