By now, you’ve probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat”. Which is why it’s important to know and understand what you are putting in your body. But, food labels can be confusing, overwhelming and straight up scary. No one wants to spend all day reading every food label in their shopping cart. So, let’s talk about which labels you need to read and why.
To be honest, I often don’t bother with reading labels except when it comes to certain foods like beef, poultry, eggs and dairy. Why is it important to read food labels on these specific categories? Because many of these products are pumped with antibiotics, steroids and hormones. These added factors in our meat, poultry and eggs have been associated with an increased risk of some cancers.
Want to know what else is scary? Food labeled organic isn’t necessarily 100% organic. In fact, a product labeled with a USDA organic seal means 95%-100% of its ingredients are organic. But, did you know that products with 70%-95% organic ingredients can also advertise as “organic ingredients” on their packaging? Even products with less than 70% organic ingredients can still advertise as “organic ingredients” on the side panel. Just because an item is labeled as organic doesn’t mean all of its ingredients are organic.
Let’s breakdown some of the most commonly seen food label claims and what each of them mean:
Antibiotic-free or raised without antibiotics means that an animal was not given any antibiotics during its lifetime.
No added hormones means that an animal was not given any growth hormones its lifetime.
Grass-fed means that an animal was fed grass instead of grains. Not only is this a more natural diet but it is also more humane for the animals. Grass-fed meat is leaner and lower in fat and calories compared to grain-fed meat. In addition, grass-fed animals are not fed animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or antibiotics.
Pasture-raised means that the animal was raised on a pasture where it was able to eat grass and plants instead of being fattened up with grain. Not only is this a more natural diet for livestock and poultry but it is also more humane. Animals are able to roam the pasture and eat freely.
Free Range means the birds were allowed access to the outside. But, be careful because this is a very vague description. In fact, “access” can mean the birds spend most of their time cramped up in indoor pens and only have “access” outside through a small door opened for short periods each day. The outdoor space only has to be 2 sq feet and doesn’t have to have any living vegetation.
Cage Free means the birds are uncaged. But, this definition means the birds can still be kept inside for their entire lifespan.
Organic food prohibits the use of hydrogenation and trans fats. Organic products must meet the following USDA guidelines.
- Abstain from the application of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge
- Prohibit the use of Genetically Modified Organisms 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
I know all of this can be overwhelming and pricey. So, let me simplify your shopping process. When you’re buying beef look for the terms grass-fed and organic. When you are buying poultry, eggs or milk look for the terms pasture raised or organic. If you want to take baby steps just start with organic options and then become more strict if you feel like it.