Grass-fed, Non-GMO, All Natural, what does it all mean???

by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.

There are many ways foods are marketed to you from the shelf – shouting BUY ME! Like most moms you are either shopping with kids in tow or it’s your one hour a week you must dedicate to food shopping. Either way you probably want to get in and get it done. So, what do some of these most-used terms really mean? Let’s Break it down:

Natural Ingredients/No Artificial Ingredient

When you see a product touting natural ingredients, the FDA has defined these as foods that have nothing artificial or synthetic in them. This includes preservatives, artificial coloring or anything that has been included in the food or added to the food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.  This does not mean that the food is not “processed” but just that the ingredients used in the processing are natural. For example, a food’s flavoring can come from a natural herb and altered in the production of the food and still be considered natural. The USDA does take the term a step further and specify that the product is “minimally processed,” meaning that meat or poultry has not been fundamentally altered during production. Bottom line here is that you are getting a less processed food when it’s “natural” however, you really want to look at the ingredients to make sure additional chemicals weren’t used to alter that natural food source along the way.


When picking up your meat it is good to look for grass-fed meats because it means that throughout the entire life of the animal, they were fed grass and forage (instead of grain or grain byproduct). This doesn’t necessarily mean they were out roaming the fields, but their food was different than other commercially raised animals. There have been studies showing grass-fed cows have higher omega-3 content in their meat, therefore, improving the nutritional content. Cage-free can also be used with grass-fed but it’s important to note that this just means they have access to roam during the day for an amount of time, but they may still live in spaces filled with other chickens or cows.


We have covered non-GMO before, but in short GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. This is applied to plants and animals that have had their genetic makeup altered often to be able to withstand disease and grow faster. When you see an item that is Non-GMO it means that product contains less than 0.9 percent GMOs. These foods may still be treated with pesticides (unless it is also organic). If you are looking to reduce GMOs in your diet (which have been linked to higher incident of allergies and inflammation).

Free of Antibiotics

Antibiotics for your toddler’s double ear infection? Good. Antibiotics overloading your food? No so good. You will usually find the “no antibiotics added” claim on meat packaging and it means that the animals were raised without antibiotics and had the documentation to back up the claim. Why should you care about the antibiotics? Usually animals are given large doses of antibiotics because they are being raised in conditions that require the extra protection against disease. However, the more direct concern could be for your family and the growing rate of antibiotic resistance. In 2014 the United States CDC (Centers for Disease Control) named the issue one of the top priorities for the department. You may have seen news stories of “super bugs” or “antibiotic resistant infections” – that is the impact of too many antibiotics used to treat illness but also found in the food supply. Some preliminary studies have shown that eliminating the regular use of antibiotics on farms could have a dramatic effect on human health. When given the option, seek out foods that are free of antibiotics.

Bottom Line

 Know what’s in your food and before completely buying into the front of the package, take a minute to turn it around and look at the ingredients. Choose more whole foods in your diet and enjoy that other foods you eat.

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