It seems like in order to be healthy now, products need to be gluten free, dairy free, fair-trade, organic, and probably some other label. But who actually knows what half of these designations even mean? I am here to clear it all up for you, so you can finally understand if that all natural, fair-trade, gluten-free muffin is actually good for you.

Gluten/Grain Free

sandwich, sweet, cereal, wheat, toast, bread
Jocelyn Hsu

Okay, if you don't know someone who is gluten-free by now I am not sure where you are living. Whether someone is celiac, allergic, or they are just trying to be healthier, I am sure you have heard someone ask "Is this gluten free?"

Gluten is the protein in found in many grains that gives dough its elastic texture. However, gluten has somehow found its way into almost everything ranging from sauces to make-up. 

Grain free is a version of gluten-free, where you do not eat gluten-free grains like oats, corn, quinoa, millet, and rice. 


carrot, pasture, vegetable
Christin Urso

Vegan is like vegetarian's trendy older sister. Being vegan means you eat nothing that came from an animal. This means no dairy products, no eggs, and no honey. 

Just because something is vegan does not mean it is healthy. There are plenty of vegan treats that are packed with just as much sugar and junk as their non-vegan counterparts. 

Dairy Free

cream, mocha, milk, espresso, cappuccino, coffee
Jocelyn Hsu

When something is dairy-free it means there is no dairy in it, if that wasn't obvious. Dairy includes milk, butter, ghee, cream, yogurt, and anything else that started out at milk.


meat, barbecue, pork, chicken
Jocelyn Hsu

Paleo is a combination of grain-free, dairy free, and a little more. The guidelines for the Paleo diet comes from the idea that we should go back to eating how our ancestors ate. This means nothing processed and a focus on real foods. 

A lot of people who are Paleo feel much better on the diet and have shown signs of reduced inflammation and more energy.

The basis of the Paleo diet is grain free, dairy free, processed sugar and oil free, legume free, and nightshade free. I know that sounds like a lot of things you can't eat, but there are still tons of things left that you can, like meat, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, and more. 

Paleo is often considered a lifestyle rather than a diet because people who adopt the program see it as a long-term change to become healthier. 


salad, tomato, pepper, cucumber, vegetable
Christin Urso

When something is USDA Organic Certified it means it has passed the USDA's standards to define something as organic.

Organic food should mean that the food was not sprayed with pesticides or given hormones. Since it is the USDA's job to create the guidelines and define what is organic and what is not, there is a lot of dispute on who get the organic stamp.

All Natural

rye bread, pastry, wheat, cake, chocolate, sweet, brown bread, bread
Jocelyn Hsu

A lot of products write all natural on them as a hope to convince people the product is healthier. According to USDA anything that says all natural means it does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed.

However, this means that they main contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other chemicals, aka they are not necessarily health. 


beer, tea
Jocelyn Hsu

If you see a product that says fat-free stay away. The FDA permits labels to say fat-free if they contain less than .5 grams of fat per serving. 

Food naturally has fat in it, which is good for you and is not something that people should be afraid of. When something is fat-free it means that people have gone into the product and altered the natural state of the food. 

Fair-Trade Certified

mocha, cappuccino, chocolate, espresso, relish, cereal, coffee
Christin Urso

This designation often shows up on products like coffee and chocolate. Fair trade is a social movement whose goal is to achieve better trading conditions in developing countries and promote sustainable farming.

BPA Free

cream, milk, tea, coffee, ice
Alex Frank

BPA is a chemical that is commonly used to make certain plastics. Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from the container and have negative health effects on the consumer. 

Too much BPA can have negative effects on the brain, prostate glands of the fetus, and increase blood pressure. It is often advised to stay away from BPA. 

This is why reusable bottles, cans, and other food containers often say BPA free. This designation is strictly concerned with the packaging of the food and not the food itself. 


broccoli, kale, lettuce, salad, cabbage, vegetable
Jocelyn Hsu

Local means nothing more than the food or meat you are eating came from somewhere near where it is being sold. This is a good thing because it means your supermarket is supporting local farmers and is helping cut back on carbon emission by reducing the amount of time the food traveled to get to your plate.

Local does not mean the food is any healthier, local foods can still be non-organic or have additives. 


When you see grass-fed on your meat, it means that the cattle were allowed to roam the fields and eat grass instead of being couped up inside a barn eating corn and soy. 

Grass-Fed meat has a different genetic make-up because of the way it was raised. Grains are higher in calories, which encourages the cows to grow faster and keeps costs down.

Grass-Fed cattle will be much higher in key nutrients like Omega-3s and B vitamins. Diets like Paleo put an emphasis on eating only grass-fed meat because of the benefits and the negative side-effects of factory farmed cattle.

Non-factory farmed cattle is also a much more humane way of raising cattle, so if you care about what you are eating go for grass-fed. 

 Pasture Raised

Pasture raised is similar to grass-fed in that the animals receive a significant portion of their nutrition from organically managed pastures, but unlike 100 percent grass-fed cows, they can receive supplemental organic grains. 

Don't be fooled when items say pasture raised, makes sure it is 100 percent grass-fed and organic. 

GMO-Free Certified

hazelnut, maize, straw, vegetable, cereal, pasture, corn
Jenny Georgieva 

There has been so much controversy regarding GMO's in the past that it is hard to keep track of what the latest news is. When something is a genetically modified organism (GMO) it means that through a complicated scientific process the genetic makeup of the organism has been changed.

This process creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. 

There have been several movements to get laws that make it mandatory to disclose if there are GMOs in the food you are eating, or even fruits and vegetables are GMO. 

People want to know what they are putting in their body and a lot of people would not be okay with knowing that what they are eating has been modified from the natural state and is not what they thought. 

Uses only Natural Sweeteners/ No Refined Sugars

candy, sweet, ice, salt
Jocelyn Hsu

This means absolutely nothing. A lot of power bars, granolas, and baked goods will slap this label on their packaging to trick people into thinking the food is healthier. 

Natural means that nothing modified, like high fructose corn syrup, has been used, but that still leave tons of other options that mimic the effects of sugar. 

No refined sugars means that there are no white or brown regular table sugars in the product. There can still be agave, which people will try and trick you into believing is healthy, maple syrup, and other sugar substitutes. 

Certain sugars are better than others, but in the end, all sugar will have the same effect on your body. It will spike your blood sugar giving you a jolt of energy, then you will crash. There is also no nutritional benefits to eating sugar and there are many benefits for one's health in minimizing sugar in your diet.