April 11th is Read Your Labels Day, a campaign sponsored by Citizens for Health for the purpose of “recognizing and exposing the health risks of the toxic additives found in the ingredients of everyday food products.” Here are the Top 10 Food Additives to Avoid according to Citizens for Health.
- High fructose corn syrup
- Hydrolyzed protein
- Autolyzed yeast
- Monososium glutamate
- Potassium bromate
- Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO
- BHA and BHT
- Trans fats
- Artificial colors
Reading labels is challenging and it’s hard to keep up with the latest toxic ingredient. While I still read labels, I’ve learned to rely more now on third party certification and to buy products from companies that I’ve learned to trust. Plus, I always shop at stores that only stock healthy products.
Whether you’ve evaluating food or personal care products, how do you know that the claims made on the product labels are legitimate? A company can use words like natural, organic, allergy-free, and toxin-free on a label for marketing purposes, but these words are meaningless unless they are confirmed by a third party.
A third party will put a seal on a product label that means it was certified to specific standards. A USDA Organic seal, for example, certifies that the product is organic (and GMO-free); a Non-GMO seal certifies that it is free of genetically modified organisms. But, how can you tell which seals to trust?
Consumer Reports says that a good eco-label has the following:
- Meaningful standards that are verifiable.
- Consistent standards. The seal means the same on all products.
- Transparent certifier.
- Certifier should be independent and have no ties to seal users.
- Standards should be developed with input from multiple stakeholders, including consumers.
SEALS AND CERTIFIERS TO TRUST
The USDA does not do its own certifying. It certifies agents. Eighty-two certifying agents are currently USDA-certified and authorized to certify according to the USDA organic standards. You will also see the seal of these certifying agents on your labels. Three of the most highly respected certifying agents both for food and personal care products are Oregon Tilth, CCOF, and Ecocert.
PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS
In addition to looking for personal care products that are USDA certified organic, you can check the toxicity of personal care products by consulting the SkinDeep Database of over 68,000 products. You can download the app and use it while you shop or search the database online.
OTHER IMPORTANT CERTIFICATIONS
- Fish: Consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and look for the color coded ratings when you shop. You can download a pocket guide, or an app or search their online database for fish that have low mercury content and that are fished sustainably.The Marine Stewardship Council offers certification of sustainable seafood.
- Appliances: Energy Star
The point of label information is to protect consumers. If we get canned peaches from a friend we don’t need them to be labeled, but when we buy products from people we don’t know, we need some assurances. Protect yourself with these easy steps:
- Eat foods in their most natural state.
- Shop local and organic, like the Farmer’s Market.
- Shop at stores with healthy products, like food co-ops and natural grocery stores.
- Avoid the food ingredients on Citizens for Health’s list.
- Use the SkinDeep database from the Environmentally Working Group (EWG)
- Avoid the ingredients in personal care products not recommended by EWG.
- Avoid products with fragrance.
- Look for third party certification and for certifiers that you trust.
- Make your own: Kid Friendly Cleaner. Laundry Detergent. Drain Cleaner.
- Consult the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She founded Mothering.com in 1995 and was its editor-in chief until 2012. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of two.