Healthy Lifestyle

Organic vs. All Natural Foods

Organic and natural foods are a relatively new shopping preference that has hit the shores of America and beyond. However, organic food has always been around, in varying degrees, up until producers introduced chemicals such as fertilizers to increase yields. Today it is important to avoid the consumption of such chemically treated foods when possible, but with so many labels, how do you know if what you are purchasing is really natural or a marketing gimmick?

To understand what natural or organic food is, we should first take a deeper look in to what “conventional” food is – i.e. food that is not organic or natural. Conventionally produced fruits and vegetables are treated with fertilizers and pesticides to increase yields and limit insect and rodent issues. While some could argue that this in turn allows the production of more foods at a lower cost and the reduction of certain natural diseases, it does pass on these chemicals to humans when consumed. A common myth is that the washing of produce will remove all of the chemicals used – while this is true for chemicals on the surface of the produce, one must remember that if the produce has been produced all along with chemicals then the artificial ingredients reside within the vegetables or fruits themselves.

The move towards a healthier lifestyle in all areas of our lives has prompted food producers to move towards production of foods without chemicals, artificial ingredients, food irradiation, and genetic modifications. However, there are many claims and if you walk through any shopping aisle in your favorite grocery store you’ll notice many food producers now slap on labels claiming their food is “100% Natural”, “All Natural”, or “Organic”. Some of these statements are true are others are not.  Below I’ll explain the differences of each.

USDA-OrganicThis is an ever increasingly popular food label and can sometimes grossly misinform the public about what type of food they are purchasing.  The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) mentions that the term “natural” applies broadly to foods that free of artificial ingredients, colors, flavors, sweeteners, antibiotics, hydrogenated oils, stabilizing, and emulsifiers. While this sounds pleasing, food manufactures that use this term are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and health codes that apply to all foods. Therefore, there is little oversight of their claims. As for meats and poultry, they must be minimally processed in a fashion that does not modify the raw original product. For instance, conventional ground beef is often treated with ammonia as a typical pound of such meat is normally derived from forty to fifty cows, thereby increasing the risk of E.coli and necessitating the use of an agent to minimize such bacteria. Food producers must explain the use of the term natural as well – if there are no artificial sweeteners, they must advise the consumer. One must keep in mind, that there are things that are natural that can still cause damage to your body – think of recreational drugs, saturated fats, and so forth.  MSG is naturally occurring, however, some producers will add a much higher amount of it, and then the debate arises if it is still natural. One could argue that when MSG is added at levels not seen by nature, it is not natural.

When purchasing foods with an all natural claim, look at the ingredients to understand how natural the food is. If you see many ingredients that are hard to pronounce, chances are that it is not all that natural.

Compared to the “All Natural” claim, Organic food is far more regulated and producers of organic food are often inspected. Not only is the food itself natural, but the process for producing it must be natural as well. In the U.S., Organic food is “certified” by the USDA and while requirements vary depending on the country of production, the standards will normally include on-site inspection, no use of synthetic chemicals (pesticides, antibiotics, additives, etc.), irradiation, genetically modified organisms, and biosolids.

Also, the farm land used to produce the food must be free of the above mentioned chemicals for a set number of years. Producers must keep records of their production and sales, and must ensure non-organic foods are kept separate from organic production to ensure authenticity. The USDA even allows such producers to use their logo to certify the food is truly organic, this serves to avoid fraud and protect consumers from purchasing foods that may otherwise not be organic.

There are certain levels of organic food which allow for three levels and labels:

  • “100% Organic”: Products are made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods
  • “Organic”: These foods have at least 95% organic ingredients
  • “No Label”: Foods with less than 70% organic ingredients cannot use the USDA Label, and cannot advertise this information to consumers. They can however, mention which ingredients are organic in the ingredient list.

While the trend to healthier food continues – the consumer must always be diligent in the search for natural food that is actually natural! The next time you are in the grocery store, take some time to read over what you are purchasing and the ingredient list. Once you become interested in these details, it will become a habit and set the stage for a healthier outlook. Organic food is now the fastest growing sector of the American food marketplace and promises to deliver healthier food that is also environmentally friendly.{jcomments on}