Organic or "All Natural"?
What these terms mean, why it’s important to you, and where to put your hard-earned dollars.
Next time you go to the grocery store make a point to really notice the labels on packaged produce, meat, and processed foods. If you haven't noticed it already you will start to see lots of terms: organic, non-GMO, all-natural, free range, grass fed, heart healthy, whole grain, gluten free, fat free, no added sugar…the list goes on and on.
There are at least 10 words or terms used on food packaging these days. Some of the them actually mean something, while others have no meaning whatsoever and are simply meant to confuse consumers.
Today's blog post will explore TWO of the most common food label claims: “Organic” and “All Natural” to help you decide what's worth the money and what's just bad advertising.
Let’s start with the "Organic" label.
This label actually holds weight and can be very helpful if you understand its meaning and know what to shop for.
A product carrying the USDA organic seal has to meet a rigorous set of criteria to hold that label including:
- No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or sewage sludge can be used.
- No genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can carry the organic label.
- Animal products with the organic label must be fed an all-organic diet, have access to the outdoors, and hormone and antibiotic use is prohibited.
- Processed foods with the organic label cannot contain hydrogenated or trans fats and over 95% of the ingredients must be organic.
Why go organic?
Our government sets standards for what they deem “safe” levels for consumption of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and other toxins.
The problem is this: many of these toxins bioaccumulate in our bodies. That means they build up in our tissues over time and our bodies cannot expel them.
Unfortunately, we begin exposure to these toxins and chemicals before we even leave our mother's womb. A study led by the Environmental Working Group found over 200 environmental chemicals in the cord blood of US minority infants. Crazy.
It’s not the one-time exposure to these chemicals that's an issue...
It’s repeated exposure over months, years, and decades that causes a problem.
Even more scary is the fact that the Toxic Substances Control Act "regulates" over 80,000 chemicals, but does not require most chemicals to be tested before widespread use! Big Brother is not watching out for us.
At the present time our government and regulatory agencies do NOT have your best interest at heart. Do your own research and rely on common sense and intuition rather than the recommendations of regulatory agencies funded by large corporations that are more concerned about their bottom lines than your health.
Perhaps worrying about your toxin load as an adult doesn’t concern you too much. (It concerns me, but I frequently hear adults, especially those of older generations say things like “I’m too old to worry about that now”.)
But do you have kids? Grandkids? If you do, you should be very concerned. Exposure to these toxins is linked from everything to ADHD and depression to obesity and disruption of sex hormones.
The bad news is that it's not possible to completely eliminate exposure to toxins. But you can minimize exposure, and this is one of the best things you can do for your developing children. One way to do that is to eat organically raised produce and animal products.
Special note: It takes a lot of time and is very costly for farms and food producers to go through the process of being certified USDA organic. This is good because it means the things you buy with the organic label must meet a high standard. However, this also means your local small farmer probably can’t afford the certification. I am all for buying locally sourced produce and animal products, many of which ARE grown and/or raised “organic”, but don't carry the official label simply because the farmer can't afford it. I highly encourage you to get in contact with small farmers in your area. A great place to meet your local farmer is at a farmer’s market. Ask them if they use pesticides or fertilizers. Ask them if their animals have access to pastures. Ask if you can visit their farm! Most small farmers are proud of what they do and are more than willing to answer all of your questions. If you run into someone who is not willing to discuss their operations or poo-poos your inquiries, take your business elsewhere!
I know at this very moment you’re screaming about the expense of organic produce, dairy, and meat. I hear you and I understand.
It took me years to accept that organic produce and animal products are better for me and my family.
The reality is simply this: The health consequences of buying cheap, processed, and toxin-laden foods will cost you and your children more in the long run, both in medical bills and happiness.
As Virgil said: “The greatest wealth is health.”
I was in the final stages of my health journey when I decided to go completely organic. I did it more for my daughter than for myself. I’m not ever sorry or apologetic that nearly half of my income is budgeted toward food, or that I sometimes spend three times as much for the organic apples, or that I pay $6 for a gallon of organic milk from grass-fed cows.
I sleep better at night knowing that I have taken every opportunity possible to lessen my daughter’s exposure to toxins and pharmaceuticals that might impede her development into a healthy adult.
I don’t say that to make you feel badly about your choices. I know some people cannot even afford healthy food, let alone organic food. This is a tragedy of epic proportions in this country. Everyone should have access to healthy, real food. (If the government wants the answer to our healthcare crisis, here it is: spend money on a massive education campaign NOT funded by Big Ag, Big Pharma, and Big Food, and subsidize vegetables and fruits so that everyone can afford them. Just my opinion.)
