Food Labels Explained
Food Labels Explained
Written by Amanda Chebatte
Grass fed, free range, pasture raised, organic…what does it all mean!?
Have you ever walked into a grocery store, reached for a block of butter and noticed that the cream used was from ‘grass fed’ cows? Or have you approached a stand at a farmer’s market and spotted a carton of eggs labelled ‘free range’? Perhaps you visited your local butcher and ordered their ‘pasture raised’ pork cutlets? All these labels can be overwhelming.
To put it simply, these different labels refer to how the food was grown or processed. And it is these labels in particular that you might want to consider when sourcing your food. But let’s go deeper and decode some of these popular food classifications…
Grass fed meat comes from animals that graze on grass rather than being fed grain, notably beef and lamb. As cows are naturally grass eaters, feeding them grain or corn upsets their stomachs, causes inflammation and creates an environment for bacteria growth. Cows that are fed grain are also often given antibiotics to help them cope with their abnormal diet. There are numerous health benefits associated with eating grass fed meat, including higher levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory omega 3s. It is also significantly lower in saturated fats.
Our Tip! Sometimes grain is used as supplementary food if pastures are poor. Look for meat that is also grass finished. This means that the animals spent their entire lives on pastures eating grass, plants and shrubbery, and were not finished on grain or corn.
Free range labelling, found on pork and poultry products, means the animals have free access to roam outdoors, for most of the day at least, rather than being confined indoors or in cages. Whereas animals restricted to sheds and cages are susceptible to stress and disease, free range animals have a higher quality of life, meaning better-tasting and nutritious pork, chicken and eggs.
Our Tip! Free range certification on poultry and eggs usually includes a stocking density number that tells you how many hens were free to roam per hectare. One way to ensure better animal welfare is to look for the lowest stocking density number when sourcing your food.
Pasture raised means the animals live and graze outdoors in pastures, rather than indoors, in cages or feedlots. Pasture raised animals get a significant portion of their nutrition from the grass and shrubbery found in open fields, allowing them to live a more natural, unrestricted, stress-free life.
Our Tip! Look for PROOF (Pastured Raised On Open Fields) certification on pastured eggs, dairy, pork, chicken, beef and lamb to ensure animals have been completely raised on open fields, or talk to your farmer or butcher when buying directly. For the best quality and most nutritious beef and lamb, look for both pasture raised and grass-finished labels.
Organic food is produced without synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This includes pesticides, fertilisers, antibiotics, hormones and artificial additives. Organic farmers adopt ecological-based farming techniques (ie natural) and seek to maintain the rich biodiversity of the soil which transfers to the food. Grown under organic conditions, food is known to be more nutritious. It doesn’t contain the toxic residue of conventional food, and is also found to have dense quantities of a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Our Tip! You will find that buying organic food produced locally and directly from the producer, like at a farmer’s market, will be substantially cheaper than if you purchased it from a grocery store. This way, you will also be supporting local businesses!
While sourcing food with these labels are helpful in determining how your food was grown or processed, the best way to learn about the quality of your food is to ask your local farmer. Or have a conversation with your butcher and green grocer. You will feel better knowing exactly what is going into your body and what you’re feeding your family.