Labels 101: Get What You Pay For
Greetings from the grocery aisle at your local market. I am standing here reading the labels of various products and wondering how in the world to make sense of it all. Label reading used to be less important-even in light of fat content, calories and protein-mainly because food was less complicated. Lately, great importance has been added due to the fact that prices are literally quadruple for some items that I have regularly purchased for years.
To that end, I have done some research into the definitions we see on labels that have little or no explanation. Some of these tags have very clear guidelines, while others are not defined and have no enforcement agency or certification for their claims. What a rip-you are really skating uphill when it comes to seemingly simple purchases.
100% ORGANIC This is actually a legitimate designation, which means that all ingredients, processing aids, and additives, must be certified organic, and the certifying agency is usually the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).
ORGANIC This designation is less defined. Organic products must be 95% organic. The other 5% must be products that are on a list somewhere, and have to do with washing and packaging.
NATURAL This designation usually relates to poultry, eggs and meat. Natural means no artificial ingredients and minimal processing. This tag is frequently seen, and in fact, is not clarified. What it is understood to mean is that the product has not been enhanced with artificial ingredients or additives. This means no color injected to meat or fish, and no added flavor boosters such as MSG. Natural is not a designation that I would pay more for.
FAIR TRADE This label has nothing to do with product quality. It is usually certified by non-governmental organizations and relates to wages, country of origin, and various non-specific environmental practices. I also do not pay extra to have this designation. I do not see the value. It is partly a personal or political statement regarding the import and/or labor practices of other countries, and I cannot pin down who or what I am helping by paying more. If you can, or you have a cause, most commonly it is coffee, then that is your decision, of course.
One of the most confusing grocery items to decipher the barrage of labeling is the egg. I have seen eggs priced from $1.29 up to $7.99 per dozen. Everywhere from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods egg prices defy reason. You will see terms like Free Range, Cage Free, Grass Fed, and No Added hormones bandied about freely, with very little explanation for the huge price differences. (By the way, some of these terms-such as Grass Fed, No Added Hormones or Hormone Free-are also used in meat products. Beef, pork, chicken and even fish are labeled and priced accordingly in the butcher section.)
CAGE FREE is generally the most misused of all of the egg terminology. The chicken may not be in a cage, but they can be confined in an area that has little room for movement, and limited access to food and water. I grew up on a farm near Petaluma, California, the egg capital of the world, so I have seen a lot, chicken and egg wise. In Petaluma, as well as other large chicken producing areas, the birds are in "porches"- a large, but very full, screened-in area. I am not saying this is wrong, just know what it means, and that Cage-Free is a bit of a loose term.
FREE RANGE means that chickens, or other poultry, are free to roam. It does not define what they eat. Many free-roaming poultry are fed other animal bi-products. The top of the pecking order, when it comes to eggs, is free range and vegetarian fed. These eggs will cost quite a bit more, but in my humble opinion, they are worth it. The eggs actually have less fat and more protein.
NO ADDED HORMONES is, perhaps, the most vague label of all. My question is if there are no more hormones added, how many were there in the beginning? This designation has no certification either, so check carefully for other label info before you shell out extra grocery dollars for this ambiguous designation.
I now expect to see you blocking the aisle and reading those labels! We all have to buy groceries, but we do not have to pay for what we do not receive. Check it out, and of course, if you determine there is value, it is your personal choice, good for YOU!
Tune in next month when we will discuss the ins and outs of pee pee and poo poo. Whoops, I did not mean to say that. I meant to say tune in next month when we will discuss liquid intake and fiber output. There has been much discussion lately about how much water we need to drink and how much fiber we should ingest to keep our healthy bodies "on the go," so to speak. Insight will be shared into what it all means. Keep skating uphill. When you reach the top, the view is worth it!