Looking to lead a stronger, healthier life?
Sign up for our Wellness Wire newsletter for all sorts of nutrition, fitness, and wellness wisdom.

Now we’re in this together.
Thanks for subscribing and having us along on your health and wellness journey.

See all Healthline's newsletters »
Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

See all posts »

Truth in Packaging: Translating Food Label Terms

Are you completely confused when it comes to reading food labels? What exactly does natural mean? What exactly is unprocessed food vs processed food?

Let's look at some terms and decifer their meanings. Thanks to the American Dietetic Association for assisting in the definitions!

Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the US Dept of Agriculture (U
SDA) have a formal definition. The FDA has a policy that says: FDA has no objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Use of the term "natural" is not permitted in a product's ingredient list, with the exception of the phrase "natural flavorings."

Processed vs Unprocessed
Processed refers to food that has undergone a change of character. For example: raw nuts are unprocessed but roasted nuts are processed. Edamame (green soybean) is unprocessed vs tofu is processed. Get this: Fresh raw spinach is unprocessed but cut, prewashed spinach is processed. My take on this is that the word processed is not a bad word: It could just mean cooked or cleaned!

A locovore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally. What is "local?" We don't really have a definition of that: is it 5 miles or 500 miles from your home?

Again, no regulatory definition. Whole foods generally mean that they have not been processed or refined and do not have added ingredients. Think fresh fruits and veggies, milk, meat, fish, etc.

Organic does have specific definitions by the USDA. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy come from animals given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic plant foods have not been grown with conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. The government sends out inspectors who certify farms as organic
100% Organic: Means that product is made completely of organic ingredients. Gets the organic seal.
Organic: Contains at least 95% organic ingredients. Gets the organic seal
Made with Organic Ingredients: Have at least 70% of the ingredients as organic. Does not get organic seal but can say "made with organic ingredients."
  • 1
Was this article helpful? Yes No

About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

Recent Blog Posts