Whole. Natural. Organic.
Seeing those words on labels as you're cruising down aisles in the grocery store can be a little daunting, if you don't understand what they each mean.
Take the term 'natural,' for instance.
"It's just a way to make people think that they are doing something better or different, and in all reality they might not be doing anything differently. Anything can be called natural because it's not a regulated term by the government," said Sarah Monte, Education Coordinator at the Marquette Food Co-op.
'Natural' is used very loosely.
A standard definition does not exist, but Food & Drug Administration policy says 'natural' should apply to foods that do not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
But even if something is labeled as natural, that doesn't mean it's healthy, either.
The product could have added sugar or extra calories or fat.
"Organic refers to the way the food is grown. And so in organic agriculture, it's grown without use of conventional herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers," said Monte.
Anything can be organic.
But it must be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before it can use the label.
To be USDA certified organic, the product and/or farm must be produced without genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
It must also must be produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
And it must be overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
It can be quite the process, and a bit pricey for the farmer.
"In this day and age, the organics are under such a stringent guideline that they have to meet certain expectations, otherwise they're not organic. It's so expensive. And then if that expense is passed on to the consumer, from a small farmer, well people aren't going to be able to afford the product," said Scott Tonn, Produce Department Manager at Super One Foods in Marquette.
The term 'whole' has a different meaning that both organic and natural.
"Whole foods, it's food in an unprocessed state, or least-processed state that's still edible. So, crackers and things like that, you can get some whole grains in there, but it's generally better if you're eating foods that you've made from scratch," said Monte.
In other words, a whole food is any food in its most essential, pure, and basic form, such as a garden vegetable, a slice of fruit, a scoop of quinoa, or a fillet of fish.
A good example is flour used in cooking or baking.
"A lot of times with our flours, a white flour is made...there's three components to wheat, and they're only using one component in order to make that white flour. So you're losing all kinds of nutrients in the other two components," said Monte.
In the second part of this series, we'll learn about the differences between buying conventional versus organic products, and if one is really healthier for you than the other.
Tune in Wednesday night at 10 on FOX UP to get the scoop.