What is the difference between Organic and Natural?

While strolling through the supermarket aisles, you will be confused at reading labels like "natural" and "organic" on items.

So, what do you think is the difference between "natural" and "organic"?

A recent Consumer Reports survey found that a one-third of people surveyed thought "natural" was the same as "organic" - this suggests the labels are often confusing or even misleading. (source: abcnews)

Many of the consumers think that there is no difference between natural and organic and often think both of them mean the same thing. However, this is not true. You could understand clearly the difference between the two, if you compare the definitions of organic and natural.

Definition of Organic and Natural

The term "organic" means the food is produced under approved methods, free of synthetic fertilizers and is tightly regulated by the National Organic Program of United States Department of Agriculture (2). Foods that contain at least 95% organic content are labeled as organic. It also specifies that synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used in the production of organic food, implying there is no genetically modification or use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers during the production of organic food products. (2)

However, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has no definition for the use of the word "natural". Natural food generally refers to food items that are not chemically treated or synthesized in any form. These are derived from plants and animals in a natural way. The FDA policy states that the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances (1). This will result in the interpretation of "natural" by the food manufactures on their own terms.

The food items containing natural sweeteners, flavors or other plant-derived compounds can be labeled natural according to this policy. Even, highly processed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can also be labeled natural, since the synthetic substances used to produce HFCS are not present in the final food product.

In effect, both are the catchphrases that are labeled on a product in an effort to market them to masses. More people will buy it even if it costs a little bit more.

Choosing organic or natural over the heavily processed items can have some benefits, including health, and environmental benefits. Luckily, many of these products are devoid of health risks from chemical contamination, supplemental hormones and overuse of antibiotics.

The USDAs policy for organic food also prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The risks of GMO crops to human health are the subject of several research studies. Methods such as natural soil enrichment, crop rotation, and pest predators are sustainable ways to protect native biodiversity and soil fertility. These methods will not result in the leaching of essential nutrients from the soil that occurs in conventional agricultural methods.

Organic farming also means better conditions for animals such as cattle and poultry, since certified organic meat comes from animals that are fed with organic food and not treated with antibiotics.

Best strategies to consider

  • Buy Seasonal Foods - Buying locally grown fruits and vegetables is a not only a way to save money, you will also get fresh and nutritious foods when they are in season. You can also find produce and fruits in a farmers market which may not be labeled as organic or natural, but are better choices. Make sure you are buying the freshest food possible.
  • Grow your own Vegetable Garden - Gardening can be a great way to save money and you could also control the cultivation method by not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Do not Buy Organic Junk Food - It is better to remember that junk food can be made using organic ingredients. Organic ice cream, potato chips and even organic soda, are in the market which are still high in calories that can have an effect on your grocery bill as well as your health. Make sure you read labels carefully and buy wisely to keep both your food bill and your waistline slim.

1. What is the meaning of natural on the label of food? Retrieved Apr. 18, 2014 http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/transparency/basics/ucm214868.htm

2. National Organic Program Retrieved Apr. 18, 2014. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop

Written By: Anila J., United States (A postgraduate in Biology).

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice