Your grocery store might have a natural foods section, and that is where you will probably find most of the organic foods. There will probably be foods in the section that aren’t necessarily organic but are labeled natural. Do you know the difference?

Organic means that the food has been grown without chemical/synthetics/poisonous pesticides and fertilizers. Animals that produce food have been given no antibiotics or growth hormones. The FDA regulates foods that are organic and issues a certification. To get that certification, strict rules must be adhered to. No artificial flavorings or colorings are added to organic foods.

Natural foods are ones that are minimally processed and don't contain any additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors. The fruits, vegetables and grains in all natural food may have been grown using non-organic standards and the animal products may come from non-organic animals.

Example: I have bought natural peanut butter for years. I like just peanuts and salt in my peanut butter. However, since the peanuts have not been grown organically, I may be getting more than just peanuts and salt. The peanuts contain harmful chemicals from pesticides and fertilizers used to grow them. So in my all-natural pb, I may have some not so natural stuff.  An organic pb would be free of that not so natural stuff.

However, I choose the natural peanut butter because I find that many organic peanut butters include sugar and some sort of oil, and I don’t want those in my peanut butter either. Also, since peanuts have a thick shell, the shells absorb the majority of the chemicals, shielding the peanut inside from a lot of the pesticides and fertilizers.

Very few of us have the money to go completely organic with all our food, and there are choices that need to be made each time we shop. There are some foods that are non-negotiable for me. I always buy organic milk, fair trade organic coffee, and organic eggs. When I have the money, I buy other organic products, too. But sometimes, like with the peanut butter, I choose to go with the natural product.

The trick to it all is educating yourself as to which foods are most important to buy organically, figuring out what you and your family eats the most of, and making judgment calls based on information. MNN’s Leah Koenig has an article Don’t panic, it’s (mostly) organic, that can assist you in figuring out what works for you. And, I’ll be writing a lot here about organics and food choices, so keep coming back. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Organic vs natural food
Organic or natural? Which product should you choose?