It seems like almost every week a new word or phrase is introduced into the food and grocery lexicon.

Does natural really mean natural? What classifies something as organic? How low is low-sodium?

These types of questions are natural (no pun intended) reactions to all the terms grocery shoppers have to deal with on a daily basis. Hopefully this list will help you become a little more knowledgeable about your food choices!


Gluten free foods are foods that don’t contain a protein mix known as gluten. Gluten is primarily found in wheat and other cereal grains and products made with them. Gluten is especially important for individuals with Celiac disease. Be sure to check out last week’s blog for more information on Gluten!


Low-Carb is a subjective term. Usually it means foods that have less than 10 grams of carbohydrates. Low-carb means different things to different people though. Some people on a low-carb diet try to stay below 50 grams per day, while others may consider staying around 200 grams of carbohydrates per day a low-carb diet.


Basically antioxidants are substances that help prevent the formation of free-radicals in the body. Free radicals can have very damaging effects including increasing the likelihood of cancer.


Everyone has heard of antibiotics, which help get rid of harmful bacteria in the body.

Probiotics on the other hand are actually living bacteria that are good for us. Our gut contains a combination of bad and good bacteria and the point of eating foods that contain probiotics is to make sure that those vital bacteria that help keep us healthy are thriving.


Free range is basically a farming method where animals aren’t caged up and are allowed to wander freely in on a farm or enclosure.

Free range is regulated by the USDA for poultry only, but doesn’t have specific rules for how much time and room animals have. If you see “free-range” on a product don’t automatically assume it’s an entirely accurate description of  how the animals were treated.


Obviously a food that does not contain sugar. However, a sugar-free food usually uses artificial sweeteners in place of sugar, which can also be harmful in certain quantities.

Low sodium

If you are watching your sodium levels this ones pretty important! Low sodium refers to foods that have less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.

All natural

Unfortunately, the terms natural or all natural aren’t legally defined by the USDA. So right now these labels are more of a marketing ploy than anything.  The ideal intent of the label would be to refer to foods that don’t contain any artificial substances not originally in the food, like colorings, flavorings or hormones.


It seems like everyone has some notion of what “Organic” refers to, but what does it actually mean in terms of the food you are buying.

The USDA has a National Organic Program that list an extremely long definition for Organic including the way farmers use resources. One excerpt gives a pretty simplified version stating, “organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. “

A government inspector has to approve a product before it can be labeled as “organic”

The USDA has three main categories for labeling organic food:

100% Organic– made with 100% organic ingredients

Organic- at least 95% organic ingredients

Made with organic ingredients– product has to have a minimum 70% organic ingredients , and there are certain restrictions on the remain 30%

Hopefully these definitions will help you to be a more informed shopper on your next trip to your local Sparkle Market.