When you go to a grocery store and you are trying to pick out a healthy meal the different terminology used on the food packaging can make this impossible. The language provided on the food packaging can make you feel like you’re reading a different language. It almost becomes a chore simply deciphering what food is healthy and which food is not. It shouldn’t be difficult knowing and understanding difference between natural and organic food. It might sound like it’s purely semantics but it’s anything but that. Knowing the differences between these words can empower you to make the right decision when buying your next set of groceries. Below I describe the terminology used in food packaging and how familiarizing yourself with these two words and how it can help you understand what the food packaging is claiming to have or not have.
Natural VS Organic
The terms I want to discuss are natural and organic. The word “natural” is an overused word when it comes to food labeling. But here is what you need to know about this word. Natural is not what we expect the term natural to be and is not so natural after all. In fact, the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture) defines it as, “a product containing no artificial ingredient or is minimally processed.” So for example, a potato chip manufacturer can claim they are making natural potato chips as long as they give an explanation as to why they are natural. And this can be done by simply saying minimally process or no artificial flavoring. The problem with this definition is that it isn’t a heavily regulated explanation and is displayed in far too many food products. This means that food companies can still manipulate and call their food “natural” even if it contains GMO’s, antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.
Now the word organic has stricter requirements unlike the word natural. Organic foods must meet the requirements set out by the USDA. Organic food can fall into one of four distinct categories that I discuss below in further detail. Depending on which of the four categories, a particular organic food falls into they can be GMO, pesticide, and hormone free. A good way to think about natural and organic food is that all organic food can be natural but most natural food is not organic food. Here are the four organic categories ranked from least strict to the foods that meet the strictest organic requirements.
Less than 70% organic ingredients: With this kind of food, food manufacturers are not able to use the USDA stamp or the word organic. Instead, they can only use the word organic when describing the ingredients in the ingredient list that are organic. If the rest of the ingredients are not organic then they don’t need to follow the organic regulations.
- Made with organic ingredients: In this group, the USDA organic seal cannot be used and organic food in this category must be made up of at least 70% of organic ingredients. This is what I call C type food. Would you accept a C type food knowing that you can have an A type food if it means paying a little more and having it taste better in my opinion, and doing a little bit more homework?
- Organic: Under this category, all ingredients must be made up of at least 95% organic ingredients which don’t include salt and water. Also foods in this category can have the USDA seal but are not required to do so. Trust me if a food company is able to put this seal on its food packaging it most likely will.
- 100% Organic: In order to make this claim, ALL ingredients must be certified as organic. Foods that fall into this category can use the USDA seal but are not required to do so. So if you’re eating foods that fall into this category know that you’re eating the best kind of food there is.
Hopefully, this is useful next time you are grocery shopping and you must make the decision between natural and organic. Thanks for reading my blog. Follow me on twitter or share your comments below. Did you find this helpful?