We set out on a simple mission, to buy healthy foods free of pesticides and chemicals. One would think this mission is simple. It can be simple, once the difference between the labels “natural” and “organic” are understood. We are often led to believe that seeing the word “natural” on a product means it is healthy, but sadly, this is not always the case. Companies are starting to learn that consumers are becoming smarter and are still looking at the ingredients listed on the boxes of these “natural” products. There is nothing natural about “BHT” or “Red 40” in that granola bar labeled as a “natural” food item.
Let’s break this down. The label “natural” is not a certified label from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA does define for farmers of beef and poultry products that natural means no artificial ingredients, colors or processing of the meat in a “way that alters the raw product.” Yet, the USDA does not monitor those meat products to see if this definition is followed and labeled accordingly on packages. The hope is that if a meat manufacturer labels its product “natural” that there would also be words on that package describing it as “minimally processed,” but other than that sign, there is no way of knowing for sure that the “natural” meat is void of artificial ingredients.
For other products that are labeled as “natural,” such as cereals, it is important to check the list of ingredients to really assess whether or not those flakes are natural. Ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup are not natural. An alternate more natural ingredient would be one less processed, such as raw cane sugar. When looking for a real natural product be wary of those with ingredients that are hard to pronounce or simply sound fake. There is nothing fake about a cereal that contains oats, apple juice, raw cane sugar and dried strawberries. Those are all ingredients we recognize and know are healthy and real.
The USDA does certify a product as organic. Look for the green label that reads “USDA Organic.” Since this certification process began it makes life much easier to find products that are truly free of chemicals. For example, vegetables that are USDA Organic certified were grown without the use of pesticides. Chicken labeled as USDA Organic certified was raised without the use of hormones and was also treated nicer by having a certain amount of access to the sun and healthy living conditions. There are stricter regulations for manufacturers and farmers aiming for the coveted USDA Organic certification.
As you head out this weekend on your mission to find the healthiest of foods for your family, keep in mind the following simple formula: buy “USDA Organic” food as much as you can, and check the list of ingredients on “natural” foods to ensure they are indeed as natural as possible.