Food Labels:
What's It All Mean?

Understanding Claims on Food Labels...Don't Be Misled

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Aaahhh..."Free Range" chicken...

...conjures up images of happy chickens frolicking around the ranch, soaking up the sun and leisurely sipping Mai Tais at the pool, doesn't it?

It sounds like "free range" chickens should be healthier and more nutritious than those chickens trapped in a cramped pen all day, doesn't it?

Unfortunately that's not the case.

In truth the only thing "free range" (or "free roaming") means is that the animal is allowed access to the outside for an undetermined amount of time every day. That is, there must be a door, and it must be opened for some period during the day.


...that happy, healthy chicken you imagined roaming the range may have actually been trapped in a pen all day, given access to a door for 5 minutes (maybe never even taking the opportunity to use the door) and may have even been routinely provided antibiotics and feed with pesticide residue.

Not exactly worth the higher price tag you pay for the food label claim "free range," now is it? And forget the chicken's mental well-being; where's that health benefit you expected?

If you're trying to eat healthy, it's important to understand and identify both meaningful and unsubstantiated terminology on food labels.

Common food labeling claims that are meaningless
(and not worth the extra $$$)

  • Cage Free
  • Natural
  • Made Without Antibiotics

When labels claim "Cage Free"

This is completely meaningless. Cage free has no legal meaning. Don't waste your money.

When labels claim "Natural" or "All-Natural"

These terms have no standard definition except when appled to meat and poultry.

(So your favorite "all-natural" cookies or crackers for example, can really be the same processed chemically-altered products as their non-natural counterparts...not a stitch more nutritious.)

The USDA definition of "natural" meat and poultry means:

  • No artificial flavoring.
  • No artificial colors.
  • No chemical preservatives.
  • No synthetic ingredients.

However...the USDA does not verify whether the meat or poultry meets the standard. They trust the labeler to be honest. (Do you?) Also...

"Natural" does NOT mean pesticide, hormone or antibiotic free!

When labels claim "Made or Raised without Antibiotics," "No Antibiotics," or "Raised Without Hormones"

These statements are clear and mean exactly what they say, but are not regulated or verified by any agency. You have to hope that your supermarket is enforcing the claim.

The following food labeling claims are legitimate and ones you should look for:

  • "100% Organic"
  • "Organic"
  • "Made with Organic Ingredients"
  • "Free Farmed" poultry, beef and pork
  • "Food Alliance" beef and pork
  • "Pasture-fed" or "Grass-fed" beef, lamb, and eggs
  • rBGH free

When labels claim "100% Organic"

  • No synthetic ingredients are allowed (no synthetic pesticides, petroleum or sewage-sludge based fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation).
  • Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products must come from animals fed 100% organic feed and no antibiotics or growth hormones.
  • Guarantees no genetically modified foods.
  • The 100% organic claim is verified by an independent accredited inspector.
  • Cannot contain added sulfites.

When labels claim "Organic"

  • At least 95% of the ingredients are organically produced (as above).
  • Cannot contain added sulfites.

When labels claim "Made With Organic Ingredients"

  • At least 70% of the ingredients are organic.

When labels claim "Free Farmed" (poultry, beef and pork) OR "Food Alliance" (beef and pork)

  • Certified by the American Humane Association or the Food Alliance to ensure only therapeutic use of antibiotics. No antibiotics administered willy-nilly to encourage growth or prevent (not treat) infection.
  • No hormone use.
  • Does not ensure organic feed given to animals.

When labels claim "Pasture-fed" or "Grass-fed" (beef, lamb, and eggs)

Animals are given ample room to graze. As a result of not being overcrowded, infection rates are low and preventive antibiotic therapy is not necessary.

Grass fed meat is more nutritious too! Cows are supposed to eat grass (not grain)! The resulting meat has 4x the healthy omega 3 fatty acid content as grain fed counterparts.

Eat Food...Not Chemicals!

Looking for other ways
to lighten your toxic load?

Avoid mercury in fish
Consider organics when possible
Use this organic produce priority list
Improve Omega 3/Omega 6 ratio
Steer clear of food additives
Limit processed foods
Drink clean water
Know where toxins hide
Don't let label claims mislead you
Top 10 detox foods
Be scared of Frankenfoods!

Pasture fed hens also produce eggs with more omega 3 fats and more vitamin E than factory farmed eggs.

When dairy food labels claim "rBGH free" (recombinant bovine growth hormone)

  • Guarantees no hormone administered to the milk cow.

Detoxing your diet involves reducing not only hormones, pesticides and other harmful chemicals, but reducing your consumption of excess fat and trans fat as well.

When food labels claim "Fat Free" or "Trans Fat Free":

According to food labeling laws, this means one standardized serving (which might be smaller than your chosen portion) of the food must contain less than 0.5 grams total fat (or trans fat if "trans fat free").

But that also means one serving of the food can contain up to 0.5 grams total fat (or trans fat).

The danger in that: If your portion is equivalent to 2 servings (more on standard serving sizes) of a particular "trans fat free" food, you have potentially eaten 1.0 gram of trans fat all the while you thought you were eating none at all!

More on reading food labels.

Now use what you've learned to shop (and eat) better!

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