I’ve always tried to eat healthy and over the past few years I’ve really gotten into supporting local businesses and eating organic as much as possible. Sometimes it’s harder to eat smart and shop smart, but I’ve found that it’s possible. One important factor is to understand exactly what it is that you’re getting. The USDA has a structure of certification that helps us to understand what we’re buying.
100% organic- means that the product has been farmed without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers, growth hormones or antibiotics. If the food contains more than one ingredient (like cereal or granola) all the ingredients must meet this standard. Meats that are organic must come from animals that have eaten an organic grain diet.
Organic- means that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic.
Natural or all natural- means that the product doesn’t contain any added sugars or dyes. This label does not mean the item is organic and it is not strongly enforced.
Free-range- the USDA guidelines for something labeled as free-range simply states that the animal has access to the outside. This could range from complete freedom to roam free in a pasture to a traditional chicken house that has a door to a fenced in area. The term free-range does not imply organic, though farmers could choose to comply with both regulations.
Keep in mind that none of these labels imply that a food is necessarily healthy. Look for the USDA Organic label to let you know how the item was prepared, not its contents. Farms that are in the process of becoming organic may have the terms “organic conversion” on their foods to let you know that while they are not certified organic yet, they are working toward this goal. Often organic foods are a good value because you aren’t getting added chemicals, meats are often leaner, and the quality may be better. While I may be paying more for the organic items at the store, the value may be higher because of what’s not in the package. Knowing what the labels mean can help you make this determination for yourself. Happy savings!