Breaking down the HYPE: Gluten-Free, Grass-Fed, Local, Organic, Natural

Top 5 Most Confusing Food Terms

We Americans are guilty of always looking for a quick-fix or a new fad diet to try to miraculously lose those 10 pounds of pesky fat we’ve been trying to shake for months. But rather than just eat Modern Proteins clean, portion-controlled meals and exercise, we tend to mindlessly buy products without really understanding what we’re eating and what popular words and labels truly mean. Here’s a quick breakdown of the 5 most confusing food terms and their definitions. (That is, if they have definitions.)


The FDA also allows manufacturers to label a food as gluten-free if it does not contain any ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley or crossbreeds of these grains, or has been derived from these grains, or if it contains ingredients that have been derived from these grains, but have still been processed to remove gluten to less than 20 ppm. But the term gluten-free has been overused and confusing consumers for the last few years because it does not indicate that a food is whole grain, organic, low carbohydrate or even healthy. In fact, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and include ingredients like refined white rice, sugar and salt. This means that everyday and random foods that are inherently gluten-free, such as water, vegetables and fruits, for example, can also be labeled as gluten-free, thus further confusing the masses.


Actual parameters, as defined by the USDA, state that cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and greens during their lifetime. Grass-fed does not mean that the cattle’s feed/greens are organic, or that they cannot be given hormones or antibiotics. Compared to conventional products, grass-fed meat and dairy have been shown to contain more “good” fats, less “bad” fats and higher levels of both vitamins and antioxidants. However, if you want to absolutely guarantee that the product also meets the organic standards, look for both that label term as and the USDA organic seal to accompany it.


Most people think that “local” products tend to be more nutritious. Maybe it’s because no specific standards pertaining to ingredients or processing. The term local also does not mean organic. This term is ultimately used to be indicative that food was grown or produced within a certain geographical region from where it’s ultimately being sold or consumed. Parameters tend to vary based upon peoples definition of local, which can fluctuate between 25 miles, 300 miles or within state borders. Similar to the term “natural”, there is no formal or even national definition or regulation for the term local. And yet again, the term local doesn’t mean healthy.


Luckily, the USDA Organic Seal is clearly defined and easy to aid consumers in identifying foods that are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), or petroleum or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. The Organic seal also means that meat and dairy products come from animals who are not treated with hormones or antibiotics, have only been fed organic, vegetarian feed and are also provided access to the outdoors. If the seal says “100% Organic”, it means 100 percent organic ingredients. “Organic” used by itself means that the food was made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients. The term “Made With Organic Ingredients” means the product has a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients, however, there are restrictions on the remaining 30 percent, including no GMO’s. But, again, just like the term natural, the term organic doesn’t always mean healthy.


The worst culprit of them all? Believe it or not, even in 2015, the term “natural” is still one that is not yet clearly defined by the Food and Drug Administration. Its lack of clear definition can make the terminology misleading and/or vague. The term is generally used when food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Natural also does not mean organic, and it is not indicative that a food is healthy. According to studies, ‘natural’ is one of the most overused terms in food industry and is confusing to nearly 66% of consumers when asked what it meant.