In the food world, the terms “organic” and “natural” often get confused. They mean basically the same thing, right? Not really. Since we’re celebrating Harvest Month at Travaasa, we thought this would be a perfect time to get the facts straight about organic vs. natural food.

A food is only organic if it meets the strict standards laid out by the USDA National Organic Program. That means 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. If manufacturers are using the USDA certified organic seal, they’ve got to be able to back it up – they are subject to rigorous inspections (both announced and unannounced) from third-party investigators to ensure that the letter of the law is being followed.

There are four certified organic classifications outlined by the USDA you should know:

  • Products labeled “100% Organic” contain just that – 100% organic ingredients.
  • Products labeled simply “Organic” must contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. The remaining 5% must be produced using no GMOs, sewage sludge or irradiation.
  • Products labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients” must contain a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, and the remaining 30% must be produced using no GMOs, sewage sludge or irradiation.
  • Products with less than 70% organic ingredients are allowed to list organic ingredients on the package’s side panel, but are not allowed to make any organic claim on the front of the package.

Also worth noting: Water and salt do not count toward the percentage of organic ingredients.

When you see a product labeled natural, it can mean any number of things. Usually, it means that the food doesn’t contain preservatives or additives. But the Food & Drug Administration hasn’t defined the term, so a wide array of not-so-healthy ingredients can come in a package proudly stamped “NATURAL.” Yes, even the dreaded high fructose corn syrup can be found in some so-called “natural” products.

In short: buyer beware! And read your labels.

Want to learn more? Peruse the National Organic Program’s helpful website.