An increasing number of food products on store shelves have labels reading organic or natural. Many people think these labels mean the same thing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You should understand the difference between organic and natural foods.

Official Regulations and Enforcement

The primary difference between organic foods and natural foods is the way they are regulated. Organic foods are strictly regulated by the government according to a set of standards. Anyone growing organic foods need to undergo extensive inspections and testing from government certified associations. The regulations are slightly different depending on the exact type of food being grown. Alternately, natural foods are not regulated by the government. There is at least one independent natural certification agency although no one is required to use it. The general idea is that foods listed as natural are minimally processed. They might still have some processing done that would not be allowed with organic products.

organic and natural food

Labelling

Another difference is that organic and natural foods are labeled very differently. Organic foods always have the same labeling requirements. The food will show the government certified organic symbol somewhere on the packaging. Additionally, the packaging will show the government accredited certification agency. Organic labels actually have legal consequences if the food is not truly organic. Natural foods, on the other hand, have no labeling regulations or standards. Anyone can label a product as natural, all natural or grown naturally regardless of what the ingredients are. You have to be careful with natural products and research the standards behind any claimed natural certifications.

Nutritional Content

There are some misconceptions about the nutritional content and health benefits of organic and natural foods. The reality is that there is no conclusive research showing that these types of foods contain any more vitamins or nutrients than non-organic and non-natural foods. What is different is that organic food is not sprayed with harsh chemical pesticides. Organic meats are raised on 100 percent organic feed. Genetically modified organisms are not permitted with certified organic products. Natural foods are unregulated meaning that they could be the same quality as conventional foods depending on the producer.

Price

There is a distinct difference when it comes to price. Organic foods tend to come with a premium price. This is especially true for organic meats since the standards are so high. The reason is that meeting organic regulations to get a certification is very expensive. This increases the price of organic food significantly since the most common and economical agricultural products cannot be used. Alternately, natural foods can be produced in nearly any way. Natural food tends to be less expensive than organic products but a little more expensive than convention unlabeled foods. This price difference is because consumers are willing to pay more if something is marked as natural.

Processed Foods

The rules for processed foods are a little different for organic products. Organic processed foods such as frozen dinners or items that use multiple ingredients have to contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients. The other 30 percent of the ingredients do not have to be organic. The only exception is if the manufacturer labels the food as 100 percent organic. Natural processed foods do not have any standards meaning that they can contain the same ingredients as any other product on store shelves.

Todd Nelson, D.Sc. trained at the International Center for Natural Health and Medicine, graduating with both a Naturopathic Doctor degree and a Doctor of Holistic Health Sciences degree. Aside from heading the Tree of Life Wellness Center in Denver, Colorado as a naturopathic doctor, Todd is also a co-author of 3 books.