Beware of misleading food labels

Allison Coffey

Learn the importance of food labels

Do you know what words like: natural, organic, grass fed, free range, gluten free, cholesterol free, mean? They sound healthy and humane, but let us help you understand their meaning.

Organic—Food produced without any chemical fertilizers or growth stimulant, pesticide or antibiotics. This applies also to animals grown on organic farms, given organic feed, raised without synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics. Only farms that are certified can label their food organic. The process is expensive, and many small farms choose to forgo certification even though their practices meet or exceed requirements.

Natural—The FDA hasn’t developed a definition regarding the word “natural.” However, there are guidelines stating these food shouldn’t contain artificial flavors, colorings, or preservatives. Some natural products actually have high fructose corn syrup! So, how strict are with these guidelines is up to interpretation.

Grass-Fed—This label only appears on beef or dairy.  It applies to cows exclusively fed grass, hay and forage. No grains were included in the mix.

It’s possible that pesticides were used on the grass or hay and the cows were given antibiotics or hormones. Some grass-fed cows actually spend part of their lives in confined pens or feedlots. Grass-fed doesn’t mean organic.

Cage Free—This basically means hens are not in cages. They were in barns with limited access outdoors.

Free range—This also applies to poultry, making you think hens are running around outside. Unfortunately, all it means is the poultry has outdoor access. The USDA doesn’t specify the quantity or duration.

Cholesterol Free—Cholesterol is made by the liver, so only animal products contain cholesterol. Cholesterol

Gluten Free—The gluten free market is huge. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It functions as a flavoring agent, thickener, texture enhancer and leavening agent. People with celiac disease need gluten free foods because gluten wreaks havoc on their digestive track. Buying “Gluten Free” foods when you don’t need to doesn’t make you healthier; but could deprive you of vitamins, minerals and, of course, fiber.

I’m sure you’ve seen some or all of these labels, and I hope this helps you know what you’re buying and eating. But, if food packages have labels it means its processed, and therefore altered from its natural state. If it doesn’t have a label, you know exactly what you’re getting.

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