We live in a world of doublespeak.
Politicians say one thing and mean another. Companies use deceptive marketing to hide the truth and emphasize the good points about their products. And even friends or family members could keep secrets hidden for years and years, devastating you emotionally when they’re found out.
One area you can stop the deception in is that of food. Right now you can learn the real meaning of grass-fed, free-range, organic and other terminology that frankly is quite confusing at the grocery store. And you can find out the bottom line on some other food issues while you’re at it.
You will be able to read the word “natural” and determine for yourself if it’s really natural. You can read the word “grass-fed” and know whether the term is used to get you to buy, or the animal was truly grass-fed in a way that is conducive to your health.
Long story short – Lets dive in!
WHAT IS NATURAL AND WHAT ISN’T
First, don’t be swayed when you read the word “natural” on the packaging. In fact, when you read it, think to yourself, “Hmm. I wonder how natural it really is?”
About as natural as Kim Kardashians… I’ll refrane.
Natural could mean the intention of the food company. For example, they started out with real apples from an apple tree and therefore, whatever happened in between the apples and the packaging doesn’t count. In their minds, their product is natural.
However, “natural” is a term sanctified by the USDA to mean one thing. It means no artificial ingredients or artificial colors were added to meat and poultry.
But think in-depth here. Does that mean that a cloned animal could be natural? According to the USDA, yes. And do you really want to be eating cloned animals?
“Natural” can also mean minimally processed.
“Naturally-raised” is a term used by the USDA that refers to no unnecessary antibiotics and no hormones added to a cow’s diet. But watch out, it doesn’t refer to how the animal is treated.
ORGANIC HAS MANY FACETS
Defining the “organic” labeling term brings you a brand new understanding of what really is going on in farming and at food companies.
Did you know that often synthetic fertilizers are used, pesticides, and even sewage sludge can be used in fertilizing?
Organic means no synthetic fertilizers, no pesticides, and no sewage sludge.
But “organic” also goes beyond this meaning. It includes the following:
- No antibiotics are given to the animals unless they are sick
- No hormones are given to the animals
- No genetically modified organisms used
- No irradiation used in processing
- Animals are given organic feed, that is, 100% organic feed.
- During processing, there has been no contamination of the food.
- All farming or food processing plants keep detailed records of what is happening and when.
* Organic does not mean grass-fed.
There’s an independent agency of the USDA who certifies food as “Organic.” In fact, there are different levels of organic. It’s not just black and white:
- 95 to 100% organic – means 95-100% of the product ingredients are organic. You can still include up to 5% non-organic ingredients to call something organic.
- 79 to 95% organic – means up to 30% of the ingredients are non-organic, yet these companies can still use the term in their marketing.
- Less than 70% organic – This one is the most mind-boggling of all. A company can use more than 30% non-organic ingredients and as long as they list on the label what foods are not organic, they can get away with it.
FREE RANGE IS NOT BORN TO ROAM
This term makes you think the chickens and other poultry are happily running around on the farm, going wherever they want to go when they want to go there. Not so!
There are no guidelines on how many minutes the birds can be outside or how big the space is where they are running around.
Thus, free-range means the bird has access to outside, period. By the way, free range usually means access to outdoors 51% of the time. That reminds me of a great Anchor Man quote:
Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.
GRASS-FED BUT IS IT BETTER
When cattle eat grass, they could be eating the grass like your front lawn, but also bamboo or other types of grasses found around marshes, or the kind that grows tall along the side of the road. They also could be eating leaves of other plants that may be considered common weeds or even bushes and alfalfa.
After a year out in the grass fields, cows may move into the feedlots to “beef up” and gain weight for the next three to four months. Cows then are able to eat hay or cereal grain crops before they are finished and still the farmers could still legally use the term “grass-fed.” Some farmers give their cows added vegetables, for example, remaining pumpkins after Halloween to add nutrients to their diet such as beta-carotene.
As you see, during the entire life of the animal, the cow is storing up nutrients in its muscles for you to eat. The better the soil is where the plants are that the cow is eating, the greater the number of nutrients getting packed into the flesh of the animal.
Grass-fed beef is higher in these nutrients:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E,
- B vitamins
Grass-fed beef also has more omega 3 fats than commercially raised farmed cows. It tastes better, and all the famous chefs prefer using it instead of commercially available meat. However, grass-fed beef also needs more marinating because it can be tougher.
When you hear some brands of chicken or turkeys are pasture-raised, you may immediately think of memories from youth where these birds may have been allowed to run wild and free in a wide-open pasture. That’s what you want, right?
Well, that’s not what the farmers think when they say their birds are pasture-raised. They like to keep them in pens where they can access them if needed and then every 2 to 3 days, allow the birds to gobble down some fresh grass.
A pasture-fed cow isn’t only eating what’s growing in the pasture. The cow is allowed to eat out of the feed bins that could contain grain. The question for you to ask is if the animal ate ONLY pasture.
DOES HORMONE FREE OR NO HORMONES ADDED REALLY MATTER?
Early man who farmed and ate beef always ate the bulls (males) of the herd, leaving the cows (females) to reproduce to increase the size of the herd.
The bulls have the highest level of testosterone (hormones). However, commercial farmers use neutered bulls which are called steer, and steer have a lot less testosterone (hormones) in their meat than bulls. What’s interesting is that even when steer are given hormones, their hormone levels don’t come near those of un-neutered bulls.
What does this mean? You don’t have to be frightened of hormones causing your harm. Meat with added hormones doesn’t increase the rates of degenerative diseases or cancer. If so, our ancestors, who ate a substantial amount of meat from bulls (containing several times more hormones than our meat today), would have experienced these types of diseases. But they didn’t.
