Reading the label: live or bio


Advertisements talk about the incredible health benefits of products labeled «live» or «bio» on product labels. But is it really so?

«Alive» and «Bio»

On food, these labels actually carry little meaning. Such yogurts certainly seem like healthier food to us, but there are no legal definitions that control the use of these expressions on food labels. The fact is that in the production of yogurt, “live” bacteria of two types are added to milk: thermophilic streptococcus and Bulgarian lactobacillus, under the influence of which milk thickens to a soft curd mass. Subsequently, however, yoghurts are usually pasteurized, which destroys most of these bacteria, and yet, despite this, yoghurts may continue to be called «live» or «bio». In other words, in practice, this prefix means very little.

The prefix «bio-» is often used on another type of yoghurt product that has additional bacteria added after pasteurization. These «probiotic» bacteria (usually referred to as «beneficial» in advertisements) include Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus acidophilus, which are not digested in the small intestine. They pass into the large intestine, where they can grow and multiply. These bacteria are believed to help reduce the risk of disorders such as congestion associated with spastic colitis and help boost the immune system.

«May contain trace amounts of nuts»

For people with nut allergies, it is very important to avoid foods that contain nuts, nut oils, and any trace amount of nuts. For people who have a severe allergic reaction to nuts, even the smallest amount of food containing or coming into contact with nuts can be life-threatening.

For this reason, some manufacturers now write «May contain trace amounts of nuts» on their food or beverage labels. Consumers should be aware that even if a food product, such as jelly or popsicles on a stick, may not contain nuts at first glance, the possibility of the presence of traces of nuts in it cannot be completely excluded, and if this is critical for them , then they should not buy such a product. Often these labels are applied to foods that are produced on the same production line, or even just in the same factory that produces products containing nuts. Or a food manufacturer may add a «May contain trace amounts of nuts» label when they are unable to guarantee that nuts are not present in any of the ingredients.

If you, or the person you are buying food for, has a nut allergy, then you should take the possibility of nuts and their derivatives very seriously, and if in doubt, don’t risk it.

Frequently asked Questions

bio products

Question: I recently bought a product that had «Nature’s Better» on the label. What does this inscription mean? “Better” than what is this product “from nature”?

Answer: If you see something like «Nature’s Best», «As Natural» or similar on a food label, take a step back. They don’t really make any sense.

Question: What can you say about products that are classified as «best value for money» or «economical»? How comparable is their quality to the quality of more expensive products?

Answer: This marking has no official meaning, and usually such inscriptions talk about the price of the product, and not about its properties. You can understand what these inscriptions really mean only when you carefully compare the composition of products belonging to different price categories.

Brief conclusions

  • In order for you to be smarter about your food choices, you need to understand what expressions such as “homemade”, “house in the countryside”, “fresh” and “authentic” really mean.
  • In order to select the highest quality products for your table, you should not look at the descriptions, but study the list of ingredients, thinking about how they were made and in what proportions they are included in the product.
  • It is better to stay away from emotionally charged expressions and images on product labels. They don’t always give us correct information.
  • If you are avoiding certain components for medical reasons, then it is better to be very careful and, in case of doubt, play it safe and refuse to buy. Health is better not to risk.

Source: Adapted from How to Read Labels by Amanda Ursell

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