Don’t be fooled by food labels

How do you know what you are buying is best for your health and the environment?

Organic, ‘free from’, freedom food, low sodium, low salt, fat free, sugar free, free range, good for you, best choice, premium range, chosen by you, Fairtrade.

There are so many labels…how to choose the best products for your family?

There are a few key labels which are important to understand to help you maintain focus on the mission in hand: buying supplies which are fresh, healthy and above all, tasty.

First up: organic.

Now, everything which is a vegetable, fruit or meat cut which is labeled ‘organic’ must be so: it means all of the processes used to grow or rear the product have been without the use of artificial chemicals such as pesticides. For example, a vegetable crop might have had insects introduced as a way of natural control of pests (like ladybirds eat aphids on your roses, but on a much, much bigger scale).

However, manufactured foods are slightly different. They can label themselves ‘organic’ if 95% or more of their ingredients are organic. This is because not all farming techniques are organic yet, and the bods who set the rules recognise this.

Anything with 70% or more organic ingredients can label the product as ‘made with’ organic ingredients, but it cannot be the primary claim. For example, if some wheat cereal flakes were made with organic wheat but used up to 30% non-organic sugar or additional ingredients, the box would not be able to have ‘Organic Wheat Flakes’ as the product name. Anything with less than 70% organic ingredients can only include these on the ingredients list individually.

Don’t be fooled: Just because an animal product is ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean better treatment of the animal or healthier produce. Often animals are kept in cramped and dirty lots and are refused antibiotics and other medicine (since this would invalidate their ‘organic-ness’)

Next up: free from, free range, and fairtrade. Very, very different things.

Free from is a range, usually produced by the supermarket with a few external branded products, which excludes certain ingredients such as wheat, gluten, or dairy. This section is not necessarily a ‘health food’ section, it is more for those who have allergies or wish to cut out certain foods from their diet.

Do not be fooled: many of the substitutes used in these products cause them to be high in sugar – even those healthy-looking cereal bars!

Free range is where animal products, such as eggs or meat, have been produced from animals which are allowed to roam and are not kept in cages.

Don’t be fooled: Just because an animal is not kept in a cage or restricted in a barn enclosure does not mean they are treated any better. Chickens are still often kept in filthy lots, have their beaks cut and their living conditions can be much less sanitary.

Fairtrade is slightly trickier. Fairtrade products help farmers in more deprived countries by ensuring they are never paid lower than market price for their produce and have decent working conditions. These schemes also promote organic farming, sustainability and community projects in the country of origin, helping to further enhance farming projects and opportunities in developing countries.

Fairtrade must pass rigorous regulations to be marked so. For more information on Fairtrade, take a look at the Fairtrade Foundation

Don’t be fooled: While guaranteeing a minimum price is certainly an improvement there are still many issues with Fairtrade. For example, certification is only granted to cooperative farms – not small farms and not some African farms where the land is owned by one large family.

There are a few more things you could do to make sure what you’re buying is best.

A good tip is to try to buy seasonally and locally. So, for a start, you might want to check out the local farmers market instead of the supermarket – you can be sure the produce is local, which means there are fewer carbon miles attached to it. It’ll also be fresher than something airfreighted across.

Buying vegetables and fruit in season is always a good bet, because they will be at their very best. They will taste fantastic, and seasonal produce is often cheaper too, because there will be an abundance of it.

Have you ever noticed how strawberries are often far cheaper around Wimbledon than at Christmas? It’s the same reason: they’re seasonal.

Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to take loads longer than shoving a ready meal in the oven – if you don’t believe us, check out some of our chef Patrick’s videos. You also control what goes in it – your locally sourced organic vegetables and less salt, for example, than that ready meal with shipped veg and half your daily recommended allowance of salt.

And of course, Hello Fresh delivers responsibly sourced, local, fresh and seasonal produce in just the right amounts, direct to your door. So you know you’re getting just the right stuff from the best possible sources.

Take a look at this week’s 30-minute recipes or why not give next week’s box a try?

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