Popular Food Claims Decoded

Popular Food Claims Decoded


This apple is organic. These coffee creamers are natural.  Those artisan breads are made with whole grains.

Raise your hand if you ever get confused when looking a food package. 🙌  There are so many nutrient and food claims out there:

  • Natural
  • Unprocessed
  • Free range
  • Made with whole grains
  • Reduced Sodium

What do they all mean? Sure, you can guess, but wouldn’t it be nice to know without a doubt what these claims mean?

I’ve picked out a few popular ones to clarify.

One word of caution: I always encourage people to familiarize themselves with how to read a food label. That way, they can make sure the whatever the food product is claiming is true, because, as you will see, they aren’t always regulated.




The term “organic” is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture and they do have an official organic symbol they apply to products that meet their standards. Organic is organic, right? Not really. It is a game of words.

The USDA symbol can be used only under specific circumstances. NON-growth hormone and antibiotic treated animals that produce organic meat and dairy products can be considered organic. Plants that ARE NOT bioengineered, or grown with traditional pesticides and fertilizers will qualify. Organic plant products that ARE NOT treated with ionizing radiation or utilize any synthetic ingredients can display the USDA’s organic symbol.


There are 3 terms that apply to organic products:

  • 100% Organic– every single ingredient in these products are organic
  • Organic– 95% of ingredients in these products are organic
  • Made with Organic Ingredients– 70% of ingredients in these products are organic (the USDA organic symbol cannot legally be put on these products)


The term “natural” is a buzz word, for sure! Everyone wants to buy natural products because that word makes them sound wholesome and helpful. What it actually means, may surprise you.

“Natural” mean nothing. It does not have a formal or legal definition. The FDA loosely assumes that it means free from artificial or synthetic colors and additives, but, again, that is not an official definition. Unbelievable, right?  How can it have no official meaning when it’s on put on so many product packages? It’s a marketing tactic.

Because there is no legal meaning, a company can label something as natural for any reason they please. Food companies aren’t typically trying to trick you into thinking their product is wholesome and good for you by labeling it as natural without a valid reason. I’m simply pointing out that legally they could do that, if they wanted to.

That is one reason it’s always a good idea to check the food labels and ingredient list before buying.




Both of these terms have been heavily stigmatized. Processed products are seen as bad and unhealthy. While many junk foods are processed, the official definition of the word is much broader.

The term “processed” literally mean something that has gone through a change in nature. A head of lettuce is unprocessed while a chopped or shredded bag of lettuce is considered processed. Raw nuts are unprocessed and roasted nuts are processed. Technically, a bag of washed grapes has been processed.




The term “low sodium” refers to an item that has less than 140 mg of sodium per serving. Low sodium products are great options for people wanting to watch their salt intake. (it is best that our daily salt intake not exceed 2300-2400mg)

Products with the label “reduced sodium” have at least 25% sodium than their regular counterpart.

Reduced sodium items aren’t necessarily that much better. Yes, it’s true they are less salty, but it’s still important to check how much that translates to. For instance, a company creates two products: one that normally contains ¾ of your daily intake and the reduced sodium version with ½ of your daily intake. That second product has less salt, but ½ of your daily sodium intake from one food item is a whole lot!


“Salt-free” means 0-5 mg per serving– SEE how when something says it’s “free”, it doesn’t always mean it’s completely void of that substance?

“Very low sodium” means 35 mg or less per serving.

“No salt added” means that no sodium was added during any part of the food’s processing. It still may contain salt, but only what is naturally found in the food.




Both labels don’t mean anything on their own. Any company can place either of these terms on their carton of eggs and cross their fingers you don’t know the difference.

If you find the words “free-range” in combination with the American Humane Certified symbol or the Certified Humane seal, you can infer that the eggs where laid by hens that have some sort of access to the outdoors.

Again, along with one of those two seals, the term “pasture raised” means that the hens are outside everyday year round with sufficient shelter.

I will say that there are disputes concerning what level of humane these symbols indicate when it comes to animal treatment. Just do your research and only purchase what you are comfortable with.




A “100% whole grain” product is made entirely with whole grains. It uses whole wheat flours, brown rice, whole quinoa and other foods that are considered whole grains.

When something is “made with whole grains” it contains only some whole grains. The amount is not specified; it just has to contain some amount. Even the tiniest bit would allow this claim to be made on a food label.


In general, foods that claim to be:


  • “High or an Excellent Source”– must contain at least 20% of the average daily need for that nutrient
  • “Good Source”– must contain 10-19% of the average daily need for that nutrient
  • “Added, Fortified, or Enriched”– must contain 10% or more of the daily need for that nutrient (only applies to protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins)


Well, there you are, a little insight into the world of food claims. If you want to understand more about how foods are labeled, check out he link below. Worry about the food claims later and first get familiar with how to read a food label. Here is a great guide created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that will walk you through what to look for in a food label:


Knowing how to read a food label will allow you judge certain food claims.



Check out the sources I used for more information.




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