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Watch Out for Organic vs. Natural Labeling

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a blog by Cindy Bailey of the Fertile Kitchen®, July 9, 2010

When you’re on a fertility diet and trying to eat as healthy as possible, it’s important to know that food products labeled “organic” are regulated by the government and those labeled “natural” are, for the most part, not.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), foods labeled organic must be produced without using harmful, conventional pesticides, fertilizers that contain synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation — all of which can take a toll on your body and fertility. For organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, no growth hormones or antibiotics have been used in the animals from which these products came. For foods that contain more than one ingredient (packaged foods), at least 70 percent of their content needs to be organic before the product can carry the organic label.

In contrast, products labeled “natural” are completely different. There is only regulation over the term “natural” when it is applied to meat and poultry — the USDA requires that the meat contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is minimally processed. Unlike the “organic” label, the“natural” label does NOT cover the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. When you are trying to conceive, you do not want those growth hormones, which can interfere with your own negatively. So, for meat, definitely eat it organic, and also lean.

Aside from meat, the word “natural” is not regulated at all on other food products. I’ve seen that word slapped on to products that may appear to be natural, but one glance at the ingredients listed on the back verifies that they are anything but.

I have a friend who worked as an executive in market research for a conglomerate food company, and she flat out told me, “natural” means nothing. “We slap it onto processed foods for marketing purposes. More people will buy them if the label says ‘natural.’ ”

This is not to say that all food products abuse the natural label; some do make the effort. But it’s up to us, the consumers, to figure that out. The way you do that is CHECK THE LABEL. Always! Flip the package over and scan the ingredients list. If there is anything unhealthy listed, skip it. If there are too many ingredients listed, say more than five or so as a guideline, skip it. Better yet, while trying to conceive, just stick to organic as much as possible.

Finally, keep in mind that just because a package is labeled organic doesn’t mean that it’s automatically good for you. If organic cane sugar is listed as a first or second ingredient, meaning there is more of it than other ingredients in the package, then this is a sugar-rich item and not good for you! You should be avoiding all processed sugar while TTC, even if it’s organic.

Here are some additional resource for you to check out:

USDA Food Labeling Fact Sheets

USDA Definition of Organic

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