Over the last few years, the number of organic and natural products available in the grocery store has continued to grow. What once was only found in health food stores is now readily available in any grocery or market. But what do these labels mean? What's the difference between them?
Food products labeled "natural" refer to products that have not been chemically altered or synthesized. Ideally, natural products are food products derived from both plants and animals without hormones, artificial flavors, or antibiotics. Natural foods are not necessarily organic. There are standards and definitions in the works for food to be labeled as natural, but at this time, there is no government monitoring of natural food producers. Because there are no strict standards that natural food products must meet to be marketed as such, any manufacture may freely use the natural label, and some so-called natural foods are heavily processed.
Food products labeled "organic" earn the label by meeting strict government regulations. Organic foods are any food item that is manufactured, grown, produced, and handled following defined organic means. They are free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and preservatives. The Organic Food Products Act ensures all organic food seals are monitored and guaranteed by the government. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for determining the conditions food must meet in order to be marketed as organic.
In order for a food to earn the organic label, it must meet stringent rules and regulations. Organic food must be grown without the use of toxic or chemical pesticides and with petroleum-free fertilizers. No plants have been cloned and all products are GMO free. Animals will never be given growth hormones or antibiotics. Any organic food has no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. Organic growers and producers can be subjected to inspection at any time to ensure they are following these rules.
There has yet to be any conclusive research done that proves eating organic food is actually healthier for you. Many people choose to pay the higher prices for organic food because they want to avoid ingesting unnecessary chemicals and limit their exposure to heavy metals. If you're looking for an alternative option to processed food full or ingredients you can't pronounce, organic foods are among the most heavily regulated. At the very least, you can trust that food products carrying the USDA Organic label have met all established guidelines.