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By: Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry
In terms of nutritional content, organic and non-organic produce are pretty close. The huge difference is the side dish of chemicals that you get with non-organic produce. This is what affects your health, both in the short term and, more importantly, in the long term. These chemicals lead to an increased potential for chronic disease.

In America, the USDA has strict guidelines for what can carry their organic label, but this does not mean that there are not others who grow organic food. They just choose not to pay the fees that are necessary to be labeled organic. It’s a high cost for those producing small yields. The fees are also one reason organic produce costs more. Most people don’t know that the organic label does not mean fully organic; it means 95% organic, unless it carries the 100% organic label. Make sure to pay attention to this when buying packaged organic foods.
The USDA states the following about organic labels:
  • If a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it.
  • Products that are completely organic, such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, or other single-ingredient foods, are labeled 100% organic and can carry the USDA seal.
  • Foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal, plus one of the following labels, depending on the number of organic ingredients:
  1. 100% Organic: To use this phrase, products must be either completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  2. Organic: Products must be at least 95% organic to use this term.
  3. Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may say “made with organic ingredients” on the label, but may not use the seal. Foods containing less than 70% organic ingredients can’t use the seal or the word “organic” on their product labels. They can include the organic items in their ingredient list, however.
What does a label of natural mean?

Any food derived from a natural source, including things we would not want in our food, such as bones, wood, rocks, and bugs, can be labeled natural. For example, some all natural toothpastes may contain chemicals derived from minerals—rocks—and you must take care not to consume or swallow too much. The chemicals used to kill germs, including viruses and bacteria, are very strong and can cause other health issues. Fluoride is the biggest concern, especially for kids younger than 8. It causes enamel fluorosis, a discoloration or mottling of permanent teeth.

Natural does not always mean safe. This is why most of us know not to pick wild mushrooms or berries for fear of their toxicity. While most minerals by their very name should imply a rocky source from the earth, people don’t often think about this, but once they do, it’s logical and acceptable. However, when a person hears that their food contains crushed bugs, sawdust, or pulverized animal bones (for gelatin), the gross factor goes up, and the acceptability level may go down. I still purchase shredded cheese from time to time, but I prefer to shred my own cheese and skip the side of sawdust. For makeup, natural products should certainly be a choice, especially if the natural ingredients are derived from plants like fruits and berries. However, if you have certain plant-based allergies, you should always check the source of what natural means. Never be afraid to write or call the company!

There are many natural types of food that are made or derived from sources that we may not want to consume. It is important to be aware of what you are consuming that is not clearly marked on the label.

1. Gelatin is a thickening agent made from collagen in animal skin! It is found in Jello, yogurt, some sour cream, candy, and frosted cereals.

2. Shellac is insect secretions! It is used to give shine to candy, like jelly beans.

3. Cellulose, derived mainly from wood and cotton pulp, is used in paper manufacturing. Cellulose is added to shredded cheese as an anti-caking agent, which prevents the shreds from sticking together.

4. Isinglass is a gelatin-like substance produced from the swim bladder of fish! It is added to cask beers and stouts to help remove any “haziness,” residue yeast or solid particles in the beer, from the final product.

5. L-Cysteine is an amino acid used to prolong shelf-life in products such as commercial bread. It can be found in duck and chicken feathers and cow horns, but the majority that is used in food comes from human hair. The human hair is collected primarily from China, where it is collected from the floors of barbershops and hair salons.

6. Liquid smoke is made by burning sawdust and capturing the smoke particles in either water or vegetable oil.

7. Castoreum, often referred to as anal secretions from the beaver, is derived from the castor sacs of male and female beavers. It is an FDA-approved additive popular in ice-creams (vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry). It is often labeled as “natural flavoring,” not castoreum, so you may never know that you are eating it!
Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry, better known as “Dr. Noreen, The Tox Doc,” is a professional toxicologist and medical scientist, with 20 years of professional experience working in the fields of toxicology, petrochemicals, microbiology and chemistry. Dr. Noreen studies contaminants found in our environment and the impact that they have on human health. She is the owner of NKM Environmental Health Sciences. This consulting firm works with environmental, legal, medical, construction and real estate concerns. Dr. Noreen also works for NASA* where she initially served as the first female NASA* Space Toxicologist, one of only seven space toxicologists in the world. Dr. Noreen has spoken internationally and is routinely featured on TV, radio and online.
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