So, when it comes to meat (beef), you don’t have to worry about added hormones.
Poultry and pork are a bit different. It’s illegal to give either of these animals hormones. So, this means that the labels “no hormones added” or “no added hormones” are simply telling you the obvious.
The bottom-line is that the labels hormone-free or no added hormones are nothing special. The hormones added to beef are harmless, while it’s illegal to give pork or poultry hormones. Don’t pay extra for foods with labels indicating no hormones.
Always make sure this term is on your meat packages; that’s what the government says. They are afraid that some meat got into the food supply and can’t be traced just in case there is an issue with it. For example, let’s say that meat is contaminated with E. coli. As long as it is certified, the USDA inspected it and can track down the source of the E. coli. By the way, when the meat is inspected, it is also graded. This allows you the luxury of knowing if the meat is one of the best, high grades of meat or if it belongs in hamburger.
This means that animals and their byproducts weren’t used in the animal feed. It’s a way to get vegetarians to pay more. There aren’t any added benefits to a label of vegetarian-fed except that a consumer can rest at night knowing they did not contribute to any killing of animals or using any animal byproducts.
This means the animal wasn’t in a cage, but wasn’t necessarily outdoors. Most people want cage-free to mean the poor chickens aren’t de-beaked for reasons of anti-cruelty but that is not reality. No one checks whether or not this claim of “cage-free” is true.
This term is reserved for cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys that are close to the original genetic stock of the foods the Pilgrims ate. In other words, these varieties go back to the time before the food industry started tampering with the meats to make more profits. Heritage meats are generally thought to be higher in omega 3 fats, and more nutritious.
For example, the “Barbie doll” turkeys and chickens we eat now have far different genes from the ones that Pilgrims ate. Ours now have big breasts and often the chickens and turkeys find it difficult to move because of these big breasts. They have been genetically bred to get more meat out of them.
Heritage turkeys and other poultry, on the other hand, taste gamier and are shaped differently. They don’t have big breasts. However, they generally taste better and chefs love using them on their fancy menus for holidays because their patrons rave about the taste. The birds last longer in the refrigerator and they don’t dry out like Barbie doll poultry.
When you read on a label or menu that food is wild game, you immediately think of a hunter out there with his gun and traps catching food to bring home to the family, don’t you? Well, maybe that’s how it was in the old days, but not now. Wild game on a label or menu means it was raised on a wild game farm. These varieties of birds don’t taste as gamey as true wild game you’ll find out roaming the countryside. And if the menu says venison or elk, you can pretty much expect the same thing.
Okay, here we go with another government fiasco of terminology. Fat is bad, right? Sure, according to the label gods. If food is high in fat, it’s not healthy for you! If the food is high in saturated fat, it’s not healthy for you. That only means one thing – a food could be labeled healthy and loaded with polyunsaturated, free radical producing fats that cause cancer (1)
Healthy also means the food must contain at least 10 percent of certain nutrients
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Fiber, or protein
Excuse me, what happened to selenium, vitamin E, vitamin D, the B vitamins, molybdenum, boron, iodine, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc?
In short, the term “healthy” on a label is just another gimmick so that we feel better about what we are buying. Excuse me, what happened to selenium, vitamin E, vitamin D, the B vitamins, molybdenum, boron, iodine, magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc?
This label is pretty ridiculous really. The definition of food that is a good source of riboflavin for example, is food that only contains 10 to 19 percent of the daily estimated value. Let’s see, so if you’re supposed to get 1500 mg calcium per day and a cup of yogurt provides you with 230 mg calcium or 15 percent of what you need for a day, it’s a good thing, according to the powers that be.
What’s good about that? You still need 85% more for the rest of the day! You’ll have to make up your mind on this labeling. In the meantime, look at the percentages, please. Go for the foods that at least contain 25 or 30% of the estimated daily value of nutrients you need.
Fresh pretty much means right out of the fields. It can’t be frozen. It can’t be cooked or heated. But get this – it can be irradiated! Well, the last time the research came out on irradiation, the process killed the living enzymes in the food. Aren’t enzymes?
Fresh pretty much means right out of the fields. It can’t be frozen. It can’t be cooked or heated. But get this – it can be irradiated! Well, the last time the research came out on irradiation, the process killed the living enzymes in the food. Aren’t enzymes something that we need for health?
FAT OR CALORIE FREE
Fat-free means less than 0.5 grams fat in a serving.
Calorie-free doesn’t mean any calories. It means less than 5 calories.
Fairtrade means that the migrant workers who helped bring the food to market weren’t overworked for pennies. They were given a fair wage and had working conditions that weren’t horrible.
BUYING GUIDE FOR FRUITS AND VEGGIES
When you’re purchasing fruits and vegetables, go for the gold standard and stay with the top foods lowest in pesticides. Here’s a list:
Fruits and Vegetables Low in Pesticides:
- Sweet peas
- Sweet potatoes
On the other hand, here’s the list of 15 fruits and vegetables highest in pesticides. This means when you purchase them, try your best to get the organic version.
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Nectarines, imported
- Green beans
Keeping your pesticide residue levels low allows your body to detoxify itself and cuts down the risk of cancer.
What can you do?
A great solution is to shop local and in the season as often as possible. A good rule of thumb is to stop by your local farmer’s markets on a weekly basis to get most of your shopping done. This way you get to speak directly with farmers about how they treat their animals, produce, and soil. I did a previous post on how to dominate your farmers market experience. Make sure to check it out.
This pretty much sums up the terminology you need to survive the doublespeak of the food industry.
That’s a lot of info to digest. Please let me know if you need any clarification on anything. Post int he comments or shoot me an email.
Photo by Anne-Sophie Benoit on Unsplash