Natural, Local, Whole, Organic

Farmers' MarketThe Pike Place Public Market in Seattle is a well-known public farmers’ market, and I had the opportunity to check out the various booths when I visited that city. The variety and abundance was remarkable! The Pike Place market originated in 1907 and is open year round. It’s a popular place for locals and visitors to shop and buy locally grown, fresh products.

Of course, we have access to local farmers’ markets and even our own gardens. The bounty of the season is here and we can all enjoy fresh-picked sweet corn, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables that are ready to be picked at this time of year.

One thing that catches my eye, whether it’s in Seattle or right here in the middle of the country, is the marketing and labeling of fresh produce; words like “natural,” “local,” “whole” and “organic” may cause confusion when you’re trying to decide what’s best to buy. What exactly do these food marketing terms mean?

Natural – There is no formal definition for using the word “natural.” However, this claim has become common on foods and beverages. FDA has not objected to this term on food labels “if it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.”

Local Obtaining food “locally” means buying food close to where you live and supporting the local economy. There is no definition for how close something needs to be purchased to be considered “local.” Some groups define it as within a certain number of miles or sometimes it’s defined as being from the state in which you live.

Whole – This term also doesn’t have a regulatory definition. “Whole” foods generally refer to foods that are not processed or refined, do not have added ingredients and have no or minimal processing.

Organic – The term “organic” has specific criteria and a legal meaning. The USDA states that “organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic plant foods are produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.” A government-approved certifier must inspect the farm to ensure these standards are being met. In addition, there are USDA standards that must be met for organic handling and processing.

Sometimes these words get used interchangeably, but they are each defining something different. For example, an apple may be “natural” and it may be grown “locally,” but only if it meets the criteria set for “organic” can it be termed that.

So, if “natural” and “organic” aren’t the same, is one better for you than another? Research has shown that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are not significantly different in their nutrient content. In other words, the basic nutrients of an apple, whether it’s produced organically or conventionally, are the same.

However, there are many factors that may influence the decision to choose organic food. Some people prefer the taste. Others choose organic because of concerns related to the use of pesticides, food additives and the environment. Organic foods may cost more because it typically costs more to produce. Organic foods may also look less than perfect and may spoil faster when wax coatings or preservatives aren’t used.

Bottom line: now is the peak time for fruits and vegetables! Eat up!  If you have a surplus, put some in the freezer for the long, cold winter that will inevitably come.

Enjoy! Fruits and vegetables don’t get any better than this!

By Cheryl Rude

Registered Dietitian at Avera Marshall

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