What does eating a clean and healthy diet mean to you? While I have successfully extended my growing season into colder months, even I can’t combat the snowy winters of Wisconsin. So now that I’m headed back to the grocery store for fresh produce (just for a month or two!) I thought it would be a good time to address the marketing and labeling of our food.

Food is a big business, and that means you might have to do a little extra work and reading between the lines to find the healthiest options for you and your family. This was a huge transition for me as I started on my health journey. I had felt sick for years with inflammation and allergic reactions and I knew I needed to make a real change in order to start feeling like I could take on the world instead of feeling like I’d been run over by a truck. I credit Food Babe and Food Matters TV for opening my eyes then, and I thank them. 

My eyes were opened to a whole world I had no idea existed: the world of tactics used to bury harmful ingredients in our food and cosmetics.I would never have gotten to where I am now without making healthier food choices. But it’s hard to make healthier choices when food labeling is so hard to understand. Regardless of which grocery store you prefer, when you can’t buy from a local farmer or grower, you enter into a world of sneaky and tricky marketing.

Today, we as consumers, want to know more about how our food is produced and grown. We are increasingly demanding better food quality, higher welfare standards, and increased environmental consciousness. 

Before we dive in, this is not meant to overwhelm you, but to increase your knowledge and awareness (even though it is quite frankly kinda overwhelming!).  If you realize you need to overhaul your pantry or your toiletry cabinet, start with baby steps so you don’t feel like you have to throw your whole house away in one go. It’s frustrating and time-consuming to have to dig deep into what you’re putting into your body. And let’s be honest, we are busy and don’t want to have to put on our investigative glasses with each item of food we are grabbing off the shelf! But I promise, if you get serious about what you’re putting in your body, you will see positive changes in your lifestyle. 

Greenwashing

Greenwashing is when a company makes its product appear more environmentally friendly or healthier than it really is, and it can be confusing to consumers. Here’s the thing: products have a pretty big leeway for what they’re allowed to advertise on their labels. So if you pick up a bottle of shampoo that says “100% natural” or “eco-friendly,” take a hard look at the ingredient list and scan the bottle for real stamps, certifications and labels that reflect those claims.

Healthwashing

Health washing is where a food company adds synthetic and processed additives to food to make it appear healthier and more nutrient dense than it actually is. Food companies utilize clever labeling and packaging to convince consumers that the products they’re purchasing are healthier than they actually are. They are targeting people like you and me who read labels and care about their health and are looking to make the best decisions possible. For example: a food label will appear to be chock full of vitamins and minerals, but they are synthetic. 

Organic

Just because a product is labeled “organic,” it doesn’t mean it’s healthy when it comes to packaged foods. While I do buy organic produce and watch the Dirty Dozen list should I find myself purchasing fresh food, just beware that some chemicals can still be applied under USDA standards, and it is always the best option to grow it yourself or support your local organic farmers.

Also, organic DOES NOT mean pasture-raised or free-range!

Humane Farming Practices

Pasture-raised – ​​Pasture-raised means an animal was raised on pasture (rather than in a pen or cage). But! Less than 1% of farm animals are raised on pasture for their whole lives.

Labels that really mean animals are pasture-raised are: 

Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW

Certified Grassfed by AGW

Certified Non-GMO by AGW 

Certified Regenerative by AGW.

Farm-raised  – We all have the vision of Old Mcdonald when we hear “farm-raised,” but beware: not all farms are created equal. The best way to know your food is being grown and raised with healthy humane practices is to know your farmer and buy local!

Free-range – This doesn’t mean the animals are free-range for their entire lives.  Some are free-range for a short period and then back into less-than-desirable conditions.  Just think, when the conditions we live in and the food we eat is unhealthy, we’re unhealthy. Just like some of these farm animals.

Animals raised humanely on pasture have the ability to produce meat, dairy, and eggs that are healthier for us. Just think, when animals graze, and peck on all of nature’s grasses, flowers, and bugs, the variety of life in healthy pastures is reflected in the food chain and those benefits rise up for us to reap.And personally, food is my fuel, my medicine, and a source of enjoyment. I want the highest quality products going into my diet.

Non-GMO

We see this “Non-genetically modified food” label everywhere! I even saw it on salt the other day and I had to chuckle to myself. Who is genetically modifying salt anyway?! But that’s the marketing industry for you. . . There are studies linking GMOs to health conditions that can disrupt our gut. GMOs often lead to an increase in herbicides on these crops and unfortunately, wheat, soy and corn are all hidden in so many of our foods.   

GF “Gluten Free”

Well, I remember when the GF fad diets really hit the market. For those with gluten intolerances or Celiac, I am so happy that foods are labeled for them. For those hopping on the keto-bandwagon however, “GF” does NOT mean that the food is automatically healthier. Many “GF” foods are full of chemicals and fake ingredients.  Buyer beware here.  

So, confused by all these labels yet? Well this is where I tell you the best bet is to grow a little of your own. Buy local, and support your local farmers working so hard to make a living while providing a high-quality product.  

If those options aren’t available to you, I am a big consumer of Thrive Market throughout the year for those household items and pantry staples I can’t grow. If you don’t have a farmer or a coop or a “green grocer” nearby, Thrive Market could be a great resource for you. But, I really think you should grow your own! Not confident that you have what it takes? I’ve coached many beginner gardeners, some of whom are now providing fresh produce for their whole family all summer long. I know you can do it; let’s get started today!