Think Inside the Box: 3 Nutrition Terms that Cause Confusion

One of the first steps to improving your nutrition is becoming more aware of the food you eat,  including reading labels and learning more about what you’re consuming. Beyond reading the key facts like calories and daily values on label, do you know what you’re getting?

Organic farmers market

Check out the facts behind these food packaging terms to help improve your nutrition awareness:


The FDA’s National Organic Program defines what food and drink products can carry the FDA organic label. There are some important factors to think about when shopping for organic foods.

First, many studies have failed to establish a link between health benefits and eating organic produce vs traditional produce. Second, food with an organic label can still come in contact with synthetic substances while being grown, handled or shipped – including some defined herbicides, pesticides, and cleaning agents (see the full list here).

And lastly, the organic label is actually several labels and each carries a slightly different definition per NOP regulations:

  • 100% organic – contains 100% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural). Most raw, unprocessed farm products can use the 100 organic label.
  • Organic – that contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). Up to 5 percent of the ingredients may be non-organic agricultural products.
  • Made with Organic _______ – used to label products that contain at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water). The organic portions of the product must be specifically listed.

Also, an important note, when you’re shopping local farmers’ markets: Agricultural producers who sell less than $5,000 in produce annually do not need to apply for FDA certification to be able to use the term “organic.”


The FDA only has a few guidelines a product must meet to be labeled as “natural” or “all-natural.” The FDA broadly considers “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in or added to a food – including artificial colors – that “would not normally be expected in that food.

That guideline does not take into consideration how the food was produced, including the use of fertilizers and pesticides, or how the food was processed or manufactured, so be wary of any implied benefits of foods labeled “all natural.”


For those with gluten allergies or celiac disease, a “gluten free” label can make a huge difference. The FDA defines “gluten-free” as foods with gluten limits of less than 20 parts per million. That measurement also applies to label terms “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten.”

However, if you don’t suffer from gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, think twice about perceived benefits from a gluten-free diet, says OurHealth Wellness Manager Lauren Hutchens. She notes that many gluten-free pastas and breads contain more calories than their traditional counterparts, so gluten-free shouldn’t be confused with weight loss or superior nutrition. In fact, by opting for gluten-free choices, you could be denying yourself essential nutrients. “Many breads, cereals, and pastas are fortified with vitamins and minerals, so going gluten-free can eliminate this important source of nutrition,” Hutchens says.

Next time you’re shopping, keep an eye out for these food packaging terms and take a critical look at your choices. Nutrition choices aren’t always easy to make, but the better informed you are, the more aware you can be about the choices you’re making.