Organic is Not the Same as Natural – Know the Difference

Eating healthy seems hard, you can take all the efforts to cook a variety of foods from various groups, but you may still be doing damage to your health. This damage can be attributed to the production process of your ingredients. While browsing the aisles of the supermarket, you will be bombarded with terms within the health foods zone such as ‘natural’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘organic’ and so on. Some food items suspiciously have all three labels slapped on them which may make you feel as though you’re purchasing the healthiest food on the block but don’t be fooled, this is just a marketing strategy and has little to do with the adoption of processes and regulations. To understand this better, let’s zoom into two words in particular, ‘organic’ and ‘natural’. Are they the same? In short, no. Although these two processes may sound similar to a layman, there are a few key differences that you must consider before you decide which is better for you.

1) The definition itself

The very meaning of these terms used in the context of products differs. Organic foods refer to foods which are produced using calculated, artificial ingredients which enhance the quality of the food. For example, most vegan nut milk is fortified with B-12 because plant-based diets are lacking in this vitamin. This is a healthy addition that helps vegans and lactose intolerant people meet their daily nutritional requirements without compromising on their ethical and lifestyle choices. Organic foods must pass stringent quality checks which include evaluations of the machinery, processes, raw ingredients and environmental impact studies. You may notice some organic products may also have a label which says ‘fair trade’, this means that the product is organic, and the materials used to create it were sourced responsibly, sustainably and ethically. Natural foods, on the other hand, are those foods that are minimally processed and synthesized but have no guarantee of the manufacturing and handling process. So in a nutshell, organic products have a strict set of rules and regulations and are monitored by third-party organizations whereas natural products retain their natural form as far as possible, but have no guarantee in terms of the production process. You just have to take the brand’s word for it!

2) The ‘certified’, healthier option

What’s the healthier option- eating a store-bought, organic granola bar, or, consuming a handful or raw dates, almonds, figs, and oats? Most people would think that the natural ingredients may be healthier, but they overlook factors such as hygiene, the growing process and the sustainability. The granola bar may just be the healthier option, even though it may appear “unnatural”. Besides the loopholes in the production process, organic is better in this department because getting your product “certified organic” is a huge deal, and is extremely hard to obtain. Certification bodies exist in most countries, however, the most widely recognized, international body is the USDA, or the United States Department of Agriculture. When buying a product, look for the labels “USDA approved” and certified organic. The USDA takes on full responsibility for the authenticity of the products that it certifies so you can rest assured that what you’re consuming has gone through a top-notch production process. There are no such regulatory bodies for natural foods.

3) Hard-earned labels

If you look closely, organic food labels differ from natural ones since the processes are double-checked by a third party. You can’t say the same for natural foods. Anyone can put a label saying 100% natural because there are no governing bodies to monitor and verify these things. If you’ve studied nutrition labels closely, you may have noticed fruit juice brands which say ‘natural’ fruit juice, but if you read the fine print, you’ll always find a disclaimer that states “contains no real fruit”. This is how some brands are sneaky and market their products as “natural” because most people will blindly buy them thinking that they’re ‘natural’. In the case of organic products, it can take years to get certified, and once you are, you can expect surprise quality checks at any time!

4) The product itself

Experts suggest that organic foods are much healthier, more hygienic, and are safer to consume than natural foods. This is because of the production process. Organic foods follow processes which eliminate the use of toxic pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics and other harmful substances. In the case of organic fruits and vegetables, the soil used is absolutely safe and free from these harmful chemicals and growth enhancers. When you buy ‘natural’ products, on the other hand, you can never be sure about the production process. Did you know that animals are pumped with growth hormones, antibiotics and in case of dairy cows, estrogen and testosterone? Not only is this incredibly cruel from an ethical perspective, but this is also highly dangerous to human health. Organic meat production eliminates all this, organic meats are free range, grass-fed and are not pumped with any hormones or fatteners. Same goes with vegetables.

5) Shelf life

Do you associate the shelf-life with the quality and health of a food? This is a rookie mistake. Just because some foods have a very long shelf life does not mean that they’re unhealthy, and vice versa. Organic foods have a higher shelf life due to the presence of the permitted preservatives and packaging practices. These processes do not affect the overall health and nutritional value of the food, they only help preserve it. Most natural foods are perishable, but this is not a sign of freshness because one can never be sure of the production process itself. What’s the point of having a super fresh vegetable if it was pumped with chemicals in order to grow? One can also never be sure of the storage conditions of natural foods. All this is eliminated with organic food because of the third party regulators.

6) Legal implications

Did you know that there are legal repercussions for misusing the ‘organic’ label? Brands must be certified by a regulated body to be able to call themselves ‘organic’.  This is not the case with natural foods, anyone can slap on a ‘100% natural’ label on a product since there are no active governing regulatory bodies to rectify this.

So which is the healthier option for YOU? A healthy, well-planned, balanced and informed diet can consist of both, organic and natural foods, as long as they are responsibly sourced. When it comes to things like vegetables, growing your own food is your best bet, but that may not be plausible for everyone. If you can, try to opt for organic vegetables and meat as far as possible because these are the foods that contain the most toxic elements such as pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics and getting the organic variant ensures that the food you buy is free from these harmful chemicals.

