The (Ugly) Truth About Organic And Natural Foods Part 1

Organic is a buzzword – let’s face it.


But what does it really mean?


A few “sure things” you can bet on are that it will be

A) more expensive and

B) Marketed VERY well


Is it worth our money, and if so why?

The USDA says it’s an effort to “integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.


In other words, the food must have an ingredients list and be  free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation or genetic engineering.


The crazy part is that 95% of the contents must meet this standard, while the other 5% may be processed with additives on an approved food list.


So What Do The Different “organic” labels mean?

“100­­% Organic” Label


Raw or processed agricultural products in the “100 percent organic” category must meet these criteria:

All ingredients must be certified organic.

Any processing aids must be organic.

Product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.


“Organic” Label


Raw or processed agricultural products in the “organic” category must meet these criteria:

  • All agricultural ingredients must be certified organic, except where specified on National List.
  • Non-organic ingredients allowed per National List may be used, up to a combined

total of five percent of non-organic content (excluding salt and water).

  • Product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.



“Made With Organic”

  • At least 70 percent of the product must be certified organic ingredients (excluding salt and water).
  • Any remaining agricultural products are not required to be organically produced but must be produced without excluded methods (see page 1).
  • Non-agricultural products must be specifically allowed on the National List.
  • Product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.


“Natural” Foods

-This is an unregulated term that can be applied by anyone – don’t pay extra if there’s nothing backing it or if this is the standalone definition!



So what does this all mean?

Your best bet for true organic foods is with either the “100% Organic” or “Organic” label with a USDA Certified marker attached.


Some things to be Cautious of…..Natural, cage-free, pasture raised….what in the world?!

▪    Natural or all natural – This label means “minimally processed” and that the meat can’t have any artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or any other artificial ingredients in it. Animals can still be given antibiotics or growth enhancers and meat can be injected with salt, water, and other ingredients. For example, this term can be applied to all raw cuts of beef since they aren’t processed. The natural label does not reflect how the animal was raised or fed, which makes it fairly meaningless.

▪    Naturally raised – This claim should be followed by a specific statement, such as “naturally raised without antibiotics or growth hormones” in order to obtain USDA approval. Read different labels carefully to understand what naturally raised really means to the piece of meat you’re buying.

▪    Grass-fed – This term claims that the animals are fed solely on a diet of grass or hay and have continuous access to the outdoors. Cattle are naturally ruminants that eat grass, so they tend to be healthier and leaner when fed this way. In addition, grass fed beef has been shown to have more of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, if meat is labeled as grass fed but not certified organic, the animal may have been raised on pasture that was exposed to or treated with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

▪    Free-range or free-roaming –Broadly, this term means that the animals weren’t confined to a cage and had access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, there are no requirements for the amount of time the animals spend outdoors or for the size of the outdoor space available. The terms free-range or free-roaming also don’t apply to egg-laying hens. While it’s difficult to tell exactly what free range means on meat packaging, you can contact the producer directly for clarification.

▪    Cage-free – The term means that egg-laying hens are not raised in cages. However, it does not necessarily mean they have access to the outdoors. Some eggs may carry the American Humane Certified label but many cage-free claims are not certified, making it a very misleading label.

▪    Pasture-raised. This claims that the animals were not raised in confinement and had year-round access to the outside. Again, there are no requirements for exactly how much time the animals spend outside or the size of the outdoor space available, so it can be misleading.

▪    No hormones added or hormone-free – This term indicates that animals are raised without the use of any added growth hormones. For beef and dairy products it can be helpful, but by law in the U.S., poultry, veal calves, and pigs cannot be given hormones, so don’t pay extra for chicken, veal, or pork products that use this label.

▪    Certified Humane Raised and Handled – This is a voluntary certification regulated by the Humane Farm Animal Care, a non-profit organization aimed at ensuring the humane treatment of farm animals. The label means that animals have ample space, shelter, and gentle handling to limit stress, ample fresh water, and a diet without added antibiotics or hormones. Animals must be able to roam around and root without ever being confined to cages, crates, or tie stalls.

So What’s The Best Option – this is TOO much info!

For beef: go with hormone free + Grass fed + certified organic


For Chicken: go with “Naturally raised” which should be followed by something along the lines of “without hormones or antibiotics” – and MUST have a USDA sticker! (or else you could be wasting your money


Some Scary Stuff In Conventional Meats!

▪    Dairy cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, hormones (for growth), pesticides, sewage sludge

▪    Beef cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, steroids, hormones, pesticides, sewage sludge

▪    Pigs – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)

▪    Broiler chickens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)

Egg laying hens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs

What If My Only Option Is To Buy Conventional?


Leaner cuts are your best bet – a lot of the bad stuff you see above binds to the fat content of meats. This means London broils, super lean ground beef, etc. is your best bet to keep things healthier!


Some key differences in Conventional Raising Vs. Organic

Organic meat and dairy:

No antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides are given to animals

▪    Livestock are given all organic feed.

▪    Disease is prevented with natural methods such as clean housing, rotational grazing, and a healthy diet.

▪    Livestock and milking cows must graze on pasture for at least four months a year, while chickens must have freedom of movement, fresh air, direct sunlight and access to the outside.


Conventionally raised meat and dairy:

Typically given antibiotics, hormones and feed grown with pesticides

▪    Livestock are given growth hormones for faster growth.

▪    Antibiotics and medications are used to prevent livestock disease.

▪    Livestock may or may not have access to the outdoors.


Take this information and put it to use – you can improve your health, save some money and learn something in the process!


Dedicated to your health and fitness,


Coach John


p.s. look for my Part II where we cover vegetables and fruits!

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