Epilepsy Talk

Is it Organic? | June 28, 2015

For quite some time there’s 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” and “natural” foods, believing that the two are interchangeable.

But there’s a huge difference between a food labeled “natural” and one that is labeled “organic.”

Unfortunately, the two titles get tossed around a lot, to the point where no one seems to be able to determine which is which, creating a lot of confusion for people who are truly concerned with purchasing the best and healthiest products available.

What’s the difference between “organic” and “natural”? Isn’t “natural food” just as safe and healthy as “organic food”?

Here’s the beginning of the answer. “Natural” does not mean “organic” and comes with no guarantees.

“Natural” foods are often assumed to be foods that are minimally processed and don’t contain any hormones, antibiotics or artificial flavors.

In the United States, however, neither the FDA nor the USDA has rules or regulations for products labeled “natural”.

As a result, food manufacturers often place a “natural” label on foods containing heavily processed ingredients.

What about organic?

“Organic” is the most heavily regulated food system.

Only “organic” guarantees no toxic synthetic pesticides, toxic synthetic herbicides, or chemical NPK fertilizers are used in production, and no antibiotics or growth hormones are given to animals.

Organic producers and processors also are subject to rigorous announced — and unannounced — certification inspections by third-party inspectors to ensure that they’re producing and processing “organic” products in a manner you and your family can trust.

Natural Food: “Natural” food items are minimally synthesized. Stringent standards don’t exist for natural food products in many parts of the world.

Certification Agencies

Organic food: Many countries have certification bodies, the most prominent being the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Natural food: The International Association of Natural Products Producers (IANPP) is trying to get the definitions for “natural food” into solid place. It should be noted that this association is not a certification body.

Food Labels

Organic food: Organic” labels have legal implications. A manufacturer must follow the specified rules and regulations before using the “organic” label.

Natural food: “Natural” labels are normally used freely by manufacturers due to lack of adequate guidelines.

Food Demand

Organic food: There is considerably more for “organic” food than for “natural” food. Organic food is readily available all over the world and people buy it more every year.

Natural food: The demand for “natural” food is increasing, but not nearly as much as for “organic” food.

Health Benefits

Organic Food: There is no evidence to prove that “organic” food is healthier than non-organic food.

People prefer organic food because they feel that it is safer than conventional food since chemicals are not used in its production.

However, recent research on the health benefits of organic milk has boosted the spirits of organic food lovers.

Recent research suggests that choosing organic food can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants and reduced exposure to toxic heavy metals.

Natural Food: People prefer “natural” food because they believe excessive processing of food items disturbs the implicit health benefits.

In contrast to the FDA, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does regulate use of the word “natural” when applied to meats, poultry, and eggs, stating that a “natural food is a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed”.

Although consumers purchasing natural meat, poultry, and eggs can be confident that there are no artificial ingredients or colors added, it’s important to note that “natural” does not necessarily mean hormone-free or antibiotic-free; these are separate labels, also regulated by the USDA.


Foods with an “organic” seal are certified organic and contain at least 95% organic content.

Organic food is produced using approved organic farming methods that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

Specifically, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used to produce organic food, meaning that organic food products are not genetically modified and have not been treated with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Unless the FDA adopts a stricter definition of “natural”, consumers trying to make informed decisions should be wary of the “natural” food label and pay close attention to ingredient lists, or choose “organic” foods that have been produced through a closely regulated process.

But the important question is – “Why do some people prefer organic food and some people prefer natural food?”

Because some people have the belief that synthesizing a food item results in some level of loss of its nutrients and beneficial properties.

Therefore, they demand “natural” foods.

“Organic” food fans, on the other hand, want their food to be free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preservatives, so they choose organic.

Apparently, the demand for “organic” food is more than “natural” food because organic food seals are guaranteed and monitored by the government.

An act similar to the Organic Food Products Act is necessary for “natural” food products as well, but it has not occurred at this time.

When buying “organic”, look for the following regulated terms on food labels:

Food labeled “100% organic” has no synthetic ingredients and can legally use the USDA organic seal.

A good example of the difference between “natural” and “organic” is a prepackaged fruit bar.

If the bar contains only certified organic ingredients it may be labeled as 100% organic.

If it contains 95% organic ingredients, it may also be labeled as organic.

If the bar is 70% organic, it may be labeled as “made with organic ingredients.”

Anything below this, however, does not have the right to be labeled “organic” or carry the USDA seal.

If the fruit bar were simply made with a majority of fruit and nut ingredients, however, it could potentially be called “natural” while still containing a large amount of added refined sugars, preservatives and chemical components.

Food labeled “organic” have a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. It is eligible to use the USDA organic seal.

Food labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. It is not eligible for the USDA seal.

Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy labeled “organic” must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones.

That said, it’s almost impossible to get organic meat.

It should be noted the USDA has yet to set standards for organic seafood or cosmetics. Most cosmetics are blends, including ingredients that may or may not be organic.

Experts recommend spending most of your organic food dollars on produce, as it is most likely to contain pesticides.

Reviewing 41 published studies comparing the nutritional value of organically grown and conventionally grown fruits, vegetables, and grains, certified nutrition specialist Virginia Worthington concluded there were significantly more of several nutrients in organic crops.

These included: 27% more vitamin C, 21.1% more iron, 29.3% more magnesium, and 13.6% more phosphorus.

In addition, organic products had 15.1% less nitrates than their conventional counterparts.

She also noted that five servings of organic vegetables (lettuce, spinach, carrots, potatoes and cabbage) provided the recommended daily intake of vitamin C for men and women, while their conventional counterparts did not.

Worthington said the results are consistent with known soil dynamics and plant physiology.

Also, organic produce has been found to be higher in antioxidants than its conventional counterparts.

And according to the EPA web site — because kids’ immune systems are not fully developed — they may be at greater risk from some pesticides than adults.

The web site also notes that the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act set tougher standards to protect infants and children from pesticide risks.


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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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