Deciphering food labels

A simple trip to the grocery store can feel completely overwhelming these days. With so many options and varieties of foods, it can be hard to determine what’s best for our bodies and lifestyles. What are the healthiest options? Which ingredients should we be looking to add, and which ones should we be avoiding? If you’re putting your trust in food manufactures to tell you what’s “good” and what’s “bad” then you may end up worse off than you think. Companies have become increasingly more deceptive with how they label their foods, as their sole purpose is to sell more units. Here is a breakdown of the most common food labels, and what they really mean. The next time you’re in the store you’ll be fully equipped to make the best choices for you and your family.

  • Organic: Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. (Definition courtesy of USDA National Organic Program) If you’re not buying a certified organic product, you can assume the above- mentioned antibiotics, hormones, and synthetic ingredients were used.
  • Grass-fed: The animal is free to roam on pasture and eats only grass. Look for 100% grass-fed label, as some manufacturers will feed the animal grass for only a portion of its life. Grass fed products are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene and vitamin B6. Grass fed products contain less fat and less cholesterol.
  • Pasture Raised: While the term grass-fed helps us determine what the animal eats, pasture-raised tells us where the animal eats. These animals are free to roam on pasture. Pasture-raised animals receive most of their nutrition from organically managed pasture. They may receive supplemental organic grains.
  • Non-GMO: Non-genetically modified. “GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) are organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, or GE. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.”- Non-GMO Project. The most common GMO crops are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets and yellow and zucchini squash. Non-GMO Project is currently the only organization labeling non-GMO foods in the US. The US has not yet passed legislation for the labeling of GMO foods.
  • Cage-Free: Hens that lay eggs labeled “cage-free” are uncaged indoors, but usually do not have access to the outdoors. They are free to walk, nest, and spread their wings, mostly indoors.
  • All Natural: Has no clear meaning and is not regulated by any agency. Products labeled “Natural” may still contain artificial ingredients, GMO ingredients, etc.

When shopping, read all labels carefully and thoroughly. If you see an ingredient or label you aren’t familiar with, do the detective work. You may be surprised at what you find!

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