Friday, June 28, 2013

All Natural: What Does That Even Mean?!

I'm about to information bomb you with some mad facts on the differences between organic, all natural, natural flavorings, etc.  To be honest with you, I'm kind of a bozo when it comes to these terms, as I honestly thought they were all the same until recently.  Little did I know, "all natural" ingredients can be anything from bug guts (aka carmine - see my previous blog post) to wood pulp (aka cellulose) to beaver butts (aka castoreum).  The last one was so vile and almost unbelievable that I had to get the lowdown.  Castoreum, labeled as a natural flavoring on food packages, is quite literally the yellowish secretion of the castor sac in combination with the beaver's urine, used during territorial marking out in the wild.  Here in the USA, the FDA has considered this "natural" additive to be GRAS (generally recognized as safe).  It is mainly used in food and beverages requiring a vanilla flavoring.   So a beaver's ummm...byproducts...smell like vanilla?! Well hot damn, you learn something new everyday, don't you? 

I gotta say, I have a little bit of creepy vanilla anxiety now.  I mean, what am I going to put in my coffee?  Clearly not my Natural Bliss creamer!  Gah!  Let's be serious, I'm a die hard carnivore, but I'm not trying to have beaver in my beverage.     

How is this even possible?  How are these things legally getting into our food?  The following question and vague, fairly useless answer were posted straight to the FDA website:

What is the meaning of 'natural' on the label of food?

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

Okay, so now we know that the terms "all natural", "natural flavoring", and "100% natural" mean absolutely nothing when it comes to what goes into our food.  Thanks FDA!  That really puts me at ease!  Ugh.  Currently, there are thousands of submissions to the FDA requesting further regulation of this term, but no changes have been made to date.

My waves of nausea and disturbing visuals of centipedes in my food slowly dissipated as I began to research the definition and regulations of USDA certified organic food.         

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

Alright!  That's a pretty legit definition.  I feel better knowing that the organic products I buy have no GMO's (the scariest things under the sun), antibiotics, and growth hormones.  When looking for organic products always look for the USDA seal. 

There are three separate labels you may see on a USDA certified organic package:
  • 100% Percent Certified Organic - This means ALL ingredients are organic, all processing aids are organic, and product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.  **Try, if you can, to buy these products!  This is the only way you can ensure that creepy crawlers don't find their way into your food.**
  •  Organic - All agricultural ingredients must be certified organic.  Non-organic ingredients allowed per the national list may be used, up to a combined total of 5% of non-organic content.  Product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.   
  • Made With Organic Ingredients - At least 70% of the product must be certified organic ingredients.   
Here's the thing.  I do know that you've gotta drop some major bones to eat entirely organic.  And I'm all about baby steps.  Our favorite blogger, The Food Babe, wrote an excellent blog about how to eat organic on a budget.  Check it out here.  It's got some fabulous information!!  I'll give you the scoop on what items are the most important when it comes to buying organic, and the ones that you can put on the back burner, if you must.       

The following foods contain the most detectable pesticide residue and their organic counterpart should be purchased whenever possible:
  • peaches
  • apples
  • sweet bell peppers
  • celery
  • nectarines
  • strawberries
  • cherries
  • pears
  • grapes
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • potatoes

The following foods contain the least detectable pesticide residue and you can skimp on the organic version if you must:
  • onion
  • avocado
  • sweet corn (frozen)
  • pineapple
  • mango
  • asparagus
  • sweet peas (frozen)
  • kiwi fruit
  • banana
  • cabbage
  • broccoli
  • papaya
Clearly, I'm going to discuss how buying organic plays into my creepy obsession with meat.  I'm going to be blunt with you.  Non-organic meat in the USA is straight nastyballs.  If these three reasons (only a few out of the hundreds) aren't enough to make you think twice when buying your beloved strip steak then you are just crazypants.
  • American animals raised for meat eat more than 30 million pounds of antibiotics per year.  Food animals raised in North Carolina alone ingest more antibiotics than the entire American public.  C'mon Carolina!! You're my second home!  Get it together. 
  • About 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. go to non-organic farm animals to help speed livestock growth and counteract filthy, stressful housing situations that debilitate the animals' immune systems.
  • Researchers found that half of the U.S. supermarket meat sampled contained staph infection bacteria, including the hard-to-kill and potentially lethal MRSA. Turkey products were most likely to harbor staph bacteria, followed by pork and chicken products.

SICK.  Please, I beg you, if there are only a few things you buy that are organic, let it be meat products and cow juice (aka dairy products).

Well friends, that's my two cents.  I happen to be an aimless wanderer in the grocery store, so learning the facts has prevented me from being a bobblehead when it comes to making healthier choices.  I hope it does the same for you. the freakin' weekend!


1 comment:

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