For quite some time there has been an explosion of health food products on the market, specifically advertised as either organic foods or natural foods. Most people don’t know that there is a major difference between organic, natural and health foods, believing that the three are interchangeable.
Although the terms Organic, Natural and Health, when referring to food, are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings.
- Organic foods are grown without artificial pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy products are obtained from animals that are fed natural feed and not given hormones or antibiotics.
- Natural foods are free of synthetic or artificial ingredients or additives.
- “Health foods” is a general term that may be applied to natural or organic foods, or to regular foods that have undergone less processing than usual, such as stone-ground whole-grain flours.
Basically, the difference between natural and organic stems from an official designation set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for organic foods. In 2000, the USDA published its official position on organic foods and made its production a matter for strict supervision and legal regulation. While there are several criteria for organic foods, in order to be labeled “organic,” food must have been grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (with some rare exceptions), antibiotics, irradiation, genetic engineering, or growth hormones. According to the USDA, “organic” is a labeling term that denotes products that are produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. Additionally, organic farming involves growing systems that enhance biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.
On the other hand, natural foods have no legal or federal supervision at all, and are not defined by any law or criteria. While the USDA does require that products list their ingredients in descending order of concentration, there is no official stipulation for the amount of natural ingredients a food must contain to be deemed as such. A food labeled “natural” is usually considered to contain less preservatives and chemical additives than other kinds of processed foods, though since there is no way to legally supervise the product, no sure answer may be set forth.
Although some have claimed that organic foods have a higher concentration of some nutrients, the evidence is mixed. The nutritional content of foods have a higher concentration of some nutrients, the evidence is mixed. The nutritional content of foods also varies greatly according to when the food was harvested and how it has been stored or processed. Unless they are fresher, there is also no evidence that organic, natural, or health foods taste better than regular foods. However, taste is determined by plant genetics, rather than by whether the crop is organically or conventionally grown. Harvesting and handling also affect taste. A peach or tomato that is picked when it is too green will never develop the full taste of fruit that is allowed to ripen on the tree or the vine.
Although the type of fertilizer may not affect taste or nutrition, it does have an effect on the environment. Many people prefer to pay premium prices for organic foods because their production does not cause environmental damage from pesticides and herbicides, and composted fertilizers help restore soil and are not as damaging to the environment as artificial fertilizers. However, simply stating “organic” does not protect food from being contaminated from field to market.