What is the difference between natural and organic foods?
By Ryan Harrison, MA, BCIH
“Natural,” “all-natural,” “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients” – these are some of the many different ways you will find products advertised today. But what does it mean? Are they basically the same thing? Does it really matter if a product is “all-natural” or “organic”?
Let’s flesh out these questions and answers to see the bigger picture in greater detail.
Food Label Confusion
Within the last few decades, consumers discovered that all of the tens of thousands of chemicals that came out of the petrochemical boom of the 1950s may not have been as wholesome and harmless as once believed. A new brand of shopper has arisen – and with it, a new advertising tactic – based on the credo that just because a scientist can make it, doesn’t mean your body can take it!
For the most part, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has attempted to protect consumers by monitoring some of the different food labels that open this article. But not all of them (see below)! And unfortunately, not all consumers have an equal understanding of what the different terms used actually mean.
So here’s a quick break down: Natural and All-Natural: By and large, the labeling of something as either “natural” or “all-natural” is supposed to mean that the product “does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances,” but in reality, it’s very easy to find the these words on foods and drinks that are loaded with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and any other number of chemically-derived additives.
In fact, the USDA acknowledges that as food processing and manufacturing techniques have changed over time, what has been termed “natural” has become increasingly questionable, requiring continued conversation and legal refinement.
There is even a new movement afoot taking aim at “food identity theft” – false labeling that has made it past government oversight. For example, some “blueberry” products such as bagels, cereals, and muffins may be labeled “naturally flavored” although they actually have no blueberries in them!