Explain Like I’m 65: "Natural and Organic Food"

Table of Contents:

  1. All-Natural vs. Organic
  2. Eating Well on a Budget

Some people act like they know it all. Our new series Explain Like I’m 65 is for the rest of us. It will provide clear, digestible summaries to help seniors sort through the noise and get the factual information they need. From political buzzwords to household how-tos, we’re here to provide accessible guides and informative answers.

Making the right dietary choices can be challenging and brands don’t always make it any easier. Before even breaking out their wallets, shoppers are often asked to compare labels and make sense of buzzy, eye-catching language. Terms like “organic” and “natural” get thrown around a lot, but what do they really mean? This week we’re looking at the subtle differences between these terms to help seniors see beyond the label and get the nutrients they need.

Natural vs. Organic

No, organic and natural are not synonyms. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there are key differences in what they signify and how they are assigned. All organic foods are natural, but many natural foods are far from organic.

Natural

Products labeled “natural” do not include any added artificial ingredients. That means any colors, flavorings, or preservatives are naturally-derived and, in theory at least, more healthful than the alternative.

It’s worth noting that there are very few formal regulations for using terms like “natural” and “all-natural.” Tom’s of Maine, a brand that sells natural personal care products, notes that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has only recently begun to evaluate what constitutes a natural product. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) applies a loose definition of “natural” to meat and poultry products alone. Per the USDA’s definition, a natural product is one “containing no artificial ingredient or added color and [that] is only minimally processed.” A product is considered “minimally processed” if its processing has not significantly altered its appearance. A hot dog, for example, would not qualify even if it didn’t include artificial additives.

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Seniors should make an extra effort to determine whether or not a brand is using the term ‘natural’ honestly. Where possible, conduct extra research before making a trip to the store.

Organic

While natural refers to products without artificial additives, organic takes the product’s full lifecycle into account. It’s not enough for a manufacturer to forgo adding preservatives or flavorings. For livestock or produce to qualify as organic, they must be grown and raised without pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, and other potentially-toxic chemicals. If they’ve used such chemicals in the past, manufacturers must prove their operations are chemical-free for at least three years before labeling their products organic. They can expect regular examinations, too.

Organic certification standards are set and (strictly) enforced by the USDA. Farmers and manufacturers can apply for certification by following a five-step application process. The organic label is not necessarily a guarantee that food is healthy, but it does provide the consumer a number of other valuable guarantees. You can purchase an organic product with the utmost certainty that it was not produced with herbicides, pesticides, or steroids and that its ingredients are 100% Natural.

Eating Well on a Budget

Conventional wisdom often suggests that the healthier option is always the more expensive one. That couldn’t be further from the truth. With a little creativity and careful browsing, it’s both easy and cost-effective for seniors to design nutrient-rich meal plans. Check out some tips from senior nutrition experts.

Shopping during the COVID-19 outbreak? Take care to practice safe social distancing and adhere with store, local, and state guidelines.