Organic, All Natural, Grass Fed: What's the Difference?
Grocery shopping has turned into a complex task. Gone are the days where you grab your carton of eggs, your favorite cut of meat and your half-gallon jug of apple juice. Now, each time we step foot in the grocery store we are bombarded with all kinds of labels such as "Organic," "100% All Natural" and "Free Range," claiming to be better - healthier- than the "regular" versions. Unfortunately, the price tag also reflects these claims, as specialized food is usually packaged in smaller quantities for a higher price. Although the USDA is making strides in improving the amount of unregulated claims on food products, there are still many foods that claim to be healthier, when in fact they are not. How do we know when its worth spending a little more money on a specialized item and when it's merely a marketing ploy? In order to make these kinds of decisions, we first need to figure out exactly what these labels mean.
Here are a list of labels you would easily encounter on your trip to the grocery story. These are the definitions provided by the USDA so that you can make informed decisions the next time you go grocery shopping.
Organic: Foods labeled "organic" with the USDA seal must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients and the other 5% must be approved on a National List provided by the USDA. They can not be produced with any anibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, petroleum or sewage based fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Each organic ingredient must be identified along with the name of the certifying agency. The federal certification process is voluntary, so not every product that claims to be organic undergoes such scrutiny.
Made with Organic Ingredients: At least 70% of the ingredients must be organic. The product cannot carry the USDA Organic seal.
Natural: Food labeled "natural," according to the USDA definition, does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed. However, they may contain antibiotics, growth hormones and other similar chemicals.
All Natural: The USDA does not define foods labeled "all natural" as any differnt than those labeled "natural." Foods with this labeling are probably not any different than "natural" foods and may not be regulated as they are not defined by the USDA.
Free Range/Cage Free: In the United States, these terms apply only to poulty. For a product to be labeled "free range" or "cage free" the animals cannot be contained in any way and must be allowed to roam and forage freely over a large area of open land. The government, however, doesn't specify the quality or size of the outside rage nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside.
Grass Fed: Food labeled "grass fed" usually includes the label "free range" or "cage free," however, they are not necessarily connected. By definition a "grass fed" animal is one that is raised primarily on ranges rather than in a feedlot, which means that they can be contained and still show this label, as long as they are allowed to graze. If an animal was "grain fed" it was most likely raised in a feedlot, contained for most of its life. Grain fed animals have less nutritional value.