If you’re just beginning your journey into the wide and often overwhelming world of healthy food, you may start to notice terms like “natural,” “organic,” and “clean labels,” start to crop up along the way.
Clean Label Vs Natural Vs Organic
You might be wondering, what’s the difference? Which is most important? Are they mutually exclusive? In this article, we’re going to dive into the health food store lingo and start to tease out the legitimate concepts from the fancy sales pitches.
Natural Vs Clean Label Foods
While “natural” and “clean label” are both trending and seemingly healthful terms, that’s where the similarities end. Natural is often used by marketing teams to create visions of sprawling sunny fields and untouched beauty, separate from the evils of lab-made substances contaminating the competitors’ products.
In reality, the term is only loosely regulated, defined by ambiguous verbiage that makes the term equally available for use by a local bee farmer who sells their honey at the farmer’s market as it is for a soda factory. Additionally, it doesn’t indicate how heavily processed food is. Welcome to the wild wild west of marketing.
While some may point out that the term “clean label” is even more fair game as it has no use regulations whatsoever.
However, the clean label trend is a noun and not an adjective. It’s a thing. “Natural” is an adjective–a word meant to describe what something is like. And yet, it doesn’t have a lot of useful meaning when it comes to food. Arsenic is as natural as water, after all, which doesn’t necessarily help consumers differentiate between legitimately healthier options and marketing ploys.
The purpose of clean labels, on the other hand, is baked into the resulting product. The trend intends to simplify nutrition labels and clarify the ingredients in your food.
When a self-proclaimed “clean label food” is decorated with a running list of chemical jargon in lieu of recognizable whole foods, it’s easy to spot the inconsistencies. Because ultimately, the clean label trend isn’t about marketing.
The movement is about giving consumers the ability to make decisions about their health.
What Does Organic Mean?
Wondering where organic fits into all of this? Unlike terms like natural and clean label, organic is an official certification overseen by a third-party regulatory body. To use it, a company must meet a vigorous set of standards. Everything from how the crops are grown to how the final product is produced is under close supervision. In order for farmers to get certified, their land must be free from prohibited substances for three years and they must protect their crops from potential contamination by nearby non-organic farms.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean organic is better than clean label foods. Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it has a clean label.
While some of the most controversial pesticides are banned from organic foods, it doesn’t mean a product is free of other pesticides and preservatives. There are plenty of allowed substances even in the organic world.
And while organic is a certification, the clean label trend is a movement powered by the people who eat the end products. Having a clean label means transparency. It’s about giving the power back to the end users and not blindly entrusting the well-being of ourselves and our communities to third-party organizations run by people who have their own agendas and financial motives.
Clean Labels Give The Power Back To The Consumer
Ultimately, clean labels put you back in the driver’s seat by making clear what you’re choosing to put in your body.
Whether you opt for all-natural, organic, or any other slew of health approaches, clean labels make it easier to understand what those approaches really mean and let you be the final judge on what’s most important to you.