I have been reading labels since my daughters were born.
It seems having children can to do that kind of thing to a person. You realize you only want the best for your little one so you investigate and read everything. From choking hazards to weird chemicals and food coloring’s, a parent wants to make sure their child is protected and healthy at all times.
Reading labels allows us to accomplish this. We trust that the label on the product will list ALL the ingredients included and anything that could cause a problem/issue, right?
Yet, in truth, there are PLENTY of gray areas and on going changes that we, as consumers, need to be aware of. I won’t be able to address them all in this post, but if I will try to address some of the most common claims and help you have a better understanding of what you may be feeding your family.
Food Labels – What Do They Really Mean?
Before I go into a list of the actual Food Claims and what they mean, I want to say something first.
Over the years I have learned that here in America we have to be REALLY careful about trusting what the words on our food products say. Words like “All Natural” and “Wholesome” really have no nutritional backing at all. Companies are allowed to label their food items as such due to lack of governing and legislature. Well, not really lack of, but lack of Truthful legislature.
This video from Only Organic does an excellent job showing how easily our food can be labeled ‘healthy’, yet mean the complete opposite.
Now, with that being said. I will turn my focus to the actual Food Label claims and what they mean for you the consumer.
Food Label Claims
I’ve put together a list of the most common food labels that you see in the stores these days and their descriptions/definitions .
ANTIBIOTIC-FREE – means that animal was not given antibiotics during it’s lifetime. You may also find phrases like ‘no antibiotics’ or ‘raised without antibiotics’
CAGE FREE – means that the birds are raised without cages. What this doesn’t tell you is whether the birds were raised outdoors on pastures or just indoor in crowded conditions. If you are looking for eggs or poultry that was really raised outdoors, look for a label that says ‘pastured’ or ‘pasture-raised’
FREE RANGE – this term is only defined by the USDA. The producer can use this label as long as they give the birds access to the outdoors so they can engage in natural behaviors. It doesn’t mean that the products are antibiotic-free or cruelty free. It also doesn’t mean they spent quality time outdoors. These claims are defined by the USDA and are not verified by anyone else.
NON-GMO or GMO-FREE – GMO’s or Genetically Modified Organisms are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals. If a product is produced without GMO’s, it will be labled ‘Non-GMO’.
GRASS-FED – means that the animals were fed their natural diet of grass rather than grains. They also can not be fed animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or antibiotics. Sometimes Grass Fed will mean that the cow was raised on cow up to the point of ‘finishing’, at which time the cow was finished on grain. You can look for ‘grass-fed and grass-finished’ to be more specific.
HEALTHY – means that food must be low in saturated fats and contain limited amounts of sodium and cholesterol. In certain foods, they also must have at least 10% of nutrients like Vitamin A 0r C, iron, calcium, and fiber.
NATURAL – just like the video above portrays, the term NATURAL doesn’t mean much. There are no standards at this time in place beyond when used on meat and poultry. The Natural label really doesn’t mean much. Foods do not have to be organic, humanely raised or free of hormones, to name just a few.
Organic – All organic farms and products must meet the following guidelines which are verified and approved by the USDA independent agency -(taken from www.sustainabletable.org)
•Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage
sludge) for three years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.
•• Prohibit the use of GMOs and irradiation.
•• Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management, and crop rotation practices.
•• Provide outdoor access and pasture for livestock.
•• Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.
•• Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.
•• Avoid contamination during processing of organic products.
•• Keep records of all operations.
If a product contains the “USDA Organic” seal, it means that 95 to 100% of its ingredients are organic. Products
with 70 to 95% organic ingredients can still advertise “organic ingredients” on the front of the package and
products with less than 70% organic ingredients can identify them on the side panel. Organic foods prohibit
the use of hydrogenation and trans fats.
So What Do You Do?
As I said before, this is just a small list of the different labels found in the stores. Trying to get a good understanding of these food labels takes some time, but it can be done. Knowing what is in your food or how it was raised will help you live a healthier and happier lifestyle.
If you are just starting to learn and change what you are eating, take your time. Pick one claim or area that you want to focus on and start there. Want to wean out the ‘natural’ ingredients in your pantry? You can research the ingredients on the labels, find out what they are and if they are good for you, and than make a decision to keep or get rid of the product.
There are some wonderful sites and apps that you can download onto your phone that will help you in this endeavor.
If you have any questions or need help, please feel free to leave me a comment and I will try to help where I can.