Navigating the food labels in a grocery store can make anyone feel overwhelmed. Reading in between the marketing lines to get the real story of what is going on with our food is a challenge, but an important effort on your journey to better health. Some of the most confusing labels can be found in the meat department, where buying quality cuts is of the utmost importance.
Poultry especially is associated with a slew of marketing terms. Some of these include: pasture raised, cage free, organic, certified humane and free range. Let’s take a look at the big ones and identify how you can use these terms to make the best choice for your health.
Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Creamy Slaw
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 2 1x
- 8 oz organic free range skinless chicken breasts
- 3 Tbsp Gold Nugget Organic Ghee, melted (optional)
- 1/4 cup The Healthy Hot Sauce
- 1 lime, juiced and zested
- 1/2 cup red cabbage, shredded
- 1/4 cup carrot, shredded
- 1 Tbsp Native Forest Unsweetened Simple Coconut Milk, thick cream from top
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 6–8 large lettuce leaves
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil for chicken
- Add chicken to boiling water, cover and cook 10-12 minutes, until chicken is cooked through
- In a bowl, whisk together hot sauce and melted ghee (optional)
- In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice, lime zest, garlic and coconut cream then add cabbage, carrot and 3/4 of the cilantro then toss to coat
- Shred chicken then add to buffalo sauce and toss to coat
- Scoop chicken into lettuce and top with slaw. Garnish with remaining cilantro. Enjoy extra slaw on the side.
- Serving Size: 3-4 lettuce wraps
- Calories: 344.4
- Sugar: 2.4
- Sodium: 408.3
- Fat: 23.6
- Saturated Fat: 12.4
- Unsaturated Fat: 0.1
- Trans Fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 7.2
- Fiber: 1.6
- Protein: 29
- Cholesterol: 125.4
Keywords: egg free, soy free, grain free, gluten free
The sad truth is that most conventional chickens are raised in small cages inside. Cage free mean just as the name implies — hens do not live in cages. It also ensures that they have unlimited access to food and water. But how much space that translates to is unclear and cage free does not guarantee they go outside. Usually a cage free hen will be raised indoors (1).
This label comes from an independent nonprofit organization, Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC), dedicated to improving the lives of farm animal in food production. This certification indicates that hens have a living space of at least 1.5 square feet and assures that producers are meeting their animal care standards with ample space, fresh water, quality feed and gentle handling.
Free Range/Pasture Raised
The next step in the ladder of hen comfort is free range or pasture raised. Free range is defined by the USDA, while pasture raised is not, but generally they share similar practices. Like cage free hens, free range hens are also given unlimited access to food and water. Adhering to the USDA description, most primarily reside inside and are also given access to the outdoors during their laying cycle (1).
HFAC has further defined these terms. If you see a Certified Humane label on your chicken, you can be sure the following standards are followed according to their designation of free range or pasture raised. For HFAC, free range hens are given at least 2 square feet of space per bird with the hens being outdoors at least 6 hours per day unless weather prohibits. Further, pasture raised birds are required to have 2.5 acres per 1000 birds with the fields being constantly rotated. They must be outdoors year round, only going inside at night to evade predators. Inclement weather may only keep them indoors for up to 2 weeks per year (2).
The most heavily regulated of these labeling choices is certified organic. Organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity and using only approved substances. USDA regulations require that animals raised organically are given living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, are fed 100% organic feed and given the ability to forage, and are not administered any antibiotics or hormones (3).
Some claims that have no definition by the USDA and tend to be misleading, include animal friendly, natural and naturally raised.
The Effect on Your Meal
You may wonder how these hens’ living conditions affect your meal. An interesting study in 2013 showed that increased stress levels in chickens can change their protein expression. It demonstrated that stressful experiences can induce metabolic adjustments in hens, providing encouraging support for healthy processing practices.
We strongly encourage you to always choose organic meats. The prevalence of antibiotic resistance in society has been driven by overuse of antibiotics in conventional animal production (4). By choosing organic meats, you can avoid the antibiotics and hormones that are administered in conventional meat production.
When choosing healthy meats, chicken is an excellent choice. It is a lean meat with a high protein content, providing all the essential amino acids (5). A skinless chicken breast is your best bet, as it is lowest in saturated fat and the best cut for lean protein. Skipping the skin allows you to cut the fat content in half.
Chicken is also a great source of vitamins and micronutrients, including iron, zinc and selenium. Iron is essential to healthy oxygen transport and DNA synthesis (6). Zinc is important for digestive health, immunity and reproductive systems (7). Selenium has important antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects, especially as they relate to thyroid health (8).
If you’re shooting for a lower fat diet, you can skip the ghee and instead toss your chicken only hot sauce. If you’re on a plant-based diet, this is wonderful with jackfruit or crumbled tofu. As for flavor, our recipe is made with The Healthy Hot Sauce, which is free of additives and loaded with anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger, turmeric and Ceylon cinnamon. If you’re not a fan of heat, try their mild blend in this recipe.
1–2 times per week
Never, or 2–4 times per month
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