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Following “green”, “organic”, or gluten-free diets has become a trendy lifestyle in the last years. However, stores are packed with products wearing all kinds of confusing terms in their labels. That’s why we embarked on the task of finding out the meaning of these terms and help you understand them better.

Organic

Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

In the case of organic livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products, they must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They are not given antibiotics or growth hormones (which we’ll talk about below).

As for its benefits, organic foods have more antioxidants, and since they have almost no contact with laboratory chemicals, people with allergy to foods or preservatives often feel better when they eat only organic foods. Remember to always look for the label USDA Organic.

Natural

This label is, definitely, the most controversial, since there’s no agreement to what it refers to. “Natural foods” are often assumed to be foods that are not processed, do not contain any food additives such as hormones, antibiotics, sweeteners, food colors, or flavorings that were not originally in the food. Though, the international Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)does not recognize the term “natural”.

In the United States, the USDA requires that every natural food product must also be labeled with a statement explaining the meaning of the term “natural,” such as “no added coloring,” “no artificial ingredients” or “minimally processed.”

Non-GMO

GMO stands for “Genetically Modified Organism” and refers to food crops engineered to make them resistant to herbicides and/or to produce an insecticide. Non-GMO means that they are foods that have not been genetically modified

GMOs are commonly found in many crops (you can find the complete list here), so it’s very likely that you’re having them in your breakfast cereal, and in any food which contains corn syrup or soy lecithin.

It’s believed GMOs increase food allergens (food that trigger allergic reactions) and gastrointestinal problems, as well as risk of cancer, though none of these have been proved conclusively.

Gluten-free

Gluten is a protein present in grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley. Some grains are naturally gluten-free, such as brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, wild rice, amaranth, sorghum, millet, corn (polenta) and teff.

A gluten-free diet is essential for people with gluten-related disorders such as celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and wheat allergy.

However, even when very little clinical research has been conducted, gluten-free diets have become popular arguing they boost weight loss. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the biggest risk is that many gluten-containing products are replaced with highly processed gluten-free foods that will not only not help you lose weight, but in fact gain more as many of these foods are higher in calories than their gluten-containing counterparts.

No-hormones added

This label can be found on any kind of meat, but there is really no such thing as “hormone free” or “no hormones”, as every organism naturally contains hormones (you and me included). Now, the label “No-hormones added” refers to meat products were not grown with additional hormones.

Hormones are added to animals to make them grow faster and bigger. And even if the FDA says they are unharmful, they have been associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate, and other cancers in humans.

No antibiotics added

Along with this nominal label, you may also find “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics administered” and are placed on meat/poultry if the producer can provide documentation proving that the animal was raised without antibiotics.

Epidemiologists have been able to link the overuse of drugs in animals to infections they have found in humans, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in poultry, pork, and beef. Besides, the overuse of antibiotics in animas have led to infections that drugs cannot fight; in the same way, humans can get infected when they eat foods that have been contaminated by bacteria.

Fair-trade

Fair Trade is a model where the farmers growing crops receive a fair price for their crops. Believe it or not, stores make the most money out of any product, and the farmers make just a small profit comparatively.

Since fair trade products have a “floor” price (regardless the market, the specified crops cannot be sold below a certain price), farmers are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, and protect the environment improving thus their communities.

Cage-free

This label is becoming popular stamped in the packages of eggs and poultry and means that hens and chickens were not kept in cages. But that doesn’t mean they are “really” free to walk around, since most of them are still kept in a tiny space (yet, not a cage) where they can barely move without bumping into each other.

As for the advantages, there’s no evidence that cage-free eggs or poultry are more nutritious.

Free Range

This label means the animal had access to outdoor space for half of their lives; it’s regulated by the USDA and covers meat, eggs, and poultry, but does not cover hens raised to produce eggs. Besides, keep in mind that the USDA considers 5 minutes a day a sufficient amount of time for the animals to spend outdoors.

Regarding its benefits, free range meats are lower in calories and total fat. Additionally, they have higher levels of vitamins and a healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats than conventional meat and dairy products.

Now that you know the differences between all those statements on products’ labels, you’ll be able to make smarter eating choices, good for your health and your pocket. Remember that a healthy lifestyle is always your choice, #DecideItNow.