What does that label on your packaged food mean?

Can “organic” chips really be natural? Terms like “best before” and “use by” seem pretty obvious, but there is more to attractive food packaging than meets the eye. I am lessening the confusion by reducing your guesswork while doing grocery shopping.

I used to consider reading food labels and ingredients a waste of time, until my education in nutrition began. I started understanding  the relationship between every ingredient that goes into making the packaged food item I held in my hands at the supermarket, the way labels are being used by various commercial lobbies to mislead the average shopper and how nutrition labels are the key to unlocking the secrets of the item’s effect on my physiognomy.

I am sharing some of my knowledge about food labels with you, and will be sharing more on the unseen deception no one seems to be talking about.

‘Made with organic’

Not to be confused with: Certified Organic


There are many requirements before a product can claim to be “certified organic” or use the seal as a stamp of approval. However, there is room for manufacturers to pass muster in the “made with organic” label. If you do reach out to buy something with this label, remember that at least 70% of the ingredients must be certified organic (barring sodium and water) and the packaging needs to specify which of those ingredients actually are certified organic.



GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. If that – or the name Monsanto — doesn’t ring a bell, suffice it to say that GMOs are lab-created. Biochemists extract the genes from the DNA of one species (of plants or animals) and force them into the genes of a totally different plant or animal (the process has naturally raised concerns among people). In non-GMO foods, the ingredients haven’t been altered from their natural state. The regulatory body for this label is a non-profit called The Non-GMO Project. ​


Not to be confused with: Health food


Don’t heave a sigh of relief just because that pack of strawberries is labelled “natural”. In the food business, the term is open to (mis)interpretation. It’s not regulated by a government body or the FDA (food and drug administration). Broadly, it’s supposed to refer to foods that are free of artificial flavouring and synthetic substances. “However, a product labelled natural isn’t necessarily healthy. If you really want to know what is inside, read the ingredients list and nutrition label,” says nutritionist Neha Chandna.

‘Use By’

The last date to use the product when it’s at optimum quality, according to the manufacturer.

‘Best Before’

Not so much a warning date as an indicator of when the food will taste best. This date is when the item tastes its best and is at the highest quality. You won’t fall sick or pass out if you consume it after this date has gone by.

‘Artificial Flavours’

This label is an indicator that the taste of what’s inside has synthetic origins, not a field or garden. Says nutritionist Dr Ishi Khosla, “Artificial flavours means the flavouring isn’t from a whole food source, such as a plant or fruit, or even meat and fish. There’s a slim chance that it contains nutrients.”

An informed shopper is a wise shopper. Equip yourself with more knowledge about food and nutrition labels and you won’t be seduced by fancy packaging in your search for health.

By Kasmin Fernandes

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