Have you ever gone into a grocery store with a list of new foods you want to try? It could be as simple as boneless, skinless, chicken breast or something as complicated (several ingredients) as a cereal. Since options are things we, as consumers, desire it sometimes makes it much more difficult for us to make the right food decisions for our families. For instance, when I go down the freezer aisle for boneless, skinless, chicken breast there are all these terms (natural, organic, processed, local, or whole) that make decision making much more difficult. So what do all these terms really mean?
Technically, there is no formal definition for the word “Natural” when it comes to food labels. In fact, the Food an Drug Administration (FDA), who plays a roll in food safety, allows the word “natural” to be added to any food label as long as the food does not contain any added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
When it comes to meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows the term “natural” to be on products that contain no artificial ingredients or aded colors.
Organic is the most difficult yet most specific when it comes to regulations. Per the USDA, organic meat, eggs and dairy come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic plant foods are produced without using pesticides, fertilizers or synthetic ingredients. However, when you see the word “organic” on a label, they do not all mean the same thing.
100% Organic –> products are completely organic and qualify for the USDA Organic Seal
Organic –> products in which their ingredients are at least 95% organic
Made with Organic Ingredients –> Foods that are produced in which 70% of the ingredients are certified organic but no USDA organic seal can be used.
Processed vs. Unprocessed
Processed is when a food has undergone a “change.’ For example, boneless, skinless, chicken breast has technically been processed as it is no longer in its original state of being a whole chicken. Pre-cut lettuce/spinach = processed vs a head of lettuce/spinach = unprocessed.
So don’t think of “Processed” as being bad but rather a healthy option that can make cooking quicker.
“Local Food” is a big buzz term used for buying food that has been grown and harvested in an area close to ones home. The idea behind the “local food” movement is the idea behind being environmentally sustainable and/or good stewards of the land. Even though this idea, to consume locally grown food, is a great concept it is not one that is able to feed the world or one in which the options that we enjoy so much are available. For instance, in the Midwest strawberries are not grown year around. However, buying strawberries at a local farmers market is great to do now, in June, but come February, those strawberries will be coming from the south which is no longer local.