There are many myths and misconceptions about nutrition and food labels. For example, are foods labeled ‘organic’ better for you? If a food is described as “all natural,” does that mean it’s healthier? As a care manager, I help some of my clients with their meal planning and have found that it’s easy for seniors — and consumers in general — to be led astray by clever marketing and fancy packaging. Here are some questions and answers about food labels and nutritional claims:

Q: Does “Natural” or “All-Natural” on the label mean a food is healthier?
A: There is no legal definition for the word “natural” on a food label, and “natural” foods can contain preservatives, additives, and high levels of saturated fat. It’s best to ignore the front label and instead look at the ingredients and nutritional facts on the packaging to determine whether the food is a healthier choice.

Q: Are organic foods, which are usually more expensive, always healthier?
A: While use of the “organic” food label is regulated by the National Organic Program administered through the USDA, some studies show that organic foods are not always 100% free of pesticides. In addition, some fruits and vegetables such as avocados, bananas, pineapple and cantaloupe have thick skins that shield the edible parts from pesticides, so buying organic may be a needless expense. A great way to save on organic food is to buy it locally if you have a farmer’s market or other type of local option.

Q: Are low-fat and fat-free products a healthier choice?
A: Many low-fat and fat-free foods contain added sugar, sodium, and chemical fillers. Again, it’s important to read the nutritional label. Check the serving size, the number of calories per serving, the calories from fat and the types of fat, sugar, and sodium. Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from the highest to the lowest amount, so the first three ingredients make up the largest part. Try to avoid buying foods with long lists of ingredients and chemicals that you never add to food in your own kitchen.

Another tip that nutritionists share with our clients is that you should shop around the outside of the grocery store for most of your food selections. That is where you find the fresh produce, fresh meats, and fresh bakery items. This avoids many of the processed food options found in the middle aisles of the store. Also, try to avoid going to the grocery store on an empty stomach.

One of food author Michael Pollan’s seven rules for eating is “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” and what he means by “eat food,” is food that does not have a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients that “your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

If you or someone in your family are facing aging challenges, please give us a call at (920) 740-8441 or email us at sue@coylecaremanagement.com. We’ll be happy to assist!