Food Claims and Labels – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It seems that there are more and more food products coming on the market these days. Aside from the recent astonishing development of the deep fried Twinkie, there are other, seemingly more wholesome offerings. There’s grass fed beef, sustainably raised fish, artisan bread, reduced fat items, gluten free, non GMO, and on and on.

With food claims and labels, ever wonder just what has meaning and what doesn’t? And, if it does, why?

Well, here’s a CHEAT SHEET to get you started.*

First off, let me list the terms that are meaningless. There are various reasons why they are meaningless. Sometimes it is because someone just made up the word, or it may have no implications one way or the other about how good it is for you, or there are no set standards for what they are saying.

In the interests of saving space, I am going to list these meaningless terms in a paragraph, since there are so many of them.


Rich in Omega-3, Supports Immunity, Antioxidant Rich, Pesticide Free, Natural, All Natural, Organic (if it’s fish), Grass-Fed without the USDA seal, Green Fed or Grass Finished, Free Roaming, Cage Free (could still be overcrowded), Antibiotic Free, Smart Choice, Hormone Free or No Hormones (more on this later), Healthful, Dry Aged, Grain Free, No Animal By-Products, Pasture Raised, Vegetarian Fed, Heirloom, Heritage, Locally Grown, No Spray/Pesticide Free, Sustainable Agriculture, No Nitrites/Nitrates, No Additives, Omega-3 Enriched, Raw, Soy Free, Artisan/Artisanal, Farmstead Cheese, and Vine-Ripened/Tree Ripened.


Ok, now for the things that actually have meaning, but some have caveats. Those will be explained.

  • Low Fat = no more than 3g/serving. However, these items only average 11% fewer calories than regular
  • Reduced Fat = 25% less fat than regular
  • Saturated fat free can still have .5g of saturated fat
  • Free Range = yes, but there are no real standards for how often
  • USDA Organic (has been certified, which is quite a process)
  • Non-GMO Project Verified (shown by a seal on the package)
  • Naturally raised (meat) – means no growth hormone or antibiotics.
  • However, no hormones are allowed for hogs, poultry, or goats anyway, so this label is redundant for those animals. If they are going to put that on the label, it should also say, “federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones”. Antibiotics are still allowed.
  • FDA Gluten Free = less than 20 parts per million
  • USDA Process Verified for “grass fed”, but this does not mean no hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides.
  • There is also an American Grassfed Association Logo to look for, which is also regulated.
  • Certified Humane Icon (I don’t know about you, but I find this a bit of an oxymoron. Mostly I just don’t want to think about it.)

Given all this, what’s a good strategy? You can only do your best to find good, fresh, local (you can ask what that means) produce, and steer away from additives whenever possible. And, you can be grateful for all the options that we have in this country.

But steer clear of the deep fried Twinkies! Your body will thank you.

*From an article in IDEA Fitness Journal, March 2015
© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

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