Decoding Food Labels



In terms of confusing, food labels are up there with the plot of Inception, character names in 100 Years of Solitude and whatever the fuck is happening here. As a food-consuming human with zero nutritional training, I rely on professionals like author/ chef/ fecal-expert Diane Sanfilippo to spirit-guide me through grocery store aisles. The following guidelines are detailed in a neat little chart in Diane’s book (cover pictured below). Even if you’re not Paleo, you can/ should still follow these food-selection tips. Just remember that every time you eat a crouton, Diane’s pet heirloom turkey sheds a single grass-fed butter tear.

Ok. Let’s get to the labels.

Best: 100% grass-fed and finished, pasture-raised, local AKA expensive meat you probably have to get from Whole Foods, a local butcher, a farmers market, or a $7,500 hunt with Ted Nugent
Better: Grass-fed, pasture-raised
Good: Organic (Can you believe this is only the third most important thing?)
Okay: Conventionally raised that’s hormone and antibiotic-free
Barf: Anything on sale at Ralph’s

Best: Pasture-raised, local (huge plus if you know the animal’s name!)
Better: Free-range, organic
Good: Organic
Not ideal: Conventional
Barf: Anything available at a Texas A&M tailgate

Best: Pasture-raised, local (just like slacklining, buying $9 eggs gets easier the more you do it)
Better: Free-range, organic
Good: Cage-free, organic
Not ideal: Conventional

Best: Grass-fed, raw/ unpasteurized (Some people say preggo women aren’t supposed to eat unpasteurized dairy but other people say it’s not that big a deal)
Better: Raw/ unpasteurized
Good: Grass-fed
Not ideal: Commercial or organic

Best: Wild fish (Note from heavy-metal crusader Dr. Lalezar: Avoid high mercury fish like King Mackerel,  Marlin, Orange Roughy, Shark, Swordfish, Tilefish, Tuna, and Bigeye, Ahi, and even tho it’s the best-tasting food on the planet… POKE)
Better: Wild-caught
Good: Humanely harvested, non-grain-fed
Usually not ideal but it depends on the farm: Farm-raised (that means all “Atlantic” Salmon, bitches!)

Best: Local, organic, seasonal (the sexy farmers market shit)
Better: Local AND organic
Good: Local OR organic
Better than potato chips: Conventional veggies

Best: Organic, cold-pressed, sourced from well-raised animals
Better: Organic, cold-pressed
Meh: Conventional, Expeller-pressed

High heat: Use coconut oil, butter, ghee, cocoa butter, tallow, palm oil, lard, bacon fat, duck fat (notice olive oil is not on this list)
Low heat: Use avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, olive oil, peanut oil
Don’t heat: Sesame seed oil, vegetable shortening, walnut oil
Don’t eat: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Margarine, canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rice bran oil, shortening made from any of these

(Again, big thanks to DS for actually doing the work!)

Pasture-raised: Animals roam freely in their natural environment and eat what they want. Certified organic meat MUST come from animals that have continuous access to pasture, regardless of use.

Cage-free: Birds are uncaged inside barns, but beak-cutting (woof!) is allowed. No third party auditing.

Organic: You can’t give these animals hormones/ antibiotics unless they’re sick. They eat organic food and have outdoor access, though they’re not necessarily grass-fed. Compliance is verified through third party auditing. 100% Certified organic means it’s also GMO-free.

Natural: This is just an adjective that doesn’t really mean anything.

Free-range/ roaming: Birds must have access to the outside at least 51% of the time, and animals can’t be in feedlots. No restrictions regarding what birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting permitted. No third party auditing.

Naturally raised: This is a USDA verified term that means animals were raised without growth-promoters or unnecessary antibiotics. It doesn’t always mean they lived or ate well.

No added hormones: It’s illegal everywhere to use hormones in raising poultry or pork, so if you see this label on poultry or pork, it doesn’t really mean anything.

Vegetarian-fed: This implies that the animals didn’t eat animal by-products but the term is not federally inspected. Also, chickens are not vegetarians so this label on chicken or eggs just indicates that the chickens were not eating their natural diet.

Wild fish: Spawned, raised and caught in the wild.

Wild-caught fish: May have been spawned or may have lived some part of its life on a farm before moving to the big city to become an Uber driver. Just kidding. Before returning to the wild to get caught.

GMO-free: While this label doesn’t guarantee that something is organic, it does mean that it’s gone through a rigorous verification program to minimize the risk of GMO contamination. Are GMOs even bad? I agree with these people that the answer is yes. But there are also plenty of well-researched arguments that claim GMOs cause no harm. Probably a topic for another post.

ANDI Score at Whole FoodsThe “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. Pretty sure this is just marketing and you should ignore it and just eat a lot of (organic, locally-sourced, seasonal) vegetables.

Conflict-free:  This classification is for diamonds, which incidentally you can purchase for $479 in the shape of PORK.

Good luck out there.


Thanks for doing all the (locally-sourced) legwork Diane!