As food companies aim to promote the ‘health benefits’ of their products in line with the new generation of health-conscious consumers, the words ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ seem to be springing up everywhere along our supermarket aisles. But what do they even mean? And which is better for your health?
Do you think ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ mean the same thing? Both put across healthy associations of wholesome, non-processed produce, but it’s not all what meets the eye.
Strictly speaking, ‘natural’ has no regulated definition (in the US, at least) and can be used freely by manufacturers. That’s why you might see “made with all natural ingredients” on your cereal box because it contains high levels of high-fructose corn syrup as one of these ‘natural’ ingredients (HFCS is the really bad stuff that sends your blood sugar levels spiking). Understandably, most shoppers are influenced heavily by the natural labelling, with up to 60% of us looking specifically for these words for a guilt-free buy.
A ‘natural’ ingredient is therefore not a healthy ingredient, it is simply minimally synthesised. However, you’re more likely than not going to find minimally processed food products containing heaps of sugar, salt and fat. Ice cream contains 60% whole milk, 21% whipping cream, sugar, milk solids, and emulsifiers and, because it’s slowly stirred in a big old vat and not overly processed, ice-cream companies will tell you they’re using ‘all natural ingredients’.
This sounds great in theory, but not when you consider that ‘natural’ in these terms means 200 calories per 2 scoops, 4g saturated fat per scoop, 15g carbohydrates per mouthful and a whopping 5 teaspoons of sugar, all in the same portion. So no, ‘natural’ does not mean healthy (and you can find out more on this by visiting this article by CBS).
The only products that are therefore unlikely to spread the word of ‘natural ingredients’ are heavily processed foods which we know to be bad for us, such as ready-meals or fast-food burgers (although some will still try to say ‘contains natural ingredients’ if it has at least one source of minimally synthesised material in its contents).
The organic label is much more regulated in terms of its definition, and ensures that anything touting ‘organic’ was made with a set of strict farming and production practices in place (you can see more about organic foods here). Some of these practices include: the non-use of toxic pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, care for animal welfare, and audit trails from farm to table, to name but a few.