What Do Health Food Terms Really Mean

Amidst staggering obesity statistics, degenerative diseases thought to be caused by diet and a slew of marketing campaigns targeting the uninformed consumer, America is a nation at war.  The demand for healthy food options everywhere from hospital cafeterias to high-end restaurants climbs steadily to counteract years of research free consumption.

Despite positive effects of food awareness in certain groups or regions, the truth is that many consumers find it difficult to sift through what is healthy and what isn’t…and they have the marketing department to blame!

There is no shortage of companies willing to steer the consumer, stuck at a nutrition crossroads, in their direction. This informs their grocery shopping as well as their menu decisions. Filled with terms that vary slightly from Natural to All Natural or Cage-Free to Free Range, the road to healthy and clean eating is rife with semantic obstacles for would-be patrons.

At the grocery store or restaurant menu level, you can begin to sort through consumer intention versus consumption.


1: Organic. The consumer is looking for the healthiest food available and has been directed to everything from organic meats and vegetables to pre-made organic meals and organic friendly restaurants.

USDA certified organic foods are the cream of the crop and they have the price tag to prove it. Free of added hormones, antibiotics and, in the case of Rastelli organic cattle, raised on certified organic fields, this is the health enthusiast’s and restaurateur’s dream.

However, savvy customers are wise to the USDA’s list of non-organic items that can be used in organic food production. They are checking the label to make sure they are comfortable with all listed ingredients, so restaurant buyers must do the same.

2: Natural. The consumer is looking for something without added hormones or antibiotics, but doesn’t necessarily require strict organic regulations. They are confronted with the fact that natural is fairly non-descriptive.

That’s because Natural is not a regulated term. There are no certifications for it and certainly no qualms about using it on products that may not be as natural as they seem.

Loosely, Natural means minimally processed without additives. However, it does not mean that antibiotics were never used. To be safe, consumers are looking for labels and menu descriptions that say “All Natural;” implying free from added dyes, artificial ingredients and artificial flavors.


3: Free Range and Cage Free. The consumer is looking for something that is humanely raised and comes across two terms that seem fundamentally the same; with the word “Free” eliciting feeling of liberation and autonomy.

For Free Range animals that is basically the case. They are free to roam across their provided range environment at least part of the day throughout their lives.

Cage Free animals are not so liberated. Though they may escape the overcrowded conditions of their caged counterparts; cage free animals can be kept indoors full-time according to the “uncertified” definition.

Recently, US egg labels have added the term “barn-roaming,” referring to eggs that are laid by hens which are confined to a barn instead of a more restrictive cage.

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