There are so many labels and designations for food these days it’s tough to keep track of what they mean and how they can help you stay healthy. With confusing and similar-sounding appellations like non-GMO vs. no growth hormones, free-range vs. cage-free, organic vs. natural, it’s no wonder that a recent study from the University of Illinois that looked at consumers' top concerns regarding how their food is raised found that we're confused about what we want and where to look for it.

For the study, researchers asked consumers to rank the importance of seven production claims—no growth hormones, non-GMO, humanely raised, no antibiotics, free-range or cage-free, grass-fed, and certified organic—most often found on four types of whole foods: beef, chicken, milk, and eggs. “No growth hormones” topped the list, with “non-GMO” and “humanely raised” following close behind, while the “organic” label ranked lowest in significance for consumers.

"The biggest surprise in the study is that 'no growth hormones' is the No. 1 concern consumers have across the board on all of these products," said lead researcher Brenna Ellison, Ph.D. "It's odd because growth hormones are already prohibited for poultry products. Further, products that are certified organic or humanely raised also prohibit the use of growth hormones in animals. Ultimately, it means consumers are spending unnecessary time looking for labels that reflect this particular attribute."

The proliferation of labels like these can make what you decide to buy at the grocery store an exercise in frustration where you end up taking a wild guess at what each really means, and what, if anything, that means for your future health, and for the health and well-being of the animal behind the product. Try educating yourself before you hit the store again by going to sites like the USDA and Farm Aid to learn what each label means and how it can better inform you.