Deciphering Labels: Poultry

In my last post I discussed labels and health benefits associated with different ways to raise cattle. Here I will touch on poultry, focused primarily on chicken (which appears to be an industry that is about 5 times as big as turkey production in the U.S.). Labeling for eggs is a different story that I may touch on in a different post; there are different standards in the U.S. for chickens kept for producing eggs than those for meat.

What does natural mean? 

Not a whole lot when it comes to chicken. All chicken should be natural. It means that there are no artificial ingredients, no added colors, and that the product was minimally processed.

What does fresh mean? 

That the poultry was never frozen.

What does free-range mean? 

This will tell you that the poultry had some access to get outside each day. There are no regulations regarding the length of time they had access or whether they actually were outside.

What does pasture-raised mean?

This term is not regulated, however, when used honestly it should mean that the poultry could be outside as long as they wanted and that they were allowed a more natural diet. This indicates the most naturally raised chickens and can be difficult to find in supermarkets and quite expensive.

What does antibiotic-free mean? 

This is a legitimate term that will tell you the poultry were not given antibiotics to help them grow faster.

What does hormone-free mean? 

Poultry are not allowed to be given hormones, so all poultry in the U.S. should be hormone-free.

What about certified organic? 

This term means that the chicken were given organic grain, but it also means that they were not given antibiotics or arsenic for growth and that they had some access to get outside.

What about regular chicken without any of these labels found in a U.S. supermarket?

Most of the chicken consumed in the U.S. today are raised in a factory, in cramped spaces, and fed grains, corn, soy, and antibiotics to get fat extremely quickly. Read the health facts of chicken below. These factory-raised chickens have far fewer nutrients than chicken raised to run around and eat what they wish, and also a higher level of Omega-6 fats compared to Omega-3 fats.

Some health facts of chicken

Chicken is very high in protein, and contains many other healthful nutrients such as B vitamins, choline, selenium, phosphorus, sulfur, and iron. Additionally, one reason that chicken soup is such a common food when sick, is because it contains the antimicrobial, infection-fighting palmitoleic acid.


    1. Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? By Mark Hyman, M.D.
    2. United States Department of Agriculture, Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms


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