Your Most Common Nutrition Questions Answered Here

Staying fit and healthy is not an overnight task. It is a lifelong commitment. Exercising and eating right are two peas in a pod. A good exercise regime has to be backed by a good eating routine and vice versa. In today’s changing lifestyles and fast-paced lives, we often relegate health to the bottom of our need’s pyramid only to pay heed when the body reminds us, not so subtly, of lack of nutrition and healthy routine.

The most important ingredient for healthy living is eating right and consuming a nutritious diet. Inadequate intake of nutrients can cause various health issues like stringing aches in various parts of the body, fatigue, weak bones, poor concentration, etc. Most of the people think consuming nutritious diet comprises of going on a strict diet and ditching their favourite foods forever. But, that’s not the case. With so much of information available on the internet, one is bound to get confused.

Here are some of the most commonly asked nutrition questions that beginners often have:

  • I am new, where should I begin?

The question that muddles every beginner is where they should begin from when it comes to eating right. The first and foremost thing to do is to understand your body’s nutrition need. Each body has a different requirement depending upon their physical work, weight, height, age, and gender. As they say, an excess of everything is harmful. Any nutrient in excess can lead to harmful consequences. One needs to understand the right quantity of nutrients to be consumed for their body type. Don’t blindly follow something that a friend or acquaintance of yours is following. No two bodies work in a similar pattern. Something that worked for you might not work for a friend of yours. Always take guidance from a certified nutritionist before adding or cutting down anything in your diet.

  • Which diet should I follow?

Following a diet doesn’t mean starving yourself. Starving is the worst thing one can do to their body. A healthy diet comprises of foods that take care of the essential nutrients and minerals required by your body. There are various diets like Keto, Low Carb Diet (LCD), No Carb Diet (NCD), No Sugar Diet (NSD), Low Sugar Diet (LSD), Liquid diets etc. Choose a diet depending on your body and fitness goals. For example: If a person with low blood pressure opts for a NSD i.e. no sugar diet, she is bound to suffer fatigue and dizziness. Hence, it is essential to understand your body before trying out any diet. Consult your physician or a nutritionist before starting a diet.

  • How effective is high protein diet?

A high protein diet should be backed by a heavy and rigorous workout regime. Proteins take time to break down and digest. A heavy workout helps in faster ingestion of proteins in the body. If a person is not working out and consuming high protein diet, he is bound to feel lethargic as body’s maximum energy will be consumed in digesting the protein intake.

  • Should I opt for the no carbs diet?

Every nutrient is essential for a fit and sound functioning of the body. Completely eliminating any nutrient from the body is not advisable. Carbs are the main source of energy for your body. Moreover, following a no carb diet gets a little tough to keep up with. Completely eliminating carbs from your diet is a herculean challenge. A no carb diet will leave you drained out than usual. Don’t go for it unless it is specifically advised by your nutritionist.

  • How important is it to keep calories count?

Counting calories can be confusing in the beginning with various food items/dishes cooked and prepared in different styles. It is difficult to give a universal calorie count for any particular dish. On the other hand, when consuming fruits and nuts, you have a definite calorie count. If you are overweight to obese and looking forward to cutting down some weight, keeping a check on your calorie intake can be helpful. By counting calories, one is able to strike a balance between the calories consumed and calories burnt ratio thereby initiating faster and healthier weight reduction process.  You can take help of some smartphone apps for this.

  • What is nutrient timing?

Nutrient timing is all about what you are eating and when you are eating. Every nutrient has a different absorption period and until and unless you allow your body the time to absorb the consumed nutrients, it’s futile. You will only end up adding calories by not paying attention to the nutrient timing. One must be aware of the foods to eat before, during and post a workout. For example – Consuming proteins prior to workout helps in initiating faster and proper digestion since proteins take longer to digest and the rigorous body activity helps in speeding up the process.

  • How many meals a day should I eat?

More than the number of meals, the proportion of your meal matters. Eating small portions is the best practice to follow. Longer periods between meals make you feel hungrier and by the time you start eating, you end up binging and putting much more than what your body requires. This meddles with your metabolism leading to slower digestion process and bloating of the stomach. It is healthy to have 5-7 small meals in a day. By meals, we don’t mean full meals. Create a proper balance between your nutrients intake by adding a different kind of food products in your five meals of the day.

  • What should a healthy diet comprise of?

A healthy diet doesn’t mean completely cutting down on carbs and fats. There are good and bad fats. Before cutting down or adding anything in your diet, it is essential to gain knowledge about how the nutrition cycle works. For example – Cheese and ghee fall under good fats and are required by the body. But, it is important to know what quantity one is supposed to consume. Anything beyond the required quantity is going to create trouble for the body.

Again, when it comes to nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all. Eating right is a lifestyle and one must adapt to it to stay healthy. Gain knowledge, talk to experts, and you will be able to make the right eating choices without necessarily cutting down on anything.