Food Labeling Guide: Organic, Grass-Fed, Free-Range, or Cage-Free?

Food Labeling Guide | The Organic Beauty BlogWhether or not to consume animal protein is a very personal decision.  We need to take into account out individual bodies, lifestyles, and ethics when deciding where we stand.  In my mid-20’s, I made the choice to become mostly vegetarian (or pescatarian, as it were– I ate fish every once in a while).  There were many factors that led to my decision — I was dating a vegan chef at the time who really opened my eyes to the ethics and health factors involved in my meat-eating lifestyle.  When I cut out animal protein, I felt so much healthier, lighter, even possibly happier. After about 6 years of my pescatarian lifestyle, I made the decision to start eating some animal protein again when I was pregnant.  I was craving it, and found that my pregnant body responded really well to some chicken once a week and a grass-fed burger once a month.  Obviously, being pregnant, I put a huge emphasis on only eating fresh, organic, non-GMO foods, and that applied even stronger to my animal protein choices.   But I was startled to discover that food labeling isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

One of the most common questions I get from my clients is about food labeling, especially when it comes to consuming animal products.  By now, we all know the problems with conventionally farmed meat and dairy (the hormones, antibiotics, inhumane practices, etc.), but with all the different varieties of “happy meat” out there, how do you know which is best?  Most people think that many common food labels are interchangeable — free-range is just another word for cage-free, right?  All that really matters is that it’s organic, right??  If I buy my meat or eggs at Whole Foods, it has to be ok, righhhht???  Turns out, wrong.

There are substantial differences in the stringency of regulations regarding all the common food labels.  For example, I was shocked to discover that “free-range” chickens need only have access to the outdoors, but there is no guarantee that they will actually spend any time free-ranging at all.  And did you know that wild-caught seafood is not always better than farmed?

To make the healthiest choices for our selves, our families, and our planet, we need to be armed with knowledge about what exactly we are putting in our bodies.  Below is my simple, straight-forward food labeling guide to help you pick the best foods to put on your table.

So what do I choose for myself and my family?

Always organic and non-GMO everything, especially animal protein.  We eat free-range organic chicken a few times a week, wild caught Alaskan salmon or Pacific Dover Sole once or twice a week, and pasture-raised eggs maybe 2-3 times a week.  The majority of our diet is still plant-based.  I’m not going to lie, I still struggle with eating animal protein and feeding it to our kid (we decided to include some animal protein in her diet due to some growth issues and food sensitivities that limited her protein options).  I imagine once our little one is a bit older, we’ll all go back to our old pescatarian ways.  But for now, I can feel confident that I am minimizing the impact our choices are having on our health and the planet by picking the healthiest and cleanest foods we can.

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This potent superfood has endless health and beauty benefits

Spirulina Smoothies on The Organic Beauty Blog

It’s no secret that I am all about superfoods here at The Organic Beauty.  People may taut them as trends or fads, but I’ll tell you this: any food that gives you more nutrients and benefits ounce for ounce than your run of the mill, non-super foods, gets a thumbs up from me. Though there seem to be new superfoods that sprout up all the time, I’m all about the most tested and tried of the bunch, and there’s one that I keep coming back to year after year: spirulina.

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How this nutritionist feeds her baby

Nutritionist Feeds Her Baby

As a holistic nutritionist, I put a lot of thought into what and how I want to feed my baby. Her first foods and the way she is fed set her up for a lifetime of healthy eating and a happy relationship with food.

I did a bunch of research before I settled on baby-led weaning and a very specific set of first foods for my little one. Check out this video where I discuss what I love about baby-led weaning, what foods I feed my little one, and how I’m setting her up for a lifetime of happy, healthy eating!

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Keep your Belly Happy with Chia + Probiotics

Kunachia on The Organic Beauty Blog

A happy digestive system is the basis of a slender waistline, glowing skin, and elevated mood, so I am a huge proponent of daily steps to boost digestive health.  I take my probiotics daily, I add awesome soluble fiber to my daily smoothies and oats, and I eat all kinds of prebiotic foods like greens, bananas, and alliums every day.

