Terms used to promote healthy eating can be confusing, even misleading at times. Below, two terms that are commonly seen on product labels and on signs in the produce aisle of your local market, are defined. Familiarize yourself with their definitions before your next shopping trip to ensure purchases that will promote your health.
- Natural: Currently there is no formal definition for this term by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, it is generally accepted that a product that is labeled as “natural” implies that it does not contain any synthetic ingredients or artificial colors, flavors, and/or preservatives. A product that is labeled as “natural” does not infer or guarantee that its ingredients were produced using organic farming and/or handling and processing methods.
- Organic: Products labeled as “organic” have to comply to the USDA standards. In order for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products to be considered organic, the animals from which these products come from cannot have been given antibiotics or growth hormones. Fruits, vegetables, and other plant products are organic if they were produced without use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, ionizing radiation, or bioengineering. Organic farms have to be inspected by a government approved organic certifier. It is also important to note that a product can only contain a few organic ingredients with the rest produced by conventional methods. If it consists of at least 70% organic ingredients, the label will say it is “made with organic ingredients” but the USDA organic seal will not be present on the packaging. Products that contain at least 95% of organic ingredients will be labeled as “organic” and can have the USDA organic seal on the label. If a product’s ingredients are all organic then the label can state that it is “100% organic” and its packaging will carry the USDA organic seal.
More and more scientific evidence is being reported that supports the consumption of foods in their natural state and those that have been derived by organic methods as a way for not only promoting your own health, but that of the Earth. While shopping, it is important to read labels carefully. Note that just because a product is labeled as “natural” or “organic,” it does not mean it is necessarily healthy – it still can contain high amounts of sugar, salt, and fat. If one of these ingredients is listed first or second on the list, you can be guaranteed the product contains a high amount of that ingredient and you will want to opt for another product. To learn more about product labeling visit the American Dietetic Association’s website.