ID-100203595Knowing how to navigate through the labeling of food is one of the most important tools of eating well. Food manufacturers, grocery stores and farmer’s markets have a language almost all their own when it comes to describing food origins or ingredients. While some terms are meaningless marketing ploys designed to give the consumers the impression that a good is ‘healthy”, others are actually important keys to understanding how a food it sourced.

These food industry “buzz words” do not indicate how healthy a food item is but simply indicates what the food contains. The only way to determine how healthy a food really is to read the ingredient list and the nutrition panel. (Remember that the front label of any food is just MARKETING! These are not authoritative guidelines for nutrition!)


Local foods are grown or raised within a small geographic radius- typically within 50-100 miles of where you are purchasing. Local foods have more flavor and are more nutritious because these foods can be picked at peak of ripeness and made available to you with short turn around time. Once picked, produce starts to lose their nutrients. Produce shipped from the other side of the country is picked prior to peak of ripeness and travels hundreds or even thousands of miles to stores, which alters flavors and nutrients.


Plant-based foods labeled organic, such as fruit and vegetables, are grown without use of pesticides or herbicides. Animal-based foods labeled organic, such as dairy or meat, are raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics.Look for the USDA organic seal on meat and other food packages to ensure they are third party certified organic.

Organic packaged foods, like cookies or crackers, may be higher quality, but they are not necessarily significantly healthier just because they are labeled organic.


The word “natural” is completely meaningless on any food package as it is unregulated by any entity. A company can use the word “natural” on their packaging even if the food does not contain natural ingredients. Again, remember to ignore the front of the package and focus only one the ingredients list.


Non-GMO foods do not contain GMO’s, which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. Genetically modified crops in other countries are either banned or must be labelled to alert consumers that GMO’s are used, but the United States is only just starting to inform customers about this. The most common genetically modified crops are soy, corn, canola, and papaya. To avoid GMO’s, look for the NON-GMO project seal or the USDA organic seal. Read more by clicking here.


Plant-based foods are those that come entirely from plant sources. Vegetables, seeds, fruit, nuts, grains, and legumes are all included in this category. A plant-based diet is one in which the majority or entirety of the diet is made up of foods that are grown directly and not manufactured in any way.


Vegan foods do not contain any animal products, such as meat dairy eggs or honey. Vegan does not automatically mean healthy as vegan foods can still contain unhealthy ingredients like sugar, refined flours or preservatives.


Vegetarian foods do not contain meat or fish, but they may contain dairy, eggs, or honey. As with vegan foods, they can still contain unhealthy ingredients such as sugar, refined flours and preservatives


The term raw food is used to refer to any food item that has not been cooked over 118 degrees. The raw food is either unprocessed or minimally processed. “Raw” foods are usually desserts or snacks that are made from fruits, nuts, seeds, or sprouted seeds.