But when I find a way to combine some of these steps into one, I get super pumped. Enter: Kunachia, a perfect blend of organic, milled chia seeds and probiotics.  Loaded with omega-3’s, antioxidants, fiber and protein, Kunachia scrubs your intestines of toxic buildup, while populating your gut with beneficial bacteria.  This nutritional one-two punch is super powerful for all areas of your health, making it the perfect addition to your morning smoothies, oats, yogurt, and desserts!

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A Mega Warrior Smoothie for Endurance and Energy

Sunwarrior Protein in The Organic Beauty

One look at my Instagram feed, and it’s pretty obvious that green smoothies are my top pick for breakfast.  I probably rock one of these puppies 5 out of 7 days a week in the warmer months, and only slightly less often when the weather cools. My green smoothies have a whole huge salad’s worth of greens, loading my body up with iron and folate, lots of healthy fats in the form of coconut oil and almond butter, omegas in the form of chia seeds, antioxidants and tons of vitamins in the form of berries, and a heaping dose of protein in powder form. Naturally, I’m always on the hunt for the best protein powders and get super pumped when I discover a new one.

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How to Make Your Coffee Habit Work FOR You

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

How to Make Your Coffee Habit Work FOR You | The Organic Beauty Blog

It’s no secret that coffee is one controversial little beverage.  About 98% of my clients come to me with a pretty serious coffee habit, and of those over 3/4 are bona-fied addicted.

So what’s the big deal, you ask?  Coffee never killed anyone, right?

Well, let’s clear a few things up.

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Why You Need to Kick That Soda Habit, STAT.

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

Why You Need to Kick That Soda Habit, STAT. | The Organic Beauty Blog

One of the blessings and curses of living in my little Brooklyn-yoga-meditation-farm-to-table-CSA-kale-quinoa-organic universe is that I get a little out of touch with the rest of the world. I find myself assuming that everyone (well, if not everyone, than at least most people) is on a similar path. Then I’ll have a conversation with someone and be swiftly disabused of this naive notion. There is still so much work to do.

One of the areas in which my naiveté gets the best of me is soda. I have truly been living under the subconscious notion no one really drinks soda anymore. True, there has been a marked decline in our nation’s consumption of soft drinks over the last 5-10 years. As a country, we’re guzzling about 450 cans of soda a year, on average, per person — a number that hasn’t been this low since 1986.  But to me, this still sounds crazy, and it’s got to stop.

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Meatless Monday Recipes

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

The Organic Beauty Meatless MondayI get that going totally plant-based isn’t for everyone.  I myself eat seafood a couple of times a week, and have no intention of cutting it from my eating. But regardless of where you are on the omnivore-herbavore spectrum, taking at least one day out of the week to go totally meatless has some major health benefits, and is definitely worth making a regular healthy habit.

Rocking a Meatless Monday just once a week will:

  • Lower your cancer risk
  • Reduce your risk of heart disease
  • Help you lose weight
  • Reduce risk of diabetes
  • Increase lifespan
  • Improve your nutrition
  • Reduce your carbon footprint

Pretty powerful stuff for just one day of healthy plant-based eating, right??

Here are some great recipes to get you started:

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Snacking Is Making You Fat (and moody, and bloated)

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

Snacking Is Making You Fat (and moody, and bloated) | The Organic Beauty Blog

The whole snack-happy, “six-small-meals-a-day” dieting philosophy is one of the worst things to have happened to Western food culture, and is pretty much the bane of my existence as a nutrition counselor.  Basically, this phenomenon has created a nation of perpetually hungry, moody hypoglycemics, and although this is great for my business, it is terrible for the health of this country.  Allow me to persuade you that snacking is one of your biggest food woes, and to show you a much better way!

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How To NOT Lose Friends Over Your Lifestyle Choices

By Callie McBride

“Look who’s off to the gym again.”

“I’d eat as many greens as you, too, if I were a giraffe…”

“At the end of the day, I’d much rather have the cupcake than not.”

