What do all the labels mean?

We live in a world with labels with the “slogans” of all natural, non GMO and no artificial ingredients, that falsely leave us to believe it is “healthy”. Unfortunately, this is a marketing scheme and many of these foods labeled as “healthy” are filled with poor ingredients and hidden things like MSG, and cancer causing agents. I am not here to scare you, but to educate you on how to properly read a label to empower you when food shopping.

How to buy the healthier options foods:

#1) REAL FOOD does not have ingredients. I much rather you eat poorer quality animal meats, fruits and veggies than processed foods with added ingredients.

#2) Prioritize animal proteins grass-fed, pasture raised meats over organic. If you can afford organic and grass-fed and pasture raised that is great– but this is the one time organic is not as important.

#3) Do not stress over organic produce, again real food is better than processed. If you can afford organic foods prioritize the EWG’s dirty dozen if you can.

#4) Shop at farmers markets and get to know your local farmers growing techniques. Many markets are producer only which means they have to have produced the food and product so they know how it came about. Products can be pesticide free without being organic.

#5) Buy from markets such as Thrive Market and Meat markets if you don’t have access to quality animal meats. If you are local Near country is a great option, Porter House and Cook Venture are great options across the US.

Let’s go over some other common seals and food labels you may see in your grocery stores and what they mean:

 USDA Organic:

What does it mean?  Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, antibiotics, petroleum-based fertilizer, sewage, sludge, irradiation, or genetic modification.  Organic farmers emphasize the use of renewable resources.  They also conserve soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. 

Organic meats and eggs means – It’s hormone free, antibiotic free, free of GMO’s in feed, feed was free of pesticides and free of synthetic fertilizers. I always say pasture raised and grass fed is more important for meat and eggs, but if you can get both that is great!

Organic dairy means – hormone free, antibiotic free, free of GMO’s in feed, free of pesticides in feed, feed grown free of synthetic fertilizers and free of rBGH/rBST growth hormones. This does not mean they are on a pasture which to me is more important. I also am pro raw grass-fed milk over plain organic dairy if it is a available. You can do a quick raw milk search here. If you are local you can buy it from a local PA farm and pick up a local Maryland location here: https://buttercupfarmgrassfed.com.

Organic vs “made with” organic ingredients:

Organic means – must contain 95% organic ingredients, excluding water and salt.  Label must read “organic” and contain the USDA organic seal.

Made with organic ingredients – It’s good to know that “made with,” means it’s also made without organic ingredients. The USDA regulates this to mean 70% of a product is certified organic. This means 30% can be made with whatever the food manufacturer likes. Up to 3 ingredients can be listed on the front of the package. Label can read, “made with organic ingredients”, but cannot carry the USDA organic seal.  Always, always read the ingredients section to see what the product is made from. 

No added hormones:

What does it mean?  No hormones are allowed in raising hogs or poultry.  Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless a statement that says, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones”, follows it.  The USDA allows manufacturers to use labels that read, “no hormones administered” on the label of beef and dairy. Where will you find the label?  Meat and dairy.

No Antibiotics or Raised Without Hormones:

What does this mean?  The terms “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.  Label will read, “raised without hormones”.  Where will you find the raised without hormones label?  Dairy, eggs and meat.

100% Vegetarian-fed:

What does it mean?  You are guaranteed that the chicken did not eat animal bi-products in their vegetarian feed.  But it does mean they are fed good quality grains. Most of it is GMO corn and soy so this means nothing to me. Where will I find the label?  Poultry.

Pasture Raised:

What does this mean? A “pasture raised” claim on meat, poultry, dairy, or egg labels means that the animals were raised for at least some portion of their lives on pasture or with access to a pasture, not continually confined indoors. Raising animals on pasture is not the industry standard. Majority of the meats, eggs and dairy consumed are from animals who are confined indoors or in outdoor feedlots and fed a high-grain feed ration (which is usually genetically modified grains) rather than being allowed to graze on pasture. The vast majority of meat chickens and pigs are raised inside with no access to the outdoors which stresses these animals out. On top of poor quality food causing inflammation and poor omega rations they are surging with stress hormones, and we are what we eat. This is why buying quality meat is a priority of mine.


What does it mean?   USDA requires that the animals were raised on a lifetime diet of 100% grass and other plant material like leaves and sticks.  (After they are weaned.)  It doesn’t exclude the use of hormones, antibiotics or pesticides.  Nor does it disallow the use of GMO grasses, which can include corn, soybean, rice, wheat and oats in their pre-grain state. 

This is still more important than organic to me. Why is grass-fed better for my family and I?  Grass-fed feeders are still a better source of meat than the grain-fed feeders because they have more nutrients.  For example, they tend to be lower in fat, higher in omega 3, vitamin A, D, E, K, E, beta carotene, higher in CLA (fat- burning), and higher in tryptophan (helps with sleep and mood).The BEST meat to buy is organic, grass-fed meat. Where will I find the label? beef, lamb, pork, and milk.

Where you can buy organic and grass-fed products

Grass-Fed Finished:

What does this mean?  That the animal continued to eat grass throughout its life after it was weaned.  Some grass-fed companies will feed their animals grains at the later stages of the animal’s life to fatten them up.  So you may see Grass-Fed and Grass-Fed finished on some meat products. 

Fair Trade Certified:

What does Fair Trade Certified mean?   Farmers and their employees received a fair price for their products.  Encourages sustainable farming methods, prohibits child labor and the use of synthetic fertilizers. Where will I find the label?  Chocolate, coffee, tea, rice, sugar, and tropical fruit.

Non GMO Project Verified:

What does it mean?  While the Non-GMO Project’s verification seal is not a “GMO free” claim, it is trustworthy, defensible, transparent, and North America’s only independent verification for products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance.  The Non-GMO Project is the only organization offering independent verification of testing and GMO controls for products in the U.S. and Canada.

What’s a GMO?  GMOs have been around since 1996.  GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.  Scientists genetically modified crops in order to improve a plants resistance to pests, makes them heartier in the winter, increases yield and reduces maturation time.  They are designed to withstand high amounts of a weed killing herbicide.  

In my family we avoid GMO’s.  Proponents of GM crops maintain that they reduce the need for herbicides and pesticides, therefore benefiting the environment.  They claim lower production costs and better yields.  BUT research shows that wide spread GM crops are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, which is used in many commercial weed killers and therefore more and more glyphosate (Ready Round Up) is used to kill these now resistant weeds.  Some experts believe that this toxin is also causing a “leaky gut” in humans. Which is not good.  Leaky gut is real and many people suffer from it. Read more on my blog about that here.

There are nine genetically modified food crops to be aware of…  Soy, corn, cotton (used for cottonseed oil), canola, sugar beets (used in most U.S. sugar), Hawaiian and Chinese papaya, some zucchini, yellow crook- neck squash, and alfalfa (used for hay).   If you want to take a precautionary approach, remember, “When in doubt…leave it out!”  Buy organic corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, and yellow crookneck squash.  And also consider buying organic cotton clothing and bedding for your little one, here’s why.

Common ingredients derived from GMO risk crop – Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), Xanthum Gum, Vitamins, Yeast Products.

I know it’s a lot of information to take in but it will get easier.  I promise! You do your best with what you can but now you have the knowledge and education to make your own informed decisions.