Organic, Natural, What’s the Difference?

Not all foods are created equal. You already know this, of course: apples are better for you than candy; oranges over Oreos, carrots trump Doritos, etc. But what about healthy options like granola bars or yogurts? These items are often labeled with either one of two terms: “organic” or “natural.”

Organic, natural, what’s the difference? They’re the same thing, right?

Wrong. But you’re not the only one. These words are often confused, with many people not knowing that there is a distinct difference between them. In order to become a more informed grocery shopper, and to reach for the more fresh-from-the-earth options, read about both terms below:

Organic Means…
If you buy a product that’s labeled “organic,” that particular product has not been raised using GMOs (genetically modified organisms), antibiotics or growth hormones. (All three of these items are often used in food manufacturing to make things bigger or riper faster – in order to sell more in less time). An organic food has also not grown in the presence of sludge, irradiation or higher levels of environmental pollution. In other words, your organic foods have been raised in some of the most natural conditions possible.

If you’re purchasing an organic animal byproduct (meats, eggs, dairy, etc), you can rest assured that the animal was raised in a humane manner. Why? Before something can be “certified organic,” it has to pass legal standards set in place by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In order for the food to be approved, and thus labeled “certified organic,” the welfare of all animals involved has to be evaluated. They need to be nourished properly (enough food, no growth hormones, etc) and live in humane conditions (cows need to be at pasture during pasture season, for example).

Natural Means…
On the contrary, a food labeled “natural,” could contain just about anything. There are no legal stipulations associated with the term; the products and their contents undergo no evaluation. In order to know what’s in your product, read the nutrition label. All consumables are required to list ingredients in a sequence of decreasing concentration. However, while your “natural” granola bar may list strawberries high on its ingredients list, those strawberries may have been grown with hormones and pesticides (it’s quite likely, actually). And that “natural” chicken breast you bought at the store may have been raised in grisly conditions and pumped with growth hormones its whole life. Since there are no legal requirements, there is no way to know for sure.

What’s It to You?
Now, when you’re at the grocery store, you will be able to make more informed decisions regarding your food. Maybe you don’t care about the life history of the animal byproducts you’re eating, maybe you do. Maybe you’re concerned with avoiding heavy pesticides and artificial hormones, or you could care less. Everyone is entitled to his/her own values, of course. At least now, having read about and distinguished between the two terms, you know what you’re buying and what its label stands for.

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