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These and plenty of other comments can be routinely heard from family, friends, co-workers, and people who lead a different lifestyle than you do, and seem eager to judge. In the nearly 3 years that I have been vegan, and in the 5+ years that I have expressed my passion for health and fitness, I have laughed off ‘vegan’ jokes, stomached outwardly opinionated friends, and even held my tongue around certain people who are quite vocal about their disapproval or disinterest in a holistic way of living. Certainly not everyone is as gung-ho about hot yoga and green smoothies as you are, but it can become frustrating when your life choices become criticized on a regular basis and you feel the need to refrain from practicing those choices in order to fit in. Just last week I spent a number of days with a loud, fun-loving family whose only agenda was to lounge, eat, and drink. (I know, I know, where can you sign up!?) Like many families, this one especially loves to come together over a meal, so inviting a girl with a plant-based diet into the home was a challenge for them. Each time they had questions or comments about my lifestyle, I graciously answered and listened to what they had to say. After a while, though, the vegan jokes were popping up 4 or 5 times in an afternoon. “The ribs are on the grill, we know you can’t wait!” “We made this cheesecake special for you-oh waaaaait.” My personal favorite: “So, you’re vegan…like, where do you find joy in life?”

If you’ve ever done grade school theatre or participated in a kindergarten beauty pageant, you know how exhausting it is to hold a fake smile. Unfortunately, that’s what I felt like I was doing. While I recognize that the digs and comments are all in good fun, I quickly felt that I stood out like a sore thumb every time the dinner bell rang. It got me thinking that no matter what life choices a person makes, if they stand out from what’s considered the ‘norm’, it can be tough to live out those choices in a social setting.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

In an effort to remedy my feelings of frustration and inconvenience toward people who don’t understand why I eat the way that I do, I have compiled a list of ways to inform without lecturing, extend invitations without pressuring, and constructing rebuttals without starting World War III.

1. Share your snacks. A fool-proof way of convincing people that vegans (or simply healthy eaters) aren’t aliens and that healthy eating can be delicious, is to show them with food! Choose your favorite healthy treat or green appetizer to make and bring to a summer barbecue or birthday party so that you can eat your cake and have it, too. All those jokes will disappear once vegan chocolatey goodness is in the picture.

2. Keep it short and sweet. People who are unfamiliar with the plant-based diet and holistic lifestyle will ask questions. Be sure not to transform into your old high school biology teacher and go into a 30 minute spiel about the benefits of kale and the history of coconut oil. Instead, stick with a brief answer to the ever-popular question of why you live the way you do. I usually say with a smile, “It makes me feel great and brings me happiness. I just like to feel my best!”

3. Have a few tricks up your sleeve. If the joking continues, pull out some of your own. Making sure not to judge or offend, think of cheeky ways to throw a question back onto someone who may be grilling you about your particularly green dinner plate. “I’m actually trying to see if my body starts sprouting leaves, thanks for noticing!” “I’m in a competition with my pet rabbit to see who can consume more raw carrots within a day. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.” “When the rest of the world zigs, I zag. You should really try it.”

4. Extend open invitations. Especially when vacationing with friends or living with roommates, sneaking away to the gym can frustrate people who either aren’t on top of their fitness game or who want to spend time as a group. Instead of waking up at the crack of dawn to fit in your workout before everyone else’s day starts, make a suggestion for the group to rent bikes or play beach volleyball. Your dedication to fitness shouldn’t be overruled by your peers, but asking them to join in is a win-win situation. A dance party is a wonderful disguise for a cardio without…

5. Go all out with a plant-based feast. If your siblings, boyfriend, or business partner are still on the fence about your obsession with raw veggie collard wraps, pull the final trigger an invite them over for 3-course vegan or plant-based meal to wow them. For brothers or boyfriends who frequent Buffalo Wild Wings and Taco Bell on a weekly basis, try Alicia Silverstone’s 7-layer dip; they won’t know what hit them. For your mother or sister and their sweet teeth, try any of Chocolate Covered Katie‘s cookie, cake, or pie recipes-most are sugar and fat free. For the culinary connoisseur, prove just how dimensional veganism can be by slaving over any of these gourmet raw recipes, and be sure to kill the presentation.

These tricks won’t have anyone running away from you, and may even open some doors to more willing eaters.

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