Picking out chicken is about as confusing as picking out eggs. There are so many labels to wade through, how do you know what’s best for your family? Let’s take a look at what these labels mean:
Pastured: This is the ideal, most nutrient-dense chicken. These chickens have been allowed to free range, picking up bugs and worms (good protein!) in addition to supplemental feed. It’s normal for chickens to consume feed (which usually includes corn, alfalfa, soy, and oats), but it’s important that this feed is organic. We don’t want to eat something that’s been eating genetically modified corn and soy. So what you are really looking for is organic pastured chicken.
Organic: This is a good chicken choice too. Although these chickens are not guaranteed any substantial outdoor time, their feed must be organic, non-GMO, and free of pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics.
Air-Chilled: This term is more about how the chicken is processed than how it is raised and fed. Once harvested, most chickens are thrown into a chlorinated ice-cold water bath to prevent bacteria growth. Air-chilled chickens are sprayed with chlorinated water and then misted with cold air. Because air-chilled chickens are not sitting in a chlorinated community water bath, they are less prone to bacteria exposure and water absorption (who wants to pay for a chicken with water retention?). Air-chilled chickens retain more of their natural flavor instead of water. Again, you want to buy organic.
Antibiotic Free/No Antibiotics: Chickens with this label did not receive antibiotics at any time.
Raised Without the Routine Use of Antibiotics: Chickens may have received antibiotics for illness but not as a preventative measure.
Hormone Free/No Added Hormones: This label means nothing. It’s against the law to use growth hormones in poultry, so ALL companies are held to this standard.
Free-Range: This only means that chickens have the right to about 5 minutes of open air per day. An enclosed concrete pen can be considered “open air,” so this label is not saying much. What does a chicken free-range on in an enclosed concrete pen?
Natural: This means there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. However, it does not prevent companies from pumping chickens with a salt solution in which the bird could absorb up to 12% water. Again, who wants to pay for a chicken with water retention?
Conventional: Just recently, the FDA finally prohibited the use of arsenic in chicken feed. Yes, arsenic. Unfortunately, other toxic substances still make their way in there and that’s in addition to the genetically modified food regularly given to these animals. None of it belongs in a chicken OR a human. Of all of your choices, conventional (meaning, plain ‘ol unlabeled chicken) is your worst option.
Obviously, the best choices are pastured, organic, and air-chilled, but I understand these are often cost prohibitive. Buy the highest quality poultry you can afford. Keep in mind that animals store toxins in their fat (as do we) and so if you buy conventional, go with leaner cuts. Something else to consider is this: chicken has a higher Omega-6 content than beef. Everyone needs to bring Omega-6 and Omega-3 ratios into better balance; most of us get waaaaaayyyyy too many Omega-6s which creates inflammation. So, if you’re regularly buying conventional meat, opt for more beef than chicken.
Much of my information came from this <affiliate link> resource.