Categories SNA Faculty
Labeling deception is everywhere and you’re one of its victims whether you like it or not.
Each time you invest in purchasing healthier foods, there is a chance that you will end up with less quality than you paid for. Unless you get informed that is which, thankfully, you are doing right now.
I’ve spent several years researching our food is made, and I realized one important thing about the labels you see on your favorite products, many of them are unregulated and misleading.
Let me run you through a series of examples to prove my point:
You may know that grass-fed beef has nothing to do with its feedlot-raised, grain-fed cousins sold from a nutritional standpoint.
In fact, grass-fed beef contains 2 to 4 times more omega-3 (essential fatty acids), 4 times more vitamin A and E, a lot more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a natural fat burner, and less fat and calories per pound than regular grain-fed beef. (1)
Grass-fed animals are considerably healthier than grain-fed; this means farmers don’t have to give them part of the 15 million pounds of antibiotics used on grain-fed cattle every year to prevent them from getting sick. (2)
Obviously, buying quality grass-fed meat is a great idea not only to improve your health but also to support local farms that care about their animals.
So what label claims do you look for at your local market to find grass-fed beef? Turns out this is not clear.
In the last couple of years, labeling regulations have changed quite a bit in the beef industry; however, very few customers know that.
Today, manufacturers are able to sell grass-fed beef that has been “grain-finished” as 100% grass-fed beef.
The problem is: some farmers will feed their cattle grass for most of their lifespan, but “finish” them with grains in the last months before sending them to slaughter.
Because the last 90 to 160 days of diet determine how much nutrition your big, juicy steak will contain, this process removes any benefit the initial grass fed diet might have had.
The bottom line: your beef needs to be both grass-fed and grass-finished to contain all the nutrition it’s supposed to.
But because those claims are still not regulated by the USDA, your best insurance is to develop a relationship with a farmer that raises beef the right way.
Claims on eggs cartons are even harder to figure out.
Free-range… pastured… organic… added lutein… added omega-3… which eggs are the best?
The simple answer is: you want eggs that come from the healthy hens.
In other words, hens that have access to sunshine and an omnivorous diet. Yes, hens are in fact omnivores (mostly insectivores), and do not usually eat the grains most farmers feed them.
Eggs raised this way – either pastured or organic – pack a ton more nutrition than regular factory eggs. (3)
• 66% more vitamin A
• 200% more omega-3
• 300% more vitamin E
Very much like beef, the claims on egg labels are mostly unregulated.
For example, a farm could say that its hens are “free-range”, but they could still be packed into an overcrowded barn in the dark – leading to very poor life conditions for and ultimately eggs that contain way less nutrients.
Also, one claim that just isn’t worth the extra price most people pay is “Added Omega-3”.
It’s true that using flax as 20% of poultry ration can increase the omega-3 (in the form of ALA) content of egg yolk fat from 0.4% in the ordinary egg to 8.9%. (4)
But there’s a caveat: this type of omega-3 is 8 to 33 times less absorbable than the animal-based omega-3 (EPA and DHA) naturally contained in eggs. (5)
To make it even worse, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s independent lab tests revealed that certain enriched eggs contain less than half of the omega-3 claimed on the packaging. (6)
The bottom line: same as for beef, knowing your egg farmer personally remains the best way to make sure you’re getting the nutrition you’re paying a premium for.
“Pastured” and “organic” are probably the two labels that I would trust the most, but if you’re still in doubt, make sure to verify the color of the yolk.
If the yolk is a pale yellow, chances are that these eggs aren’t really pastured or organic. But if it’s bright orange, you’ve got a keeper.
What’s In It For You?
Shopping for healthier foods can be a headache, even if you spend time trying to understand regulations like I did today.
The best way to eat the most nutritious food possible is going back to the way things used to be – know where your food actually comes from.
If you can only get “grass-fed beef” and that you’re not sure if it’s 100% grass-fed, don’t worry too much. You’re still avoiding the factory-farmed kind that often contains a bunch of contaminants.
And if you can’t get pastured or organic eggs, remember factory raised eggs are still better than a granola bar, pastry, or cereal for breakfast.
Do the best you can with the resources you have. But never forget that labels don’t tell everything about the food you’re buying!
Power to the consumers,
Nick “The Nutrition Nerd” Pineault is a foodie, self-educated health nut and author of the best-selling ebook The Truth About Fat Burning Foods. His obsession about how our food is made got him the title “Food Detective”. You can find him on his blog at www.nickpineault.com.
(1) Smith, G.C. “Dietary supplementation of vitamin E to cattle to improve shelf life and case life of beef for domestic and international markets.” Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1171.
(3) In a 2007 egg-testing project, Mother Earth News compared the official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs with eggs from hens raised on pasture. See: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx
(5) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20734237 (6) http://cspinet.org/new/200710011.html
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