How To Make Sense of Food Labels

— Anna Dorsey

Your guide to deciphering the various terms on packaging & labeling

Going to the grocery store is time consuming enough with the endless options for food. When you are trying to decide what food is the best for your diet, it is easy to just pick the cheapest, or prettiest looking food. But looks and price aren’t everything! It’s important to know what you are putting in your body, and what exactly the labels mean on your food. Here is a quick guide so you can take one look at a label and know exactly what you are fueling your body with.

1. USDA Certified Organicusda-organic.fw_-150x150

Organic refers to the way crops and livestock are grown and processed. The products must meet strict requirements in order for them to put “organic” on their label. Food with this label must contain at least 95% organic ingredients with no synthetic ingredients, hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides. When it comes to mean, this means that the animals are fed organic feeds without any growth hormones, or animal byproducts.

How “organic” is your labeled food? 

Label statement permitted

Certified organic seal on label? Content of organic ingredients

“100% organic”





95 ~ 99%

“made with organic ingredients” No

74% ~ 98%

2. For All You Meat Lovers Out There

Grass fedamerican-grassfed-150x150

The American Grass-fed Association certifies these animals to have been raised in pastures. This lifestyle involved no grains


Must have access to the outdoors, organic feed, no antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal-by-products.

Free Range: The animals were free to roam outside. There are no standard regulations for “free range” so it is not known for how long they live outsidecagefree1LL-400x257

Hormone free: This label draws your attention to the fact that no hormones were injected with artificial growth hormones or steroids.

Think how much happier your belly will be when the cows are too!

3. Fruits and Veggies

Naturally GrownCNGcolorlogo-150x150

Certified Naturally Grown is a non-profit that allows farmers to be acknowledged for their organic practices, without having to go through the costly and time consuming process from the USDA. They have the same standards for organic.


No pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are to be used.

The Dirty Dozen

These 12 fruits and veggies have the highest pesticide use for their growth process. If you are on a budget and can’t afford all the delicious and nutritious organic produce, at least try to look out for these 12!

1. Apples                                       7. KaleDSC_0026

2. Bell peppers                              8. Lettuce

3. Carrots                                      9. Nectarines

4. Celery                                       10. Peaches

5. Cherries                                    11. Pears

6. Grapes                                      12. Strawberries

Clean Fifteen!

These veggies are safer to eat non-organic than the “Dirty Dozen”

1. Corn                     6. Pineapples                  11. Broccoli

2. Eggplant               7. Asparagus                  12. Grapefruit

3. Mango                  8. Cabbage                     13. Cantaloupe

4. Kiwi                       9. Papayas                     14. Sweet Potatoes

5. Onions                  10. Mangoes                  15. Mushrooms

*Pesticide free produce may not look as pretty, but it means fewer pesticides in your body and in the environment

4. A GM- what? non-gmo-product-certified

A GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. When a food’s DNA has been artificially altered by genes form other animals, plant, or bacteria they are considered genetically modified.

*BEWARE! The US does not require a GMO label

So why eat whole foods from local and organic farming?

More nutrients [fiber, carbohydrates, etc]

Supports the community and the farmers!

Smaller ecological footprint

Tastes better because it is grown and picked in season

You know more about where and how your food is grown


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