Monday, November 17, 2014

ORGANIC, NATURAL or Mystery Foods? What do these words mean.

In today’s world of mass produced food, the consumer is at the mercy of the producers when it comes to how the food or meat is grown and what chemicals can be used in its production.

Pick up a can of beans or grab a bag of chips or crackers and you quickly realize that you need to be a chemist to figure out what some of the ingredients are and what they are doing in your food.

Add to this the fact that our meats can be fed so many different chemicals that are not even on any label and you can understandably start to worry about what is safe and what is not.

There are essentially three general categories that you can place your foods if you are concerned about your family’s health, and these are Organic Foods, Natural Foods and what I call Mystery Foods.

Organic Foods

The U.S. Department of Agriculture or USDA regulates the standard for organically grown foods, and how they are labeled.
There are strict standards that regulate not only how these foods are grown but also how they are handled and processed.
The small farmer who produces and sells less than $5000 in organic foods a year are exempt from government certification but at the same time they are required to follow all of the USDA standards for the production of organic foods.
There are three labels that certified organic food producers could use on their products. You should look for the USDA ORGANIC label itself, along with one of the three following phrases; 100% Organic or Organic, or Made with Organic ingredients.
The USDA defines and inspects these foods to be within their guidelines, which are:

  • 100% Organic labeled foods must be 100% organic or made for 100% organic ingredients.
  • Organic labeled foods must be at least 95%, or more, organic or must be made of 95% or more organic ingredients.
  • Made with Organic labeled foods must be at least 70% or more organic or must be made with 70% or more organic ingredients. These foods can use this label but they cannot carry the USDA organic label
  • Foods that are less than 70% organic cannot use the word organic on their labels in any way even if they do include some organic ingredients.
Organic foods contain significantly less pesticides than their non-organic counterparts according to the USDA and thus pose less health risks for the consumer.
Read the labels, even on the Organic foods. The organic label does not mean that the food is more nutritious, only that it was raised or grown to federal organic food standards.
Organic foods can still be loaded with salt sugar, fats and calories.


Presently there is no formal definition of the term Natural Food by the Food and Drug Administration.
To date, the FDA has not objected to the different food industries using the term as a statement that their food does not contain such things as artificial flavors, added colors or other synthetic substances.

Although there is no official definition of what the terms Natural and Natural Food really mean, their use implies that the food product is minimally processed and does not contain manufactured ingredients such as sweeteners, flavorings, food colorings or hormones in them.

Even though neither the USDA nor the FDA have rules for “Natural Foods” the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits any labeling that is false or misleading.
Because of this unregulated category of foods, the consumer should be very cautious when they see a food labeled as either Natural or Natural Food.

The definition of Natural that is presently used in food labeling is actually an arbitrary one defined by each particular manufacturer or industry sector and not necessarily a generic one.

Mystery Foods

I call these other foods Mystery Foods not because they are totally uncontrolled or even unsafe, but because the federal laws and controls applied to these other foods are a mystery to the common consumer.
Literally every category of foods that are consumed in America has different constraints on the growers and processors as to approved additives, preservatives and other chemicals that can be used.
And, the individual grower’s lobbyists in Congress have often changed these constraints radically over the years. The result is that we are consuming foods full of chemicals that are invariably added for the benefit of the manufacturer and not necessarily for the good of the consumer.

Ingredients Label

You need to get into the habit of reading the information on the labels of the foods you eat.
There is a wealth of information available to the consumer on the label and you just have to check it out and understand it.
I recommend a good read of the the Article here called Understanding Food Labels for a good explanation of what you are eating and as a tool for brand comparisons.

FOOD Safety Tips

Here are some tips that the consumer should follow in order to insure they are purchasing healthier foods.
  • Purchase your fruits and vegetables fresh and in season when possible. Try to purchase them from farmer’s markets or check with your local grocer for the days they receive their produce.
  • Always wash and scrub them well under running water to remove as much dirt, bacteria, pesticides and processing residue as possible before cooking or consuming them.
  • Read the labels and check if the fruits and vegetables are imported from other countries. Presently over 60% of fresh vegetables and fruits consumed in the US are imported from other countries.
  • These countries are required to comply with FDA regulations for growing and processing what they ship to the US, just as American producers do. But keep in mind that the agency’s inspection staffs for overseas producers are notoriously sparse.
  • Many of us will buy from the numerous roadside stands that dot our highways when certain fruits and vegetables are in season. These farmers are supposed to follow the same FDA guidelines when using pesticides and other chemicals on their foods.
  • But, if you do purchase from these popular roadside stands, you should take care and wash these foods well, as I described above.