Grocery Jargon: 10 Terms to Know Before You Hit the Aisles

By POPSUGAR Smart Living on 18 February 2013 1 comment
Photo: Amy Jeffries

The last thing you want to be confused about is the food you're eating, but with all the grocery buzzwords out there, it can feel like you're staring at some insider jargon. To break it down, we've put together meanings behind common terms that you'll find all along your supermarket aisles. Hopefully this will make it easy to remember why the labels are there in the first place — to help you make better decisions about what you're consuming and what's worth your money.

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Free Range

This is a bit of a tricky one because, according to the FDA, free-range simply means that the birds have access to the outside; that doesn't necessarily mean that they actually spend large amounts of time outside. In contrast, cage-free typically describes birds raised outside of a cage, but it doesn't imply much else.

Grass Fed

Instead of being fed grains, these cows have only eaten grass throughout their lives. Advocates of grass feeding say it's a win-win for the cow, the consumer, and the planet because it requires less energy, there's less fat, and it's more humane.


In scientific speak, MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. In regular speak, it's a salt that's added to food to taste better. It's extremely hard to find items without MSG — it's in everything from frozen foods to restaurant meals — and there are different opinions on its effects. Some say it doesn't hurt, while others claim it's harmful to the body.

Whole Grain

This means that the entire grain is used in the product, including the parts of the kernel with the most nutrients. Rye and brown rice are common examples of whole grain. It shouldn't be confused with multigrain, which simply means that more than one grain is used in the product.


Also known as genetically modified organisms, this term refers to organisms that have been altered to grow faster, have a longer shelf life, be disease-resistant, change color, and so on. Certain GMO-products don't require labeling for different reasons, so it's important to research before buying.


It's hard to believe, but just about anyone can slap a "natural" sticker on their product; that's because there's no set definition of the term from the FDA or USDA, so it can mean many different things. For example, even sodas have been labeled natural.


To be labeled "organic," a product must go through rigorous federal regulations. Essentially, you can rest assured that something organic has gone through strict farming or production practices and is made without pesticides, other toxins, GMOs, or artificial growth hormones. Many people say the quality of the product is worth its higher price tag.

Gluten Free

We should first understand what gluten is. The protein, commonly found in wheat and barley, gives dough its elasticity and allows it to keep its shape. Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular these days, and they're essential for people who suffer from digestive diseases, because it can damage their intestines. It typically doesn't affect others that strongly, but many are boycotting gluten because it's an unnatural additive.

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Guest's picture

I always try to buy organic when I can, but it can be hard on a small budget because those products tend to be a bit pricier. Instead of going to Whole Foods or Publix to buy organic, I try to go to the farmers market and local grocers because the organic label doesn't come with the inflated price tag because less is spent on transportation, packaging, etc. You get to support local businesses and be healthy, it's a win win!