I also don't want to make it seem impossibly expensive to go organic. It's not. If you know what to buy and pay attention to sales, you will notice very little added expense!
If you're on the fence about going organic or truly struggling with the cost, here are a few tips and important things to consider:
- Evaluate your budget and see where you might be able to make changes. How often do you eat out? Get fast food? Grab a coffee from Starbucks? How much is your monthly cable bill? If you can afford those expenses, you can probably find a way to afford healthier food and some organic products.
- If you are strapped for cash and not currently eating lots of veggies and fruits, forget about going organic and just start eating more plants! Organic or not, eating more veggies and fruits is WAY better than eating burgers and fries! Baby steps!
- If you can’t stomach the price of fresh produce (organic or not), buy frozen. Better yet, invest in a large chest freezer and start buying frozen veggies, fruits, and meats in bulk when they go on sale! In some cases, frozen veggies and fruits are even BETTER than fresh because they are picked and immediately frozen at the peak of ripeness, preserving their nutrients! The store-ability of frozen foods also guarantees you’ll have healthy food on hand when pressed for time.
- Buy in season. Produce that's in season will be cheaper. Make sure to check out your local farmer's market for the freshest produce available. It's not always cheaper, but sometimes it is!
- Grow your own vegetables and/or raise your own livestock. I'll be completely honest on this one: you won't save much money (at least I never have!). I love gardening, but by the time I erected a fence to keep the deer out, purchased a tiller, built raised beds, bought seeds and seedling plants....I was already at least $2,000 in the hole. I have had a similar experience with raising livestock. By the time you add up initial purchase price of the animals, build secure housing/fencing, buy feed, and pay vet bills, you're often better off buying the "super expensive" organic eggs, meat, and milk at the store!
- Pick and choose your produce wisely. If you can't afford to go entirely organic, that's okay! Certain fruits and vegetables are safe to buy without the organic label because they have a peel or outer leaves that can be removed. Bananas, oranges, avocados, and cabbage are good examples. Other fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries and celery, consistently test high in pesticide residues and should NEVER be eaten unless they are organic. See below for a list of the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” published yearly by the Environmental Working Group. If you can’t afford organic, simply focus on eating foods mostly from the Clean 15 list and reduce consumption of foods from the Dirty 12 list.
It's "All Natural", so it must be healthy for me.
This is one of my favorites. Insert sarcasm.
Not to put too fine a point on it, if you see the words "all natural" on a label it’s probably “all bullshit”.
No clear cut standards currently exist for this label. The FDA defines “natural” as not containing anything artificial or synthetic.
Arsenic is all natural. So is wood pulp. So is the secretion from a beaver's anal gland. All of these "natural" things are found in our food supply. Arsenic is in rice, wood pulp is added to shredded cheese, and secretions from the anal glands of beavers is added to many brands of "all natural" vanilla ice cream. Yum.
Just because it comes from nature does not necessarily mean you want to put it into your body.
Additionally, the processed food industry uses this label to deceive people into believing junk foods are healthy. The average American is getting 60% of their daily calories from packaged/processed foods, and it's astounding how many people report that they believe their diets are healthy...even when their health is failing. It's because they've been duped into believing that convenience franken-foods like Rice-a-Roni, Life Cereal, Kraft Mac and Cheese, NutriGrain cereal bars, and Hamburger Helper are somehow healthy.
The packages say so!
Many of these processed foods do indeed start out as natural plants (namely soybeans, wheat, and corn), but after emulsification and heat treatment, no longer resemble anything in nature…and our bodies do not process them like foods from nature.
Granola bars, cereals, crackers, and even cookies often get the “natural” label. At best, this is confusing and deceptive. At worst, it’s harmful to our health.
Rule of thumb regarding the “all natural” label:
Be wary of any product that must exclaim how “natural” it is. If you can’t tell immediately by looking at it that it came from nature – for example, it’s clear to most people that broccoli is a plant, and as such, does not need a neon sign telling us so – it’s probably best avoided.
I'd love to hear from you: What food labels do you find most confusing? What food-related topics would you like to learn more about?
If you are experiencing symptoms of chronic exposure to toxic substances such as inability to lose weight, chronic fatigue, sleep problems, skin problems, brain fog, etc, seek the help of a qualified care provider to help you get to the root of these problems!
Thanks for reading!
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