By Rebecca Leaf
In a country where food packages make healthy sounding claims like “all natural” and “light,” it’s hard to know what information is just for marketing and what’s worth following. The truth is, a lot of the catch phrases on our food labels are actually meaningless. So, how do you know what to believe? We’re here to help you cut through the clutter and make well-informed decisions. In this series of debunking food labels, we’ll cover multiple areas, but first we’ll start with organic.
What Makes Something Organic?
In the United States, products can only contain “certified organic” labels when farmers meet three important standards:
- Do not use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides
- Do not use antibiotics or hormones
- Do not have any genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Fertilizers and Pesticides
Certified organic farmers often do use fertilizers and pesticides, however, in order to be considered organic they must be created from natural sources such as plant or animal wastes.
When it comes to meat, the term organic is used to refer to animals that were raised on certified-organic feed, such as grasses or grains. It’s important to note that organic meat doesn’t specify whether an animal is grain-fed, grass-fed, or pasture-raised, only that the quality of their food is organic based on the three certified organic standards listed above.
Organic foods tend to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts, but if it fits your family’s budget and goals, it can be a worthwhile investment to go organic—at least for animal products and produce with edible skin.
A simple way to get started is to buy organic options for all of the items included on the Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen list. The items on this list have been shown to retain the high levels of pesticide residue when grown conventionally, making their organic alternatives a good option. The list is revised every year and updated based on current farming practices, so it’s important to check it regularly for the latest information.
A great place to shop for organic products is at your local farmers market. Not only will you be supporting local farms, but speaking one-on-one with the farmers can provide an opportunity to learn about their growing practices. Additionally, you may even be able to purchase organic meats and produce for a better price than what you’d find in a grocery store.
What’s the Difference Between Natural and Organic?
You may see it on products all over the grocery store, but natural does not mean the same thing as organic. When foods are labeled as natural it usually means that they don’t contain as many artificial ingredients and aren’t as processed as other options, but they can still contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and MSG. “Natural” is poorly defined in the United States, making it best to ignore this word when you see it on food labels and marketing.
Rebecca Leaf works on the business development team and is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.