What These 4 Common Food Label Terms Really Mean

Sometimes I can get pretty overwhelmed when I go to the grocery store to pick up some food for the week. There are so many different words on the labels these days that it can be difficult at times to tell what exactly is in the food you eat. It can be difficult to try and figure out the difference between pesticide-free and organic. Even though most of us know to look for certain food terms, such as “organic” and “free range”, we don’t always know what exactly those terms mean. Is there even much of a difference? Here’s a breakdown of four of the most common food label lingo terms in the supermarket today, and how to get the information you really need out of them.


Be sure not to mix this term up with “grass-finished”, which is a loosely-defined term that is often left unverified by the FDA. The USDA defines a “grassfed” meat product (cattle, sheep, bison) as “grass and forage being the feed source consumed for lifetime”. Many factory farms raise their animals on corn, which is not the natural diet of most of the animals we consume. A grassfed diet is all-natural and safer on the animal, as well as us. Check for stamps from the American Grassfed Association or Food Alliance organizations for added assurance from third-party verifiers. 


In theory, this term should mean that the flock was able to roam freely throughout its life. Unfortunately, there is no way to verify this very vague label with complete certainty. The only way to know for sure that the product was able to be mobile is to buy directly from a farmer you know and trust, or to research a brand in depth.

Fair Trade

Fair trade products are non-animal edible foods, such as bananas, chocolate, and tea. A fair trade product is produced from a company that has been verified by various third-party organizations to have better working conditions and local sustainability. This label term is relatively trustworthy, so be sure to keep an eye out for it. 

Whole Grain

The Whole Grains Council is the third-party organization responsible for making sure this term is applied correctly. A whole grain product, such as whole grain bread or pasta, is made from the entire seed, as opposed to a refined version that has been stripped of nutrients. Look for a seal that claims “100 percent whole grain”, since a label that just states “whole grain” only guarantees eight grams of whole grain in the entire product.

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