Pay attention to: “Non-GMO”
farbled/Shutterstock GMO, or genetically modified organisms, refers to plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to be able to withstand disease and grow faster and potentially larger to cater to marketplace demands. “Non-GMO Project Verified label means that a product contains less than 0.9 percent GMOs,” explains Whetzel. Something to note, however, is that certified organic foods are always non-GMO, but non-GMO isn’t always organic—it just means free of genetic modification. “These foods can still be treated with pesticides, so choose foods that are both non-GMO project and 100-percent certified organic,” Whetzel suggests. “GMO foods may cause allergies or inflammation due to the altered proteins in the genetic makeup of the plant.” To be sure you’re purchasing a product that does not contain GMO ingredients, first check the label for the saying “Non-GMO Project Verified” or look for the USDA Organic seal (which automatically means no GMO ingredients). “You can also check to see if a product has corn or soy in it, as those are two of the most common GMO crops,” says Dougherty. Don’t miss this guide on how to decode the 11 trickiest terms on food labels.
Pay attention to: “No Added Sugar”
Matjaz-Preseren/Shutterstock The American Heart Association recommends fewer than six teaspoons of added sugar for women and fewer than nine teaspoons for men per day. But, as it turns out, the average American is consuming nearly 22 teaspoons daily—that’s about three times the recommended limit! “Excess amounts of added sugars in the diet can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Belly Fat for Dummies. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for the “no added sugar” label on food products. No-added-sugar products can’t be sweetened with any forms of sugar, however, it’s important to note that they can have sugar alcohols and artificial sugars that may lead to digestive distress when consumed in high amounts. It’s tough to avoid sugar completely—almost all foods have some, from sauces to condiments to bread. But all of this naturally occurring sugar comes from nutrients. “When things have added sugar, they simply bring the sugar, without any nutrients,” says Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, registered dietitian. “This excess sugar is what causes us to crave more sugar, and can ultimately lead to weight gain and disease.” Make sure you stop falling for these food packaging tricks.
Pay attention to: “Free of Antibiotics”
Marian-Weyo/Shutterstock You know how your doctor prescribes antibiotics when you’re sick with a bacterial infection? Well many farmers do the same with their animals, but not for the sole purpose of making them feel better—it’s often to keep them alive in the horrible living conditions in which they might otherwise die. The result? You dig into a plate of antibiotics-riddled chicken or steak, which builds up your resistance to antibiotics when you are truly sick and in need. However, the claim “no antibiotics added” on meat packaging means the producer has provided sufficient documentation to demonstrate that the animals were raised without antibiotics. “This is one to look for if you care about the addition of antibiotics in your food,” says Dougherty. “This, again, can be an ethical issue but, it does ensure that there is nothing added to your food that you don’t want there.”