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Nutrition label certifications and healthy snack bar choices

Food labels and healthy snack options

When it comes to what snacks or even foods to eat the first thing you should always look at is the nutrition label and ingredients. There are a variety of choices in grocery stores so there is no excuse in the inability to find one that fits you. You just need to watch out for their marketing and what they actually promote. 

Food labels explained

When it comes to food labels there is another label to pay attention to besides the nutrition label. That is the loss of certifications. What we have found is not all “certifications” are certified. 


USDA’s National Organic Program regulates labeling requirements for organic agricultural products. Organic labels can be found on produce, dairy, meat, processed foods, condiments, and beverages. Food products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95% organic ingredients with no synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, biotechnology, synthetic ingredients, or irradiation used in production or processing. 

Products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and are produced without synthetic methods are labeled “made with organic ingredients,” though they cannot use the USDA organic seal on their packaging.

It will cost around $1,200 for an organic processor to get certified, and around $700 (or more) for a new organic farm to get certified.

Certified Naturally Grown

The food was grown using the same standards as those for organic, but not on a farm actually certified by the National Organic Program of the USDA. Some farmers have criticized the cost and process they need to go through to participate in the USDA’s organic program, so this is an alternative, non-governmental certification system where other farmers act as inspectors in a program administered by a non-profit organization called Certified Naturally Grown.

 “Natural” is a term present on a lot of food products, so look closely at the label. The Certified Naturally Grown label indicates that someone is certifying that it is indeed natural, rather than just using the word “Natural” for marketing purposes.

Fair Trade

Fairtrade standards are enforced by Fair Trade USA. Fairtrade products must be produced in accordance with the following guidelines: Workers must receive fair wages, safe and equitable working conditions, and the right to join trade unions; child or forced labor is completely prohibited.  Crops must also be grown, produced, and processed in a manner that supports social development, economic development, and environmental development.  Fairtrade standards have been established for coffee, tea, cocoa, honey, bananas, juices, cotton, flowers, gold, rice, spices and herbs, sports balls, wine, composite products, fresh fruit, and sugar.

Animal Welfare Approved

Started in 2006, Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) is a division of the non-profit organization Animal Welfare Institute. Its standards cover the way its participating farms raise their animals (including beef and dairy cattle, bison, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and rabbits). AWA states that the basic premise of their standards is that animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being. They only certify family farms (charging no fees to participating farmers) and state that animals must be raised on pasture or range.

American Humane Certified

The American Humane Certified program was created by the American Humane Association in 2000 to ensure that animals raised for dairy, poultry, beef, veal, goat, swine, turkey, and bison products are raised in a humane manner. These guidelines, created with input from animal science experts, ensure that livestock has access to clean and sufficient food and water, as well as a safe, healthy living environment, and that staff and managers, are thoroughly trained to care for animals in a humane manner.

Non-GMO Project Verified

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization that provides the only third-party labeling program in North America for products grown without using genetic engineering. They verify that the process products go through, from seed to shelf, are produced according to their rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance.


USDA has a grass-fed standard for ruminant animals like cows and goats, which states that these animals must be fed only grass and forage during the growing season. The American Grassfed Association is one organization that certifies beef, bison, dairy, lamb, and goat that is fed only on pasture, in addition to being raised without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, confinement, and with standards for high animal welfare. Other animals, like chicken and pigs, can be pasture-raised (and USDA organic standards require at least some access to pasture), but there are currently no specific certification standards for non-ruminant animals being grass-fed or pastured.

Non-Certified food labels

The following labels depend on farmer and processor information to support the claim that the food products were raised in compliance with each set of standards. They do not go through third-party testing or certification, they do have certain standards they must prove. 

Hormone-free/RBGH free

This label means that the farmer has chosen not to inject his or her cows with any artificial growth hormones, like rBGH, a genetically engineered growth hormone. The label is also used on beef and chicken products, where the animal was raised without growth hormones or steroids. However, the USDA prohibits giving hormones to chickens, so the label doesn’t mean much there — all chicken you buy will be hormone-free whether it’s labeled or not.

Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.

Raised without antibiotics

Chickens, pigs, and cattle raised on industrial farms are routinely fed low doses of antibiotics (the same drugs we rely on to keep ourselves and our families in good health) to make them grow faster and compensate for overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. This label states the meat or dairy was raised without the use of antibiotics.

The following are not certified or tested by any third-party regulatory agency and do not have a set of standards.


While many products have “all-natural” labeling or packaging, there is no universal standard or definition for this claim.


Free-range poultry is defined as birds that spend part of their time outside (whether that’s 10 minutes per month or 10 hours per day) and don’t live in cages. However, the USDA doesn’t have a legal definition of free-range chicken eggs and there are also no standardized or regulated definitions for free-range beef or pork. 

Healthy snack bars

There are so many varieties of snack bars it can seem impossible to choose from. With a wide variety, there will also be a variety of healthy choices. Some use marketing gimmicks that you should stay away from, just because the box looks nice does not always mean it should be your choice. 

Labels to pay attention to 

  1. Ingredients

This is the most important place to look. You should always try to avoid ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, soy protein isolate, and inulin (“fake fiber”). The first ingredient or ingredients should be wholes foods like apples, bananas, dates, etc.

  1. Protein content

Protein and amino acids are the building blocks for your muscle and for optimal organ and bodily function. Many dieticians recommend getting snack bars with at least 5g of protein but many bars are made from fruits so they also recommend some protein to go with it. Protein is important because it supports and strengthens your cartilage, bones, and muscles, boosts your immune system, and regulates many bodily functions. It will also up the satisfaction and satiating factor of your snack.

  1. Fiber

This is something the majority of people never get enough of, we are even guilty. It is important to try and get as much of it whenever you can. It will make you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Fiber helps to regulate digestion, improve heart health, prevent type 2 diabetes, combat inflammation, and reduce your risk for cancer.

  1. Sugar content

Beware of added sugar! Try to select a bar that doe not contain any added sugars. There is a difference between natural sugar and added sugar. Snack bars will always have carbs and sugar because they usually come from fruit but avoid the added ones. 

RX Bar

Lara Bar

Quest bar

Natures Bakery



Kind bar


Cliff bar


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