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The Biggest Myths About "Natural" Meat Busted

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By Nicci Micco, Editor-at-Large for EatingWell Magazine

When it comes to making cleaner, greener food choices, most concerned consumers take care to choose the most “natural” meats. But that’s often easier said than done. Marketing claims on meat and poultry labels are some of the most confusing around and may not mean what you think they do.

More to Help You Make Healthy Choices:

How much do you know about natural meats? Take this quiz to find out.

Myth or truth: Buying “natural” meats reduces your exposure to hormones and antibiotics.


Myth. The term “natural” means only that no additives or preservatives were introduced after the meat or poultry was processed. (And, in fact, certain sodium-based broths can be added to poultry and pork and still be labeled “natural.”) The term “natural” is often confused with “naturally raised,” a term that, according to the USDA, means the animals were not given antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by-products.

Myth or truth: Grass-fed meats may be healthier for you than conventional meats.

Truth. Some research suggests that grass-fed meats (which come from animals that are fed only mother’s milk, fresh grass and cut hay for their entire lives) are richer in healthy omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than those raised on grains.

Myth or truth: Buying USDA-certified organic meat is good for the environment.

Truth. Organic standards ban the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, which leach into groundwater and ultimately end up in public water supplies. Plus, all feed used in organic meat production is vegetarian and certified organic—including pastureland—which means that it is not treated with pesticides or herbicides and cannot be genetically modified.

Myth or truth: “Certified humane” is the same thing as USDA-certified organic.

Myth. The “certified humane” label does not necessarily mean that the meat or poultry meets all organic standards. It does, however, guarantee that animals have freedom to move and prohibits crates and tie-downs in stalls, as well as artificial means to induce growth, such as continuous barn lights for broiler chickens. “Certified humane” prohibits the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

Myth or truth: Buying organic chicken is a good way to minimize your exposure to unnecessary hormones.

Myth. You don’t need to worry about hormones in your chicken. Hormone use in poultry and pork production—even conventional—has been banned since 1959. (Hormones are, however, given to cows.) But buying USDA-certified organic chicken does ensure that the animal has not been given antibiotics.

What do you look for on labels when buying meat and poultry?

By Nicci Micco

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Nicci Micco is editor-at-large for EatingWell and co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.

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