Back in the day, you might've grabbed a box of cereal, a jar of pasta sauce, or a bag of tortilla chips off the supermarket shelf and not given two thoughts about what was actually inside – other than that the grub tasted good and filled you up. But now that you're aware of how much garbage goes into many packaged foods, and ingredients and calorie and fat tallies are listed right on labels, you probably put more thought into what you toss in your shopping basket. You definitely do if you have specific food allergies or intolerances, or you just generally care where you food comes from.
To help you find products that meet your nutritional needs or ethics, a whole bevy of seals and certifications have exploded onto the scene. The intent is that you can glance at a food label, spot a stamp like USDA Organic or Certified Gluten-Free, and know instantly whether that product fits your criteria without having to pore over ingredients lists. Great idea, but these seals do you little good if you don't understand what they mean. And when a food label is plastered with three, four, five, or more stamps, it makes things cluttered and more confusing. We're here to help. Here's the lowdown on common seals gracing food packaging right now.
There's been serious back-and-forth lately about the benefits of organic food and whether it's worth the usually higher cost, thanks to a Stanford University study that claimed organic was no more nutritious than conventional food. This news made many want to write off organic as elitist and a waste of money. Organic proponents, however, have always known that an orange is an orange is an orange nutrition-wise – they choose organic because the foods have far fewer chemicals that harm human health and the environment, a fact confirmed by the Stanford study.
If those attributes are important to you, then you'll find that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's stamp makes it easy to find truly organic food. The USDA Organic seal on a sack of sweet potatoes or bag of mixed greens ensures they were grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on farms that use sustainable, nonpolluting techniques. For multi-ingredient products such as cereals, soups, and snack bars, the seal means they have 95 percent or more organic content. Products made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients can say "Made with organic ingredients" on the label, but cannot use the USDA Organic seal.