Pay attention to: “Organic”
If there’s one food claim you can’t avoid seeing just about everywhere, from grocery stores to high-end restaurants, it’s organic. The term is given to USDA-certified foods that are grown and processed according to specific federal guidelines. The farmers must adhere to seriously strict standards regarding soil quality, animal-raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. As with all organic food, none of it is grown with or even touched by genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which the organic standards prohibit (although it is not tested). “Every food variety has different standards,” explains Abigail Joy Dougherty, RDN, nutrition consultant at The Soul of Health Nutrition. “Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have been grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest and is non-GMO.” Meat regulations, on the other hand, are more rigorous, requiring that animals are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100 percent organic feed and forage, and are not administered antibiotics or hormones. And processed organic foods have their own set of regulations, prohibiting the use of artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors, and requiring the use of all-organic ingredients. “I believe eating organic is ethical and economic, but it still might not be right for everyone based on their budget,” says Dougherty. Here are the 50 secrets food manufacturers won’t tell you that could change the way you eat.
Pay attention to: “Grass-fed”
This label refers only to meat that comes from cows and indicates that the animals were able to roam freely and forage on grass. “Grass-fed cows have higher omega-3 and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) content in their meat, so it’s more nutritious,” explains Eliza Whetzel, RD, New York City-based dietitian. “Conventionally raised cows, or those raised on grains such as corn or soy (usually GMO!), are fattened up much more quickly than grass-fed cows and are treated with antibiotics and hormones to help them grow quickly and survive unsanitary living conditions.” Studies also show that grass-fed beef contains more “good” fats than “bad” fats, and it has been shown to reduce inflammation. To get the most of these benefits though, look for 100 percent grass-fed beef. “This is a term to pay attention to because meat can be organic and grass-fed, but not 100 percent grass-fed,” warns Dougherty. That means that grain may also have been part of the animal’s diet. Check out these supermarket shopping secrets from America’s top grocery stores.