When we pick up a packaged food nowadays, we're inundated with words: gluten free, grass fed, cage free, organic, the list goes on. These are usually the first words that catch our attention and can lead us to make purchases based on those buzzwords alone. A lot of buzzwords out there, especially health claims, can make us think we're buying a healthy product when..that might not be the case! Here are some of the most trendy buzzwords used on packaged foods nowadays and what they really mean.
Most people think they are avoiding any and all pesticides by purchasing organic produce. However, to be considered organic, produce must only use pesticides/herbicides that are deemed safe by the USDA, and organic produce is not grown with synthetic fertilizers, GMO, or radiation. Organically farmed animals are given feed grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified seeds, and are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Is it worth the cash? Research has shown that organic crops have substantially higher concentrations of antioxidants and other nutrients, and it certainly doesn't hurt to avoid synthetic fertilizers or unsafe pesticides! Now, be mindful, "organic" does not mean "healthy", so the bag of organic cookies may be made without GMOs, but that doesn't mean they aren't a processed food loaded with sugar.
2. "All Natural"
Food labeled "natural," according to the USDA definition, simply means there are no artificial ingredients and the ingredients are only MINIMALLY processed. However, they may still contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other harmful chemicals. Remember, most chemicals are natural, that doesn't mean they are edible or safe! Even when it says "all natural", check the ingredients list for things you don't recognize.
Eating probiotics is essential for optimal gut health, it increases the population of healthy bacteria in your gut that help your immune system and keep your digestion in tip top shape. The best sources of probiotics are going to be fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, etc. You may have also seen lots of claims about probiotics on yogurt. This is true, yogurt does provide some probiotics, however there are some extra steps you want to take. 1. Read the label and ingredients. Make sure there are NO added sugars as these will outweigh the benefits of the probiotics. 2. you want to look for live and active cultures, ideally. It is the live bacteria that augments your gut health the most.
4. Cage Free/ Free Range
You probably picture chickens running free in a field, but that’s not always the case. Cage-free just means the chickens are not kept in cages, however it does not tell you that the chickens are not kept in a barn, or even allowed outdoors at all during their lifetime. "Free-range" means that the chickens were allowed access to the outdoors, but that doesn't necessarily mean they did go outdoors. If you’re concerned about the treatment of animals and getting higher quality eggs, look for organic pasture-raised eggs.
Antioxidants! Compounds found in lots of fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods! Key word: whole foods. That's the best way to obtain your antioxidants. Not from fruit snacks, not from enriched breakfast cereals laiden with sugar. Antioxidants are often added to processed foods like cereals and granola bars so that the food companies can make health claims. However, when antioxidants are added to foods they do not naturally occur in, they are not as effective in their health benefits, not to mention the sugar/other food additives probably outweigh the benefits.
6. Grass Fed
Conventionally raised cows are kept in cages, fed an unnatural corn and soy-based diet, get sick and injected with growth hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. The result is a cut of beef or milk that is inflammatory and higher in saturated fat. Cows that are grass-fed are allowed access to grass, and as a result are naturally leaner, and contain higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids from their grass-rich diet, and two to five times more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA, a type of fatty acid, has been connected to a variety of health benefits, including immune and inflammatory system support, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, and reduced heart disease risk. The one caveat is that to be termed "grass fed", the cows only have to have had access to grass for at least a portion of their life, not necessarily most of/their entire life. Either way, grass fed will always be better than conventional!
7. Gluten Free
Read this out loud. Gluten free does not mean junk free. Repeat it one more time. Good. "Gluten free" simply means the food contains no wheat, barley, rye, or other gluten containing grains. Gluten free cookies are still cookies, gluten free chips are still chips. "Gluten free string beans" aren't any healthier than regular string beans, as there was never any gluten in string beans to begin with. Should you avoid gluten? Only if you have an allergy as diagnosed by a Gastro.
"Paleo" refers to the "Paleo" diet, which essentially permits only ingredients that our ancient ancestors would have eaten: whole foods as close to their natural source as possible. So, it's pretty safe to say that any food labeled "Paleo" is going to contain no chemicals or food additives. Go ahead, unleash your inner caveman.