Across everything, from beauty products to food and drinks, labels such as ‘natural,’ ‘organic,’ and ‘bio’ are pasted onto the products. And if you are anything like me, always looking for healthier choices, it’s might be very confusing to understand which one is right for you. Here’s what you need to know about these labels and how to make better, more educated choices.
Firstly, let’s define each one of those:
The “organic” label means that no toxic synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or chemical NPK fertilizers were used in production, and no antibiotics or growth hormones are given to animals. In case it stated “certified,” it also means that third-party inspectors have done inspection to ensure that organic standards have been appropriately applied. Those standards can vary between different levels of certifications.
The next one is the “bio” label, which means the food was produced from organic farming that also takes into consideration our planet’s well-being and sustainability of Earth. Similar to “organic”, if certified, the “bio” label means that agricultural products were grown without the employment of conventional pesticides or artificial fertilizers. The animal products were not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. This label is mainly used in E.U.
And lastly, the “natural” label, the less powerful and unregulated. In general, ‘natural’ means nothing artificial or synthetic has been added. However, the word ‘natural’ doesn’t take into consideration the manufacturing or production process (which may use synthetic methods).
DO THESE LABELS HAVE REGULATIONS?
The ”organic” label has strict regulations and widely recognized and trusted. Although regulations differ slightly between the organizations, only products with at least 95 percent organic content may be labeled “organic” or bear the “organic” logo. These products must be certified, and the name of the certification body must appear on the label.
If products contain 70-95 percent organic content, they may have the declaration: “contains xx% organic ingredients.” These products may not use the organic logo or claim to be “organic.” They must be certified, with the certification body’s name placed on the label.
And those with less than 70 percent “organic” content may only contain organic claims in the product’s ingredient list. These products do not require certification and may not use the “organic” logo. However, the organic ingredients contained within these products must be certified.
“Bio” label is a little bit trickier, regulation varies from country to country, and some companies are using for “BIO” without actual certification. So, as a rule of thumb, if there is no logo or name of the certification body on the label, probably you better skip this one.
As for the “natural” label, it is a very loose term. There aren’t any official regulations on it, so the definition and use of the word ‘natural’ is pretty much at its discretion. The official Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy for the ‘natural’ label states that “the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
DOES IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE EATING ORGANICALLY?
So, these terms’ definitions and regulations are all a little confusing, but does it make any difference eating organically? The short answer is yes, and here’s why:
1. You don’t want to ingest all the synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals used in non-organic farming. Your body needs to work harder to detox all those substances, so it’s better to avoid ingesting those. Or at least, if you consume non-organic produce, soak it in baking soda for about 40 minutes, it will remove up to 90% pesticides from the surface.
2. Some researches show that food grown organically is richer in nutrients, such as Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
3. Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides. By making sure they eat mainly organic produce, we protect them from many possible health complications.
4. Have you ever heard about omega-3 fatty acids? It’s a type of unsaturated healthy fat. Apparently, according to one British study in 2016, organic meat and milk products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids comparing to conventionally produced products. Organic milk tested in this study also had less saturated fat than non-organic.
5. Conventional livestock is fed with antibiotics to protect against illness to make it easier for farmers to raise animals in crowded or unsanitary conditions. Besides, in some cases, conventionally raised animals can also be injected with synthetic growth hormones to gain weight faster or produce more milk.
6. Organic products reduce public health risks to farmworkers and their families by minimizing their exposure to toxic and persistent chemicals on the farm soil in which they work.
7. It is better for animals and the environment. When livestock is monitored under these regulations, it ensures that livestock is healthy, and make it both fairer to the animals and better for us to eat. And the environment benefits through the limitations of chemicals and fertilizers used – unnatural substances are not introduced to the soil, and therefore can’t affect it.
DOES ‘CERTIFIED’ MEAN THE FOOD IS ALWAYS HEALTHY?
Even though organic labeled produce is good for the planet and us, it’s not necessarily the same for packaged food.
There are many things to consider when we are thinking about healthy eating, such as the sugar content, the level of processed ingredients, additives and coloring.
Even if the final product is organically certified but has a high percentage of organic sugar cane, it might be considered unhealthy for you if you are looking for a balanced diet.
Also, as we mentioned earlier, for a product to be certified as organic, it must have at least 95% organic ingredients – this means there’s still 5% which can be inorganic.
And the label ‘made with organic ingredients’ only requires a product to have 70% organic ingredients, which is much lower and can contain lots of unnatural substances anyway. Being made with organic ingredients isn’t much of an improvement to other food, as it can still contain some of the nasties.
As for “natural” labeled food, the brands can use this word as an advertisement method and without any proper regulation. It means it can still contain lots of refined sugars, or other chemicals.
So regardless of the label on the packaged food, you are buying in the supermarket, take a more in-depth look into the ingredients and check what it was made of.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR PURCHASE DECISIONS EASIER AND FASTER
Although these labels are tricky, you can always make choices to help you decide about products faster. Here are a few tips:
1. Use an app to scan labels: some apps are available to download on your smartphone, which can check the labels of products to let you know what ingredients are not good for you and any other information you need. These are convenient because you don’t need to remember anything or spend ages looking things up in Google while you’re in a shop. One useful app for this is Healthy Food, and you can use it to find out about the ingredients in a food item and save it in a database for repeated usage.
2. Educate yourself: although these labels are supposed to make our life easier, it should not stop you from educating yourself about these topics. When you know about the differences and what you’re looking for to suit your needs – such as something which is ‘natural’ – you can be confident that you are making an educated choice.
3. Make a list: find out about different shops or brands you feel safe and confident to buy from. This can include some research beforehand into their ingredients and production methods, or whatever concerns you and make a list of all the ones that line up with your values. Then, you can take this list shopping with you so you can quickly get the right products.
4. Read labels: as well as scanning labels, you can learn how to read the label yourself to look out for things that you want from the product. For example, labels like ‘no artificial preservatives’ or ‘no artificial colors’ have more regulation and are more specific than ‘organic’ or ‘bio.’ Define what you don’t want in your products and learn to read the label so you can quickly find products without them.
THE PRICE VS. THE VALUE
Organic products are more expensive than conventional ones. Are they worth the extra cost? Undoubtedly, it’s a matter of choice.
If you can afford all organic, that’s fantastic, but it’s not the case for many people. So if you need to choose, the most important groups to buy organic, in our opinion, include foods you eat daily and animal products.
Again, a strictly organic food plan does not mean healthy. Focus on eliminating processed food, unhealthy sugars, and adding freshly cooked wholesome food. In that case, it will have a more significant impact on your health. Top it up with 3-5 times weekly exercises to see additional mental health benefits and stress reduction.