What Are the Real Differences Between “Natural” and “Organic” Foods?

Perusing your local grocery store produce section, you’ll likely come across several labels claiming products are organic or natural. But what do those words really mean?

As the organic and natural food movements have gained popularity in recent years, their definitions have become increasingly muddled. Here are the important facts you need to know:

There is no legal definition of “natural” when it comes to food. There is no government regulation of the use of the word “natural” in regards to selling food. Even though the term should mean that nothing is artificial or synthetic, several companies have been sued over dubiously claiming that a product is “natural” even when they contain things like maltodextrin and high maltose corn syrup.

The reason that there is no legal definition is because the conversation can turn overly philosophical very quickly. What is nature? Aren’t chemicals derived from natural substances? If fruit juice has to be taken out of the fruit, is it still natural?

Because of the complexity of this issue, basically anything can be labeled “natural,” including GMO foods.

Organic food is government regulated. In order to be considered USDA Organic, producers have to follow a very strict set of rules. This means no synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics or GMOs. Even if one of the prohibited substances has just been on the land of the farm at some point in the last three years, the producer will still be unable to obtain USDA Organic status.

However, there is a difference between items that are “organic” and those that are USDA organic. Many farmers decide not to apply for USDA Organic certification because it is expensive, others don’t agree with all of the regulations involved and some are ineligible because they are in the middle of the three-year waiting period requirement.

The more you know, the better your food decisions will be. Because of all of the factors (and parties) involved in food labeling, it is an incredibly complex issue. It’s worth it to take the time to know more about your food so you can make the right choices for yourself and your family.