Posted September 2nd, 2016 under Nutrition

What Do Food Labels Really Mean?

Tags: food label, diet, nutrition

What Do Food Labels Really Mean?

What do food labels really mean?


Due to the growing health and environmental concerns there has been misconception about the meaning of certain food labels such as “all-natural” or “organic” etc. Some of these labels are not regulated but because they say these words on the label people believe they are making healthier choices.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate and define these certain words as the following:


Natural: According to the USDA “natural” means it does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed. They may still contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other similar chemicals. Regulations are rather lenient for foods labeled “natural. The producers of the food must submit an application at the time detailing the practices used throughout the animals’ life but there are no inspections conducted and producers are not required to be certified.  Just because it says natural does not mean it is entirely healthy for you there are still calories in these foods and you still have to stay on track with the macronutrients they contain.

All-Natural: Foods with this label are usually no different than “natural” foods and may not be regulated as they are not regulated by USDA.

Organic: Foods labeled “organic” must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients and the other 5% must be approved by USDA. They cannot be produced with any antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, petroleum, fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Each organic ingredient must be identified with the name of the certifying agency. USDA regulates organic products more thoroughly than other product labels and foods that are labeled “organic” are most likely to truly be organic. Producers must submit an application and inspections happen annually and sometimes unannounced. Again just because the label says organic does not mean it is empty calories there are still macronutrients in it and you should eat with moderation whatever you are eating.

100% Organic: Must consist of only organic ingredients and processing aids.  The same process with regulations and inspection that occur for organic occur for 100% organic products as well.

Free Range/Cage free: The animals cannot be contained in any way and must be allowed to roam over a large area of open land. It is very minimally regulated and USDA food labeling regulation only requires producers to be able to show that the animals are allowed access to the outside and are not contained. No applications or certifications are required. This level of regulation has allowed producers to keep animals closely confined but without cages and still label the food as “cage free”

Grass-Fed: By definition a “grass-fed” animal is primarily raised on ranges and rather than feedlots which means that they can still be contained and still show the label as “grass-fed.” Grass fed products are usually preferred because people assume that the animals were probably not contained which means their products are healthier than grain-fed which is not entirely true. USDA defines “grass-fed” but does not regulate it.


**Remember just because it is labeled “organic” or “natural” does not mean it is empty calories!! There are still macro-nutrients in all these foods so be aware of that and keep on track!  

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Written By:  Rebecca Desousa BS Nutritional Sciences

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