How to Read Food Labels:

1) Start with the ingredient list.
2) Look for foods that have five or fewer ingredients.
3) Avoid artificial colors, preservatives and additives. These add no nutritional benefit outside of increasing shelf stability and enhancing food taste/appearance.
4) Ingredients should be whole foods.

Within the classification of organic, there are three different levels.

Made with Organic Ingredients – These foods are composed of 70% organic ingredients. The remaining, non-organic ingredients are still closely monitor (for example, GMOs aren’t allowed).

Organic – This classification allows organic producers a little leeway. For example, a non-organic casing might be used for an organic sausage. This means non-traditional products can still be used if there isn’t a natural alternative. Only 95% of the ingredients must be organic.

100% Organic – This is technically the only food label option that ensures a totally organic experience.

Poultry:

Cage-free:
Is regulated by the USDA, but it only means that the hens don’t live in cages. The term does not specify or indicate how much space they have, or whether or not they see the outdoors. Typically these hens are in a barn or other similar facility. Their living conditions can be cramped, but it isn’t always the case. If cafe-free eggs comes with a certified humane status given by the HFAC, that means the hens were given at least 1.5 square foot of space each.

Free-range:
Is also a term regulated by the USDA, and it means hens were given continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. This does not guarantee that a hen ever actually stepped foot outside, it just means there was a way for them to do so. It’s one step more humane than cage-free in philosophy, but according to NPR, it might just mean that the hens had a “few small doors that lead to a screened-in porch with cement, dirt or a modicum of grass.” To be free-range and certified humane, there must be a minimum of two square feet of outdoor space per bird.

Pasture-raised:
Is not regulated by the USDA. But in order for pasture-raised eggs to also be labeled certified humane, it means that the ladies were given ample space to roam outdoors ―we’re talking 108 square feet ― but also have access to a barn for cover. This mandated space means there’s ample room to allow for rotating the flocks, ensuring that they have fresh food to pick at.

A little more information….

Free Range – Any poultry product that is labeled free range might sound like an animal-friendly, healthy option; however, it is pretty misleading. Free range animals are still kept inside—sometimes in cages. They just have access to the outdoors.

All Natural – Again, this is another easy scam people fall for. Almost all poultry products are natural. US poultry producers are not allowed to give hormones or steroids to the birds. Therefore, paying extra for “all natural” is totally unnecessary.

Organic – Birds are still raised in a factory farm situation, but the density is far less than traditional poultry farms. Birds only dine on organic (vegetarian) feed—no animal byproducts are allowed.

Pasture Raised – These animals are raised outside, away from the large-scale production barns. They eat whatever they can find—bugs, grass, etc.

Eggs:

Organic – The birds that produce these eggs are not caged, but they are kept in a large barn. They have access to the outdoors, but there aren’t regulations that dictate the duration of their fresh air. Lastly, these birds are subjected to beak cutting and forced molting (through starvation).

Free Range – Like organic egg-laying birds, free range animals simply need access to the outdoors. Again, there isn’t a rule about how much time.

Cage Free – This sounds like a pretty sweet deal for a bird, but it isn’t as great as you’d like it to be. Animals aren’t in cages, but they are inside without outdoor access.

Certified Humane – These animals aren’t caged, but they do spend their lives inside. While there are rules regarding the number of birds in a barn and the availability of perches or nesting boxes, forced molting is allowed.

Animal Welfare Approved – This buying option is the best all-around solution—it’s healthy and animal friendly. Animals aren’t kept in cages and always have access to the outdoors. Animals are allowed to engage in normal bird behaviors (beak cutting and forced molting doesn’t happen).

Meat:

Organic – All organic meat comes from animals that were allowed to graze for at least 120 days. Also, the animals do not receive antibiotics.

Grass Fed – The stomachs of most livestock were designed to digest grass. Other feeding options are more difficult for the animal’s body to process. That means a meat product made from grass fed animals is healthier and more natural.

100% Grass Fed – Look for labels that specify the animal had unlimited access to pasture and abstained from consuming other feed options.

Mainly just focus on whole foods. Don’t be fooled by all the fancy wording on the front! Usually, the less ingredients, the better.