Check out these simple ways to understand what the food industry or your local farmer is saying about the quality, source, and life of the food you are consuming!
Let’s face it – when it comes to food, and the AISLES AND AISLES at a grocery store – it can be confusing. If you don’t do the grocery store and you do a market, you still need to understand what you are buying. You need to understand the SOURCE of your food.
First things first, yes we are talking about “labels” – but this isn’t your macro label reading post. Sorry. This is understanding the CLAIMS made about how the food you are about to buy is raised or created. Big food companies have found loopholes and ways to advertise on packages to make you feel good about your purchase.
Real food, often doesn’t have a label. Even in the grocery store. Perhaps you find a weight on meat or a simple label on the dairy, but beyond that, we are talking real food with no labels. That means fruits, vegetables, and similar produce aisle items. A few things do have labels and they are important to pay attention to. These items are also what you will hear about at a farmer’s market – those things include items like eggs, dairy, meat, and even vegetables at the market from a farmer.
Because we are talking about real food today – we aren’t talking about ingredients lists or macros, etc. So you can put that aside. We want our food to be from a real source to get the most nutrients available to us. So let’s get started.
Let’s start with sourcing your real food. How to we get the most bang for our buck?
- Think variety. You want to get a diverse range of plants and animals in your diet. You want to avoid corn, wheat, and soy. These are highly GMO and highly processed and provide literal nutrient value to you. Try to aim for five different colors of food on your plate at a meal!
- Think local. Try to get food that comes from as close to your home as possible. This is important because the longer food travels to get to you the more nutrient loss it has. Shopping local keeps farms running near you, WHILE giving you the best nutrient value possible. Plus it tastes so much fresher!
- Think seasonally. Eat foods in season near you. This saves you money – watch the pricing you will see the change. It also gives you the best nutrients possible again. This also pushes you outside of your comfort zone and therefore giving your taste buds and body new options for nutrients! It’s fun too!
- Think quality. You want to choose from some of the options we are about to chat about below. And if you can get organic to boot – it’s a good thing. There is a nutrient density difference in organic food versus non-organic.
If you can’t get to a market near you – try looking for CSA boxes. These are local farmers delivering delicious boxes of produce (and you might find some with meat as well). You can also reach out to farmers that advertise the delivery of these items. Many do offer this service, and even without delivery, they have open pick up days on their farm!
OK, so what DO the Labels Mean, and What IS Properly Raised Food?
Grass-Fed Vs. Pasture Raised
OK, so animals like cows, lamb, buffalo etc live they are meant to eat grasses from the field. No grains. That means you want to get an animal that has lived on their meant-to-be foods.
Pasture-Raised means that they lived in the pasture grazing on grass as they were meant to. For animals like chickens, this is also important because they were meant to eat bugs and natural elements (and no feed) either.
Pasture-raised is how the animal was raised, rather than how it ate.
Grass-fed means that the animal ate grass for part of their life. This is a very vague term when it’s only the wording of grass-fed. However, if you read or are told, grass-fed and finished that means they only had grass. The other common label used is 100% grass-fed. That means no grains.
Grass-Fed is how the animal ate, not how it was raised.
Why does it matter if the animal was grass-fed and finished, or pastured?
The nutrients in the animal product you are going to consume are a direct result of what the animal ate and how the animal lived. Meaning, animals that were mass fed with grains and produced in dirty quarters with drugs and more have fewer nutrients you need and more nutrients that are harmful (like tons of omega 6 which is linked to heart disease), and the toxins also accumulate in their fat. Who wants that?
If you eat a 100% grass-fed, pastured cow you are getting an equal balance of omega 3 and 6 (this is what you want for optimal heart health), and toxin exposure is reduced as much as possible. These cows are not typically treated with medications either (this is where you look for organic or ask your farmer what he does). You are getting more nutrients on this animal and less harmful substances than the latter.
Cage-Free vs. Free Range Poultry & Eggs
This is where it can also be confusing. The term cage-free on eggs means that the chicken could not be raised in a cage. That is all. It doesn’t mean the chicken was free to roam. Many chickens that are “cage-free” still spend most of their lives in tight, dirty quarters, with no place to roam.
Free-range means the animal had access to outdoors, but again, it doesn’t specify how much time. It just means they could get outside if they made their way to it. It might not even indicate fields, just access to the outside.
So what to do here?
You are looking for pasture raised chicken and eggs. These are free roaming chickens that eat their natural diet and live in a safe and healthy environment. This is important for the same reasons as with beef. You get the most nutrient value from the food when the animal has been living a natural lifestyle. If you have ever had a farm fresh egg yolk, and you have bought a cheap mass produced chicken egg – you know the difference. The yolk color is a deep, almost orange color on your farm fresh pasture chicken, versus a barely yellow color of that white mass produced chickens egg.
Wild-Caught vs Farm-Raised Seafood
Now going over to our sea friends. Eating wild-caught is always best than farm-raised. However, if you need to get farm-raised seafood, choosing an organic eliminates some of the filthy habits that go on in farm raising fish.
Choosing smaller fish are better – such as sardines, salmon, tilapia, shellfish. These tend to not carry the toxic metals and other items found in the natural water around them. Many of our lakes and oceans are contaminated today. Avoiding or limiting larger fish is advised as they carry the toxins with them and then when you eat them, they are passed to you. Those types of fish include things like swordfish, shark, marlin, and even tuna.
What about humane certifications?
Animal Welfare Approved is the most rigorous certification currently. This means the product was raised in its natural habitat. This means they were never confined to cages, crates or stalls and did their own natural behaviors their entire life.
Organic Vs. Conventional
I already mentioned this a bit above. This is important to get the full nutrient value of each vegetable or fruit. Buying local is always best as it also reduces the time from field to fork. The less time in transit the more value the item is to your body.
If a food item is certified organic that means it did not have synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, no antibiotics or hormones, and no GMOs. Please do note that many organic items are still raised with pesticides, just not the synthetic type used in conventional farming.
Heard of the dirty dozen?
This is a group of fruits and vegetables that are think skinned and can carry these harmful toxic substances into your body. Making sure you always buy organic of these items is important! These include:
- Sweet bell peppers
You can buy non-organic more safely if the item is thicker skinned – these are considered the “Clean Fifteen” (by the EWG – Environmental Working Group):
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melons
So there you have it. Some of the most basic claims you see in produce, or with farms and your food. The basic things to remember:
- Keep it close to home
- Try to get organic as much as possible (and it’s really not a big price difference anymore)
- Eat animals that were raised in their natural environments all the time
- Vary your diet by season
Ask me any questions you have – I love talking about all of these things to get YOU the best nutrition possible!
Source: Nutritional Therapy Association. (2018). Basics of Nutrition. Olympia: WA.