4 Food Phrases That Don’t Mean Anything Anymore

What your food package says and what it means to your health aren’t always related.

With the growing awareness of how our eating habits impact our health, more people than ever are trying to improve their nutrition. While it is great to see health becoming more of a priority, it can be a challenge to separate fact from fiction, especially at the grocery store.

What we were told thirty years ago about nutrition has since been proven wrong as the science has progressed. But the myths your mom told you in grade school have a lot of sticking power, and they continue to confound efforts at eating for better health. The following phrases were once believed to be meaningful, factual, and trustworthy. Now, not so much. This is your official cue to stop applying them to your diet and life.

Do any of these terms really mean anything any more?


When discussing food, the term natural is absolutely worthless. The FDA “has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives.” The gray area when it comes to what is “natural” in our food is so massive that even the FDA doesn’t know how to handle it.

Natural was once an unnecessary description of food. Food was just food – whole, earth-grown food. Now, natural is simply a marketing tool that companies use to make their products appear healthier. In reality, food is straying further away from its natural state day by day. According to the Center for Food Safety, up to 92% of U.S. corn and 94% of U.S. soy is genetically modified, and up to 75% of all processed food products in the U.S. contain GMO ingredients.

But the marketing works. Consumers have demonstrated their preference for products that claim to be natural, which isn’t always a bad thing. But natural is not always a good thing either. Palm oil is “natural.” High-fructose corn syrup is “natural.” Carrageenan is “natural.”

But none of these things are going to benefit you.

I’m definitely not saying to avoid any food that claims to be natural. Some foods are actually responsibly grown, packaged and sold with ethics. My advice is to look deeper than what the packaging says. Read labels carefully. Research ingredients. Do everything in your power to make an informed decision, because you know the major food companies are banking on you not doing that.

“A Calorie Is a Calorie”

In the empirical sense, a calorie will always be a calorie. But that isn’t what people mean when they say this. What’s a calorie anyway? It’s a measurement of energy. There are two types; large and small.

  • Small (cal): The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1g of water through 1°C (usually defined as 4.1868 joules).
  • Large (Cal, Kilocalorie or kcal): The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1kg of water through 1°C, equal to one thousand small calories. This is the value used most often to measure the energy contained in foods.

When people say a calorie is a calorie, they are inferring that quality of food means nothing and that quantity, or lack thereof, means everything. This outlook places emphasis on math, instead of lifestyle, allergies, sensitivities, ingredients, body composition, and a host of other factors. The plethora of widely different diet plans out there, each of which has worked for somebody at some point in time, illustrates that we all react to nutrients and caloric intake differently.

So while a (kilo)calorie may be a calorie in the scientific sense, real-world outcomes demonstrate that people are built differently, inside and out. A calorie affects every single person on the planet differently from the next. The important thing is to find a method that works for you, and then don’t worry about other people and what they eat.

“No Sugar”

First, people thought “no sugar” on their food label meant there was no sugar in the product. That phase didn’t last long. Now packages are careful to say “no added sugar,” which means exactly what it sounds like – there was no sugar added to the product.

Thank you, food manufacturers, for not adding sugar to my mixed nuts. Not sure how I’d survive without your noble deed of not adding sugar to items that don’t need it. All sarcasm aside, it’s great that companies are leaving white sugar out of their products now. But what sucks is that sugar is often replaced with a different kind of sweetener that may be even worse for us.

Brown rice syrup, agave nectar, molasses, stevia, aspartame, and sucralose are all very common added sweeteners. But because they aren’t plain old white table sugar, companies can dump them into products and still claim “no added sugar.” Some are better options than others, but none of them make me say, “I really want to eat this today!” After all, there are 21 million diagnosed diabetics in the U.S. as of the latest CDC report. None of those sweet alternatives are making that number lower.

Again, it’s all about finding what works for you. Don’t be scared of sugar, the nutrient, in moderation. Sugars occur naturally in plenty of healthy foods. Just pay close attention to sugar, as an ingredient, and be conscious of your intake whether it’s real sugar or an alternative sweetener.

“Weight Loss”

You’ve probably seen the ads:

  • #1 Weight Loss Product on the market!
  • The Most Effective Weight Loss Training System!
  • Scientifically proven weight loss diet!

All of that is propaganda, which is a huge reason why the term weight loss holds no… weight. In the words of my good pal Gary Reinl, “If you want to lose weight, just cut off your head. You’ll lose 11 pounds.” It’s a joke, but only sort of. It’s fat loss we’re after, not weight loss. We want to preserve and/or build muscle while losing fat.

With the technology we have today to track body composition, there should be no need to use the term weight loss. Throw away the bathroom scale. Weight loss was never about weight anyway. Find yourself a reliable and accurate way to track body composition and use that to propel you towards your fat loss goals.

Understand the Words, Understand Your Health

If you’ve made the decision to try and improve your body composition, diet, and life, one of your first steps is to understand the landscape. Don’t have your progress stalled by a bunch of terms that have been coopted by giant corporations whose only interest is the interior of your wallet. Do your homework to understand what the marketing jargon and industry speak really means, and you’ll find the road to improved health that much easier.

What about organic food?

Does Organic Really Matter? How to Rank Nutritional Priorities

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