The labeling of food is often one of the most confusing parts of maintaining a healthy diet. Everywhere we look there are words like, "Organic," "Non-GMO," "Local," "Fair Trade, "Sustainable," "Gluten-Free," and the list goes on. What do these words mean?

It would seem that most people have the term "organic" down as "something that's grown without the use of chemicals, such as fertilizer or pesticides." What we usually don't talk about is how organic foods are usually also grown using crops that mimic the way nature intended plants to grow. This kind of crop provides sustainability in the environment.

"Non-GMO" is becoming a more commonplace term. GMO stands for genetically modified organism and about 93% of people say that they want GMO foods to be labeled, mostly so that they can avoid them. These foods are bioengineered to be great for factory farming: strong, disease-resistant, fast-growing, and large in size. Notice that they weren't designed with our health in mind.

Eating local food is a growing movement. Often people who eat locally (within their state or less than 150-400 miles away) refer to themselves as "locavores." This is great for the environment because a large amount of waste is produced transporting goods to and from grocery stores and restaurants. It's said that the average foodstuff travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate. It's also great for your health. Foods that are found locally are often picked that day, whereas foods in the grocery are picked when they are unripe then shipped across the country or even around the world. The longer it takes for a plant to go from garden to plate, the more nutrients are lost (up to 50%, in some cases). It's also important to support your local farmers, as there are now less than 1 million in the U.S. who rely on farming for their wages.

Fair trade is a word you might find on things like coffee or chocolate, even bananas. These crops are largely exported from other countries, particularly from South America. Fair trade is commonly thought of as just that: Fair trade, meaning that farmers get a fair price for their harvest. The fair trade label, however, has a lot more qualifications. Small farmers must partake in democratically organized cooperatives. They must provide safe working conditions for their employees, they must give public access to all of their business planning and spending, and they have to provide what's called a "living wage" for their workers. A living wage is the equivalent of minimum wage here; an amount of money that someone can at least live off of. Fair trade farmers are also required to be non-discriminatory and cannot support child labor. The farmer must invest in the development of the community, which can be by providing health care for the workers or promoting education. On top of all of this, the farm must be sustainable, which we'll cover next.

Sustainability is a method of growing crops that works in harmony with the environment. It is meant to preserve nature and the ecosystem and work with it to grow bountiful harvests. Sustainable farmers do not use GMO seeds and limit their use of agrochemicals, although they are not required to remove them 100%. There are many great resources out there to learn about how to eliminate weeds, grow a number of plants, and have effective pest control without using chemicals. Some of these techniques include mulching, soil fertility, and composting.

So there you have it, the definitions and qualifications for labeling certain food products (and even non-food products, like moisturizer!) Feel free to leave a comment below with any revelations you had, information you'd like to contribute, or other terminology that you'd like to have covered.

Author's Bio: 

Shannon Lagasse, The Young and Fresh Health Coach, teaches women who are struggling to lose weight how to drop the pounds easily and enjoyably by empowering them to find freedom from restrictive dieting, deprivation, rigorous exercise regimes, and beliefs about food that are holding them back from having their ideal body. To schedule your F.R.E.E. Breakthrough to BodyLove Session and to receive her inspirational weekly health & wellness articles on natural ways to get the body and life you want, visit