Has anyone noticed that deciphering a label on a can of soup can be more stressful than listening to a Republican debate? Words like “natural,” “free-range,” and “organic” seem to be slapped on everything from brownie mixes to brown rice. We rely on these food labels to help us make informed choices – but are these claims really telling us the truth?
I’ve come to learn that there are food companies that will do anything to make their products more appealing! Buyers beware: labels can be very deceiving!
It’s up to us, as consumers, to make sense of all these claims we see on food products, so I’ve investigated some very common words manufacturers slap onto their labels to entice you to buy.
Here’s the lowdown:
USDA requires meat, poultry and eggs can be labeled “natural” if they’ve been minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. There are, however, no standards regarding how these animals were raised. So “natural” foods are not necessarily sustainable, organic, or free of hormones and antibiotics!
CAGE-FREE / PASTURE RAISED:
OK, this should be easy: cage-free means that birds were raised without cages, right? Well, what it doesn’t say is whether these birds were raised on a pasture… or inside some overcrowded factory. If you’re looking to buy eggs, meat, or poultry actually raised “cage free” outdoors, then look for a label that reads “pastured” or “pasture-raised.” FYI pasture-raised eggs are more nutritionally dense than conventional eggs because the hens consume a natural diet.
Organic-labeled food is supposed to be produced without pesticides or chemical additives – but we already know labels can be deceptive. When purchasing organic products, look for the USDA Certified Organic Label, which means that it’s 95-99% organic. And if you want to buy products that have absolutely no harmful pesticides, look for the “100% USDA Certified Organic” label.
GMO’s are genetically modified organisms, which are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals – YUCK! If you’re concerned about GMO’s (which you should be!), look for the “Non GMO Project” label to ensure it’s free of all genetically modified ingredients. If something is labeled 100% Certified Organic, it also means that it’s free of GMO’s, too.
USDA defines “free range” as birds that have access to the outdoors so they can engage in natural behaviors. Labeling something “free range,” however, doesn’t mean they are antibiotic-free or that the fowl spent the majority of their time outdoors!
Grass-fed animals are fed grass rather then grains. Grass-fed meat is leaner and lower in fat and calories then grain-fed meat. A grass-fed label, however, doesn’t mean the animal ate grass its entire life! If you’re concerned about buying only grass-fed meat, look for the USDA “100% Grass-Fed” stamp to ensure that you are getting the safest and cleanest product.
Also be wary of the following labels manufacturers can put on their products. These stamps require no verification and there are currently no definitions or industry standards that companies have to meet in order to use these stamps on their products. They can use these following labels to attract consumers and should not be trusted!
· Cage-Free (see above)
· Cruelty Free
· Environmentally Friendly
· No Chemicals
· Vegetarian Fed.
Feel better? Me neither! These are just some of the food labels out there – there are many, many more. Some are more reliable than others, but most… are not!
The bottom line here is that, if you’re not sure about certain claims on the label of a product you’re buying… stop! Do your research. It’s worth it because remember: you’re honest about your health needs, but big corporations… are not!
Let me know if you have any label questions, I’d love to hear from you!