Natural vs. Non-GMO vs. Organic. Which one should I buy? Frequently I am asked some variation of this question. I am always excited when someone asks me this question. I get it. Trying to decipher what these words mean can be difficult.
Let me tell you the real reason I am writing this. You see, I remember being the sucker at the grocery store looking at labels. I didn’t know I was getting taken advantage of at the time. Catchy words like healthy, gluten-free and natural got me more times than I care to admit. I ate those foods thinking I was getting the best version of those foods available. Turns out, I was wrong.
Now, you are free to make the same mistake that I did. However, a better option might be to learn from my mistakes. To help you avoid going down the same road I did, I am going to tell you what the food industry and their marketing teams hope you never figure out. Let me show you how they make average food looking amazing with a few misunderstood terms.
Understanding of Natural vs. Non-GMO vs. Organic is probably made most difficult by the term natural. I can some up what natural means in terms of your health and food choices in one word; nothing. That’s right. Natural means nothing. It is a vague term that has no true definition associated with it. It might be derived from something you find in nature, mimic a food or have nothing to do with it period.
Probably most relevant to you is that the term natural does not equate to any positive effect on your health.
Let me give you an example of how natural can be used, but not mean anything. Natural flavors are probably the best example of the misuse of the word. Natural strawberry flavor can be produced without any component being derived from strawberries. Rather, other ingredients are mixed together to provide a combination that stim
ulates the taste buds to think it is strawberry.
Take Away Tip #1 – Put no faith or weight on the word natural. It is an elusive term meant to capture your attention and persuade you to buy foods that are less than what they appear.
When I am personally going through the mental exercise of debating natural vs. Non-GMO vs. Organic, one label that I like to see is the Non-GMO verified. Non-GMO indicates the food is from a source that has not been genetically manipulated. While it is tempting to put a lot of faith in this label, don’t.
Non-GMO is often confused with organic. The two are not the same. A Non-GMO verified food does not have to be organic to obtain this designation. Foods that are Non-GMO are the original strains of the food. They have not been changed. The genetics of non-GMO foods are more harmonious with our genes as humans.
Let me provide a word of caution. Non-GMO foods can still have chemicals applied to them, some of which are extremely toxic.
Take Away Tip #2 – Don’t Confuse Non-GMO with meaning organic.
When it comes to deciding, natural vs. Non-GMO vs. Organic, there is one option that excels above all others. When I am seeking out food, I want to see organic. When the label says organic, it does not have to say Non-GMO. By definition, organic is Non-GMO. Organic also ensures absence of the use of toxic chemicals that are often used in the conventional food production.
What about at the farmers market. This is when trying to figure out natural vs. Non-GMO vs. organic can be tricky. My experience has been that most small-scale farmers such as at the farmers market are using non-GMO seeds when available. As I have gotten to know many personally over the years, I find many use organic practices. But they cannot call their food organic. It is your responsibility to ask how the food is grown to protect yourself. Learn who does what and build a relationship with that farmer.
When possible, purchase organic items with the USDA organic label. Multiple organizations back the organic claim. Among them however, the USDA maintains the strictest oversight.
You have to develop a non-compromise policy with your food selection. A patient recently said to me, “I buy organic sometimes.” Sometimes is not enough. You have to buy it all the time. You wouldn’t treat a loved one good some of the time, would you? Of course not. Then don’t abuse your body some of the time and assume that eating organic sporadically is making a difference. It’s not. You have to be all in.
Take Away Tip #3 – Buy organic at the store, or organically grown at the farmers market.
Embrace the difference between natural vs. Non-GMO vs. organic. Doing so simplifies food selection and prevents you from being prey to the food industry’s advertising and marketing tactics.