What’s in a Name: The Meaning of Food Labels

I wrote a blog not too long ago, Understanding Food Labels: A Matter of Life and Health, and in my blog, I discussed the importance of reading and understanding the nutritional labels placed on our foods and drinks. I was recently asked about food labels and I thought this would be a great time to break out this one particular section and make it a blog.

It is very important that you begin to know and understand the food labels attached to the food products that you are buying. Certain labels may not mean what you think they mean and certain labels may not mean 100% what you think they should mean.

Knowing what food labels mean will make you a more informed consumer and the more informed you are the better purchasing decisions you will make.

So, for anyone who is confused about the difference between Natural and Organic, or the difference between Non-GMO and Hormone Free, here is the condensed version of my previous blog.

While some links below are affiliate links, there is no additional charge to you. If you make a purchase, I make a commission. Please know that I will only affiliate myself with products and services I believe in.

Food Labels

Food labels
  • Non-GMO

When you see the sticker, “Non-GMO” (Genetically Modified Organism), it indicates that the product has been verified by the Non-GMO Project – a not-for-profit organization. This means that the food that you are purchasing has not been genetically engineered.

Or has it?

According to the Genetic Literacy Project, “Non-GMO Project verified products can contain genetically engineered ingredients ranging from 0.9% – 5% of the finished product.”

  • USDA Certified Organic

When you see the label USDA Certified Organic, this means that the food source has followed strict USDA guidelines. According to the USDA website, “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”

But is the food actually 100% organic? Not exactly.

When you see this label, you should know that 95% of the ingredients were grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides which then leaves the other 5%. One thing to note is that USDA Certified Organic products cannot be genetically engineered.

  • Natural

In the book, The Power of SUPERFOODS: A-Z Guide – Eat & Live Well Every Day, it states, “According to the USDA, natural means the product contains no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. However, the food may contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other similar chemicals, which make the “Natural” label all but worthless to anyone looking to avoid those additives.”

  • Hormone-Free

If we are going to be a stickler about the wording, then “Hormone-Free” labeling is not accurate. Animals have hormones that naturally occur so they are not hormone-free. What this label is referring to is that there were no additional hormones added.

In addition, the FDA does not allow hormones in the raising of hogs and poultry, so you will not see this label on pork and poultry as it is implied. But who knew that?

  • Grass-Fed

According to the FDA website, The USDA Grass Fed Standard: To meet the standard, livestock:

  • can only consume grass and forage (except for milk prior to weaning)
  • cannot be fed grain or grain by-products
  • must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season
  • can receive routine mineral and vitamin supplementation
  • Local

Foods that are labeled local must be produced in the local region where sold. The product cannot travel more than 400 miles from where it originated. Typically, these products will be sold at what’s known as farmer’s markets.

While farmers use pesticides, they use fewer pesticides and less harsh chemicals. Because fruits at the farmer’s market are usually picked, transported, and sold right away, chances are you will get more nutrient-packed produce.


When shopping for healthy foods, the food labels are meant to be helpful. And truth in fact, they are helpful, but you must know what the food labels mean for them to actually help in your purchasing decisions.

Hopefully, after reading this article it will help you take notice of the many different food labels when shopping for you and your family and understand what you are actually buying.

Go to the comment section and let us know your thoughts.

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English, Cameron. (2019). FDA: Look (Out) for the Butterfly – Non-GMO Project. Genetic Literacy Project – Science not Ideology. Retrieved from https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/04/11/30000-food-products-with-non-gmo-project-label-may-be-false-or-misleading-fda-guidance-document-says/#:~:text=The%20FDA%20maintained%20that%20companies,non%2DGMO%2C%20%E2%80%9C%E2%80%A6.&text=Non%2DGMO%20Project%20verified%20products,FDA%20fears%20could%20be%20misleading

Grass Fed Programs for Small and Very Small (SVS) Producers. Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Grass%20Fed%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

Is “Natural” Better? Know Your Food Labels. The Power of SUPERFOODS: A-Z Guide – Eat & Live Well Every Day, page 40.

McEvoy, Miles. (2019). Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

Images by Mary Winchester on Unsplash, Carissa Gan on Unsplash, Photo Mix from Pixabay, Zoë Gayah Jonker on Unsplash, and Shelley Pauls on Unsplash

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