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Natural Vs Organic Food - What's the Difference?

Updated on June 3, 2010


Do you shop for organic foods?

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You're trying to take care of our environment. You're trying to take care of your body. Chemicals and pesticides are bad for both your personal health, and the health of our planet. But when it comes to food, it can be tough to figure out what’s best.  Diet experts and green living enthusiasts toss around terms like “natural” and “organic,” but what exactly do they mean?  And which one is better, both for you and for Mother Earth?

Organic Vs Natural Foods

The basic difference between natural vs. organic foods is that one adheres to strict standards set forth by the government, and the other does not.


The USDA’s National Organic Standards Board defined the national standard for the term “organic” in the year 2000. According to these criteria, to be labeled organic, food must have been produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (with a few exceptions), antibiotics, irradiation, genetic engineering, or growth hormones.


“Natural,” on the other hand, is not a legally standardized term. Generally, the industry uses the word to imply that food does not contain preservatives, or that it is processed less than its non-“natural” counterparts. Be wary of these products–though some of them may be better for you than those that are not specified “natural,” they are not necessarily made from pesticide- or cruelty-free products, and unless labeled as such, are not organic.

The USDA Organic Seal

This seal appears on foods that are certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture.
This seal appears on foods that are certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Your best bet: buy organic. Not only can you be sure that the sources of your food are following rigid rules in regards to their techniques and facilities, but the food is simply better for you. In 2005, researchers found that almost 30% of organic foods contained no detectable pesticides, another 30% contained only 1 pesticide, and a little over 40% contained more than one. One day, the USDA may also define a measure of what exactly constitutes a “natural” food. Until then, stick with products that have been evaluated against a given benchmark, and made the grade.


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