Eggs: What do all the label claims mean?

$1 for 18 or $6 for a dozen? Standing in front of dozens of eggs (no pun intended) on the self at the grocery store makes for a very confusion decision. Free range or pasture raised? Cage free or Organic? – don’t worry, it confuses me too so I thought I would break down just a few of the many claims on egg packages to help you make a more educated decision the next time you pick up a carton.

  • Cage free means that the animals don’t live in cages

You are all probably thinking..”duh”. But just because the animals aren’t in cages doesn’t mean they aren’t packed in a barn, and most of the time they never step foot outside.

  • Free range means that animals have “access to the outdoors”.

While this “access to the outdoors” has to be government certified, there really aren’t any guidelines, criteria, or qualifications on the quality or size of the outdoor space. That means the area could be anything from a small cement square to a grassy field.

  • Pasture Raised usually means that animals spent the majority of their time in a large open grass field – think the classic image of chickens in a field.

While pasture raised sounds the best, it isn’t regulated by the government so technically some unethical farmer could slap “pasture raised” on their conventional eggs and wouldn’t get in trouble for it.

  • Organic requires that the chickens be raised in conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors.

This includes area to roam outdoors in fields, but the key word is “accommodate”. Yes, they may accommodate for natural habits, but that doesn’t always mean they actually have the ability to live naturally 24/7. On another note, “organic” eggs also come from chickens that are not treated with any antibiotics and they are fed all organic feed – all of which are tightly regulated by USDA.

This chart is a pretty good summary of all the different egg labels- but remember, while it shows that pasture raised is the best, that term isn’t regulated so anyone can use it willy-nilly. Do some research into the brands of eggs at the store to see how they actually treat their chickens.

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So you choose…what kind of eggs do you buy?

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Organic vs. Natural – What do they mean?

Walking up and down the grocery aisles, boxes and packages are covered with health claims and catchy words to suck you in, but they can get very confusing. Most people have a vague idea of what an organic apple is, but organic cookies…not as straight forward.

Here is a break down some of these catchy health words to help you understand what they all mean.

Organic

  • When it comes to produce, organic products are grown in soil that has no prohibited substances (including synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) for at least 3 years prior to harvest.
  • Organic meat and poultry have to meet 3 criteria – (1) they are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, (2) they are fed 100% organic feed, and (3) they cannot have any antibiotics or hormones administered to them.
  • As for processed, multi-ingredient foods, they can only be labeled organic if every ingredient is organic, there must be no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and no GMO ingredients are used.

Organic products are very highly regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The government goes out to farms, tests soil, evaluates feed, and examines animal living conditions to ensure they meet all of these specific criteria.

 

Natural

  • Right now, the term “natural” seen on food labels means absolutely nothing.

Yes, you read that right. There are no rules that regulate what items can use this term in their labels, which means technically anything from apples and cucumbers, to ding-dongs, and ho-hos are all “natural”. Pretty scary, huh? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on some guidelines for what products can use the word natural, but right now, there is no regulation.

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Did you find any of this shocking? I know the “natural” one continues to blow my mind – especially because people tend to value natural products more than regular ones, and they usually cost more!

 

Want more info? These links might help!

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm

Say Ta-Ta to Trans Fat

New research is always coming out telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat. From red meat giving us cancer to avocados making us skinny, the information we get about food can be confusing. One thing that hasn’t changed is the research regarding trans fat (the type of fat in partially hydrogenated oils). Trans fats are the worst of all the fats in our food and are strongly linked to causing cardiovascular disease.

Fortunately, just about one year ago, the FDA removed partially hydrogenated oils from the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. That means, from that date, companies have three years to remove all trans fats from their products. Currently, trans fats can be found in products like margarines, fried food, non-dairy creamers, cookies, and crackers.

Until 2018 when trans fat is removed from our food, you should still be checking food labels and preventing consumption of trans fats. It is also important to make sure the ingredients do not include any partially hydrogenated oils. That’s because companies can legally label their product as having zero grams of trans fat as long as they have less than .5 grams per serving. Meaning, there can still be trans fat in a product even if the label says there is none.

Read more about the ban on trans fats here.

Read more about how different types of fat affect the body here.

New Nutrition Facts Label

You know that nutrition facts panel you stare at on the side of your cereal box during breakfast? After over 20 years of staring at that exact same label, you will soon have a new label to look at. Just over a month ago, the FDA approved the design and information to be included on the new nutrition facts panel you find on all packaged food. It has been over two years in the making, and now, after input from many focus groups, doctors, and scientists, the FDA has finally made it official. While you probably won’t see the new label on packages for a while (it is required until July 2018), here is what it looks like compared to the current label.

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The greatest change to the label, in my opinion, is the addition of the “added sugars” line. Foods like dried fruit, dairy products (yogurt and milk), and honey all have natural sugars but often times have sugar added to them as well. This new line on the label will help consumers differentiate between what is natural and what is added when it comes to sugar.

What do you think about the new label?

Read more about the changes to the food label here.