Sunday, January 22, 2012

Organic vs. All-natural

Organic foods are certified by the USDA and are clearly labeled:

Organic farms have to use practices that are ecologically based (cultural and biological pest management) and they can't use synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones. Multiple ingredient foods labeled organic have to contain at least 95% organic ingredients. There is much more information on organic foods and labeling at the USDA organic certification website. The consumer link is especially helpful in explaining a lot about what organic means as well as what terms like "free range" and "cage free".

The labels "Natural" or "All-Natural", on the other hand, are not regulated. So basically, any company can put that on their food packaging if they so desire. Walking through the grocery store, it seems like many companies are trying to appeal to the natural/organic food push because there sure are a lot of foods that are suddenly "all natural". Interestingly, many of these foods I have found to contain food dye, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and even monosodium glutamate (MSG). Then again, some are true to their packaging.

Moral of the story is, if there is something you don't want to feed to your family, you have to read the ingredients. That's the only true way to avoid preservatives, dyes, HFCS, or whatever you deem unhealthy. Just because something labeled organic doesn't mean it is 100% healthy for you either, like the organic banana chips I could eat the entire bag of (yeah...only 10g of saturated fat per miniscule serving. That darn organic coconut oil).

My family can't afford for everything we eat to be organic and honestly, that seems a bit excessive, even for me. Somewhere my husband is smirking and saying "Yeah right!" but seriously, what is more important to me is feeding my family REAL food - food whose ingredients are basic and from natural sources. So sometimes its something certified organic and sometimes its non-organic foods with basic ingredients.
Here are a few non-organic foods that I like to get because of their simple ingredients:

Ok, side note on the salad dressings ~ I know there are countless recipes to make all types of dressings from scratch. However, we end up not liking them, not eating salads, and wasting the dressing. So when I found the Marzetti brand dressings (contain no MSG or HFCS), I decided this was one prepared food item we would use.

I also choose what to get organic vs all natural based on what our budget allows and what is more important to me. For example, it is more important to me to have organic milk and meats than organic cheeses and butter. Both are expensive so I compromise by getting blocks of Kraft cheese and regular unsalted butter - the block cheese I can slice and shred on my own (thereby avoiding the additives in pre-shredded cheese) and the butter contains only cream (and is something we have in very small quantities in our diet). 

If I read the ingredients in a particular food and I can't pronounce the ingredients or have no idea what it is, I don't buy it. It was an adjustment at first to not have Dorritos and packaged cookies in the house but eventually, we got used to being hungry at night. Just kidding - we DO eat junk food every once in a while but most of the time we have found healthier or home-baked alternatives. And that makes me feel better.

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