Today’s grocery stores and restaurants can be more confusing than ever before. In order to save money and still get quality products, you need to understand what you’re really buying. I was looking over a menu one day and noticed the restaurant advertised the chicken breast as “all natural” as if this was a major selling point. This led me to look further into the true meaning behind many food claims.
Oftentimes, companies may stretch the truth and rely on clever and calculated marketing techniques, using terms like “premium” “cage free,” “hormone free,” “all natural” or “free range”. These claims may often be relatively meaningless and used to deceptively lead uninformed consumers to accept those statements at face value—hoping you'll just grab the product and go.
The term “premium” carries very strict government standard – but only in the context of high octane gasoline. When it comes to food, “premium” has no governmental standards. Another misleading term is “natural” which the FDA has yet to define. The FDA, however, does say that “the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”(1)
Here are my top 4 “Premium” Foods not worth the extra money -
1. “Antibiotic and Hormone-Free” Chicken Many companies boast that their chicken is raised without hormones or antibiotics. This is misleading since federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry.(2) This statement is somewhat comparable to the claim that their fruit juice is “fat free.” It’s hard to find a fruit juice that contains fat! Note that Tyson, Perdue, McDonald’s, and Wal-Mart’s Great Value chicken is also raised without artificial hormones, all of which may be considered lower quality meats.
According to David Maren, farmer and co-founder of Tendergrass Farms, “The claim that ground chicken is “Antibiotic Free” is, on the other hand, a legitimate claim a company could make about a poultry product. Much of the conventional poultry raised in this country is fed subtherapeutic antibiotics every day of their lives. “Subtherapeutic” refers to the fact that these antibiotics are not meant as a specific therapy or cure for a disease but that they are intended as a growth promotant that improves the birds’ feed conversion ratio.”
Your best option is to purchase your chicken from a farmer’s market. If that isn’t possible, the next best option would be an organic chicken. Just avoid paying extra just because the label claims “Antibiotic and Hormone-Free”
2. “Free-Range/Cage-Free” Eggs The term “free range” is often used to refer to poultry raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)-style buildings with small areas outdoors where the chickens may or may not occasionally venture out – not necessarily the grassy meadows that come to mind when you think of “free range.” The USDA’s definition of “free range” states that the birds must have “continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle.”(2) While the definition of free range theoretically could include that, to most companies, this doesn’t make financial sense.
According to David Maren, “In most cases, “continuous access to the outdoors” is interpreted to mean that a cat door or similar contraption is screwed to one end of an existing warehouse-style confinement house where, at least in theory, the birds could venture out onto a dirt lot every once in a while if they pushed their way through the door. Note that that the regulation does not specify that the birds need to be taught to actually take advantage of their “access to the outdoors.” Truth be told, most free range chickens and turkeys never make it outside to see the light of day on the imaginary “range” that they have “access” to.”
The same shopping advice as chicken goes for eggs.
3. Organic Clean 15 The Environmental Working Group (EWG) performed an independent test on 48 fruits and veggies and found these 15 to contain the least amount of contaminates, so spending extra on organic may not be worth it. Sure, from an environmentally perspective it’s better, but if you’re trying to save money, get the conventional version. Get EWG’s full list here. • Asparagus • Avocado • Cabbage • Cantaloupe • Sweet Corn (Only a small fraction of sweet corn is GMO) • Eggplant • Grapefruit • Kiwi Fruit • Mango • Mushrooms • Onions • Pineapples • Papaya (most Hawaiian papaya is a GMO) • Sweet Peas (Frozen) • Sweet Potatoes
4. “Organic” Processed Food – Major companies are just jumping on the band wagon hoping consumers just pay the premium for the products because they say “organic” even though the products aren’t any healthier than their non-organic counterparts. It’s still junk food. If you’re going to buy organic, go for the real food and make it count. 5. “Not from Concentrate” Orange Juice or 100% Fruit Juice – Most if not all bottled OJ at your grocery store is not really fresh. OJ companies store OJ in large vats for up to a year and add “flavor packets” to make it taste fresh and keep the flavor consistent. Being from Florida, I know what fresh OJ tastes like and it’s WAY different than what you get in a bottle.
Additionally, after the pasteurization process, all you’re really left with is flavored sugar water (this really goes for all bottled fruit juices); most of the nutrients have been destroyed. That’s why you’ll often see ascorbic acid (vitamin C) added to the juice.
Don’t be fooled and pay a premium for “Not from concentrate”– it’s no fresher than the concentrate. I recommend buying unpasteurized OJ from a farmer’s market when it’s in season and making your own fruit juices to avoid paying for sugared water.
What foods do you think aren’t worth paying extra money for?
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(1) This quote can be found under “FDA Basics” on the FDA website. (2) This regulation is posted on the USDA website under “National Organic Program.”