Grocery shopping for healthy foods can be overwhelming. I find that the products are covered with so many labels, sometimes I grab anything with a label that seems healthy, like “natural” or “made with organic ingredients”.
But the truth is, choosing healthy food deserves more than a quick glance. By reading through the food labels you can find a wealth of knowledge:
- Where your food came from.
- How the animal was treated.
- What the animal was fed.
- If the product claims are certified by a third party.
I’ve defined some of the most common labels found on natural and organic foods below.
- Cage-Free: Hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses but may not have access to the outdoors.
- Free-Range: Essentially the same as “cage-free”, hens are uncaged and more likely to have access to the outdoors.
- Vegetarian Fed: The bird’s feed does not contain animal by-products.
- Certified Organic: The birds lived uncaged inside barns or warehouses and are required to have access to the outdoors. The land they have access to has to meet national organic growing standards (no synthetic pesticides or GMO’s, for example). The animal feed is organic and the animals are not given any hormones or antibiotics.
- Milk From Cows Not Treated With rBST: rBST is a growth hormone given to cows to increase their milk production. Consider this in relation to all dairy products, including yogurt, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese and ice cream.
- Certified Organic: The animals are required to have access to the outdoors and are raised on land that meets national organic growing standards (no synthetic pesticides or GMO’s, for example). The animal feed is organic and the animals are not given any hormones or antibiotics.
MeatGrass Fed: Grass and forage is consumed for the lifetime of the animal, with the exception of milk used prior to weaning.Grain Fed:
Multiple types of grain are acceptable under this label including barley, canola, corn, and flaxseed. For more, see the complete list of acceptable grains.Vegetarian Fed: The animal’s feed does not contain animal by-products.Hormone Free or No Hormones Added: Chicken and pig producers are not allowed to use hormones but beef producers can so this label is more important to look for on beef products.Cage-Free: Most birds raised for meat are not kept in cages.Free-range: Indicates the bird had access to the outdoors.Certified Organic: The animals are required to have access to the outdoors and are raised on land that meets national organic growing standards (no synthetic pesticides or GMO’s, for example). The animal feed is organic and the animals are not given any hormones or antibiotics.Photo by ralph and jenny
ProduceLocally Grown: Grown and transported
less than 400 miles or the product was grown within the state.Certified Organic: Grown without the use of pesticides. Weeds and insects are controlled naturally.
One more thing to consider. Try not to get sucked in by the term, “natural”. It’s unregulated by the USDA and can be deceiving. I’ve purchased cheese labeled “natural” from a company that admits to using milk from cows treated with rBST. That doesn’t count as “natural” in my book.
To help you decide what labels to look for, determine your family’s priorities and find products that fit those needs. Your family might find that vegetarian fed animals are the most important to your family values or that you’ll only purchase locally grown products.Photo by i love butter
I also read the ingredient list. I want to know exactly what I’m feeding my family and labels aren’t going to give me all the information I need. With a quick glance, I can look for genetically modified ingredients, preservatives and other additives that we try to avoid.
Honestly, the best way to know exactly what is in the food your family is eating is to grow your own. Spring officially sprung this week and it’s almost time to start planting. There are some great tips on Simple Organic this month from planting heirloom seeds to growing strawberries.
What food labels confuse you? Do you find products labeled ‘natural’ that are anything but natural? What is important to you when choosing food for your family?
This post is linked up with healthychild.org.