Natural vs. Organic: What You Need To Know

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult as it is. We are all playing a balancing act with careers, family, diet, exercise, financial planning, taking care of a home, etc. and it can often feel like we are multi-tasking non-stop, and that nothing ever feels complete. Add to that the challenge of maintaining strong health and good habits while simultaneously understanding food terminology such as low-fat, organic, healthy, diet, GMOs, natural, etc., and things can look as clear as pea soup.

Our team here at Gladiator Therapeutics wants to help demystify some of the jargon, and help you understand which terms mean what, and what terms are simply persuasive embellishments for marketing purposes. There is an entire realm of psychology involving colors and food branding.

Psychology Gladiator
Source: https://www.colorpsychology.org/color-psychology-marketing/

But there are also governing bodies that have specific rules and regulations that dictate when certain terms or badges can be used. Bear in mind, though, this information is relative to the United States; for example, what is permitted in the United States can be very different for a product in the United Kingdom, where there are completely different regulations for consumables. As a result, a can of soda of the very same brand in the US versus in Europe can contain different ingredients and be subject to different processing stipulations.

Natural

You’ll often see food products using green in packaging to convey a sense of being healthy. Granola bar, anyone? Brand names, taglines, ads, and product packaging text use terms such as “natural” to portray a sense of trust and a feeling that the product is made with wholesome ingredients. While that may all sound and look good, as “Organic It’s Worth It” points out, “In the United States…neither the FDA nor the USDA has rules or regulations for products labeled ‘natural.’”

While pesticides and preservatives were invented for good reason, just because a product claims to be natural doesn’t mean it is devoid of things such as synthetic growth hormones. Does that mean the word “natural” is just a bunch of fluff? Not necessarily. While there aren’t actual regulations, there are guidelines for such products related to GMOs, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Organic

On the other hand, the use of the word “organic” has very specific guidelines and requirements, and repercussions to the brand owner if either the word or the USDA Organic badge is used incorrectly. When something is organic, it is not only free of GMOs, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, but it also contains no toxic pesticides, no cloning, and no synthetic growth hormones.

Does that mean organic is automatically healthy? Not always, as it is all relative to the product and the person. For example, a juice may be organic, but could be unpasteurized, which can pose some concerns, particularly for people with underdeveloped or compromised immune systems such as children or the elderly.

Another easy assumption is that organic products are all independent, small businesses. While some are in fact independent, not all are small, and many organic brands are actually owned by companies that sell non-organic brands and even processed foods.

Just The Facts, Please

If you are more confused than when you started, have no fear. This handy chart gives a gloriously easy-to-understand outline of how “natural” and “organic” stack up against one another; you’ll see comparisons in the key categories with respect to how food is grown and how food is processed, respectively:

Natural vs Organic
Source: http://www.organicitsworthit.org/learn/us-organic-standards

At the end of the day, we’re all trying to do our best, and you, along with the guidance of your health care professional, must decide what is best for your individual situation. Just be aware that what appears to be good for you isn’t always what is indeed good for you. Ask questions, check sources, and when in doubt, consult with an expert.

UPDATE: As reported September 12, 2019 on Good Morning America, consumer watchdog ConsumerReports.org is now rating seals and claims on food labeling.

Seals currently rated by Consumer Reports include:

  • American Grassfed
  • American Humane Certified
  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • Certified Humane Raised & Handled
  • Non–GMO Project Verified
  • United Egg Producers Certified
  • USDA Organic

Claims currently rated by Consumer Reports include:

  • All Natural
  • Natural
  • No Antibiotics
  • Non-GMO

Key for these ratings by Consumer Reports include:

  • Poor
  • Fair
  • Good
  • Very Good
  • Excellent

Following is how the ratings line up:

consumer reports gladiator
SOURCE: https://www.consumerreports.org/food-labels/seals-and-claims

For additional information, visit the Consumer Reports’ Guide to Food Labels where you can click on any of the individual badges or claims for a wealth of knowledge about that specific item. Consumer Reports also has a robust Food Label Decoder where you can select a food item, toggle among a dropdown of conditions, and then see results of how the badges and claims correlate and rate with respect to the options you selected.

NOTE: Content included here is not medical advice, and only is intended as information for adults. Always consult with your health care professional before making changes to diet, exercise, medication, or before use of any product or device.

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