Don't be fooled by the beautiful boxes, wrapping, colors, and promises. Most labels are arbitrary and many don't mean much at all. Learn what they mean to those who put them on the box so that you can better choose what you put in your body.
Organic v. Conventional
For a certified organic food to be labeled as such, it must not have been produced or grown with the following:
Most synthetic pesticides or fertilizers
Artificial preservatives, flavors, or dyes
Conventionally grown foods have no regulation and are subject to the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics, and genetic engineering.
As advertised, all ingredients, except for salt, water, and citric acid, must be grown in the manor stipulated by the USDA.
At least 95% of the ingredients must be organic.
Made with Organic Ingredients
At least 70% of the ingredients must be organic.
fish, Meat + Poultry
Wild Caught v. Farm-Raised
You'll see these labels on seafood, referring to the animal's origins. Wild-caught means found in natural bodies of water, while Farm-raised means raised in irrigation ditches, ponds, and tanks. Some fish are raised in farms and let go in the wild to be caught, blurring the lines between the two references. Some wild fishing practices are thought to be unethical and environmentally irresponsible, while farm-raised seafood is known be have less nutritional value. Keep up to date with the proper practices and ask more questions to know for sure.
This term applies mostly to beef, lamb, and goat products. It means the animals were raised being fed a diet of mostly grass—their natural diet—as opposed to conventionally raised meats that are fed soy, corn, and other processed meal.
Applying to all meat products, the pastured-raised label ensures the animals were raised in a pasture, outside of a cage or indoor closure. This is a more natural living for these animals, allowing them more room to roam and cutting down on the spread of bacteria and viruses that run rampant in conventionally raised lots.
Although this sounds similar to pasture-raised, don't be fooled. Free range poultry( and their eggs) are allowed access to outdoor space, but are still kept in a barn. This outdoor area could be grass or bare ground, and the time they are allowed to spend there varies greatly. This label has no bearing on the quality of the poultry's indoor facility nor their feed.
Generally found on egg cartons, cage free refers to chickens that are not kept in cages. While this is a nice notion, generally, these chickens are still kept indoors with little roaming space. Plus, there's still no telling what they're being fed.
other Packaging prose
This label means absolutely nothing. Technically, everything we consume is considered "natural," so don't be fooled—it's just marketing garbage.
Antibiotic-Free/No Added Hormones
As it sounds, these products are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. Not much more is known of how these animals are kept or what they're fed.
Products that tout a GMO-free label are announcing its abstinence from genetically modified organisms. GMOs undergo genetic engineering, which is the altering of genes through scientific methods. This can be done with the genes of the same species or of a different species all together.
From a consumer responsibility perspective, this label is quite important. It tells us that the company you're buying from most likely isn't exploiting its workers, using child labor, or taking advantage of small farmers in third world nations. From the health perspective, this means nothing in terms of product manufacturing.
No Sugar Added
These products are often alluring, but make sure to check for other possible sugar-like products lurking on the ingredients list. This label should be taken quite literally.
This product doesn't use actual sugar, but instead will use a substitute like aspartame, xylitol, or sorbitol. All have fewer calories, but often cause digestive problems like gnarly-smelling gas and diarrhea.