Organic Food
Safflower oil and sunflower oil have an abundance of linolenic acid. Photo courtesy DeMedici Foods.





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May 2005

Last Updated June 2014

Product Reviews / NutriNibbles

Glossary Of Organic & Natural Food Terms

Plus Health & Wellness Definitions

Page 5: Terms Beginning With L To O


This is page 5 of a 7-page glossary of organic food terms. See also our Glossary of Antioxidant Terms and Eco Terms (Green Glossary). And, see our entire collection of many other food glossaries.

Click on a letter to go to the appropriate glossary section:

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This glossary is protected by copyright and cannot be reproduced in whole or part.

Not to be confused with the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, linoleic acid is an unsaturated fat that is part of the omega-6 fatty acids family. It is abundant in many vegetable oils, especially safflower and sunflower oils. It is essential for all mammals; deficiency of omega-6 fatty acids include dry hair, hair loss and poor wound healing. See essential fatty acids.

See alpha-linolenic acid.

There is no widely accepted definition of locally grown yet. In general, it covers anything within a day’s drive or 150 miles. The average food item on an American table travels 1,500 miles.

A person who chooses to subsist on locally-grown foods. Committed locavores grow their own fruits and vegetables and do their own canning and pickling. They eat “out of region” only those foods that are not grown in the U.S. (or in their regions of the U.S.), such as coffee and olive oil.

  The Locavore's Handbook
Learn how to be a locavore with this book.

See carob bean gum.

The MSC is a global not-for-profit organization that works with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choice in seafood. It offers a fishery certification program and licenses a logo (shown at right) to fisheries that can demonstrate the traceability and sustainability of their catch. For more information visit


Nanofoods are foods produced using nanotechnology that promise improved food processing, packaging and safety; enhanced flavor and nutrition. A food is a “nanofood” when nanoparticles, nanotechnology techniques or tools are used during cultivation, production, processing or packaging of the food. It does not mean an atomically modified food or food produced by nanomachines. Examples include nanocapsules that are used to add Omega-3 fatty acids to bread and nano-sized self-assembled structured liquid (NSSL) technology that allows for the addition of insoluble compounds into food and cosmetics.
Photo courtesy


Natural is not the same as organic. Products labeled “organic” require auditing and certification (and carry a seal); “natural” is not regulated at all. There are, however, USDA guidelines, which state that: “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color that is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled ‘natural.’ The label must explain the use of the term (such as no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed).” Thus, natural products should have have no artificial preservatives, chemical additives artificial sweeteners, no hydrogenated oils, no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and no synthetics. They cannot be irradiated. Unfortunately, “natural” is one of the most nebulous terms: You’ve got to read the label. High fructose corn syrup, one of the most highly processed and controversial foods, is used in products labeled “natural” because it is derived from corn—i.e., not a chemical or synthetic product.
There is no government standard for “natural,” and no inspection. Any product can claim to be “natural.” Photo courtesy

While organic products also observe these standards, “organic” is a labeling term that certifies that the products have been produced under higher standards of regulation as mandated by the Organic Foods Production Act. This includes no pesticides, hormones or antibiotics and other standards. Some products labeled “natural” observe these same standards but elect not to go through the incremental cost and paperwork to be certified organic.


See GMO.

The National Organic Program of the USDA was fully implemented in October 2002. Since then, all agricultural products labeled “organic” must comply with U.S. federal regulations. The word “organic” on a product means that the ingredients and production methods have been verified by an accredited certification agency as meeting the USDA standards for organic production.

  National Organic Program Logo

OCIA, Organic Crop Improvement Association International, is a member-owned, nonprofit organization that provides research, education and certification services to organic growers, processors and handlers worldwide.


Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids, which means that they are essential to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body and must be obtained from food. They are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Together, they play a crucial role in cognitive and behavioral brain function as well as normal growth and development. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish and certain plant oils (canola, grapeseed and walnut). Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plant oils, in the form of linoleic acid (LA, not to be confused with ALA, alpha-linolenic acid). Cooking oils, such as corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils, are major sources. It is important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6.
Salmon is an easy way to get your omega-3s. Photo courtesy Cabot Creamery.

There are three major types of omega 3 fatty acids that are ingested in foods and used by the body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, which are more readily used by the body. Extensive research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help prevent certain chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis. Unfortunately, with the consumer rush to grab onto the notion of  “omega-3 fatty acids” and manufacturers’ ability to pander to these desires, many foods are marked  as containing omega-3s that are not as beneficial as the consumer might desire.

First, most products to not contain the number of milligrams of omega-3s on the label. An outside analysis of Breyers Smart DHA Omega-3 yogurt showed that the product had less DHA than a teaspoon of salmon (there was no information on the label). Studies suggest an average of 500 milligrams a day is beneficial; you can get that much by following the American Heart Association’s guideline to eat fatty fish at least twice weekly. Second, many of these products contain only ALA, when research now indicates that the combination of DHA and EPA is most effective.*


*See articles in USA Today, November 11, 2007 and from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Cooking oils, such as corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils, are major sources of omega-6 fatty acids. Photo courtesy Bridgat.


The acronym for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, which measures the phytochemical level (antioxidant value) of foods, i.e. the degree to which it can scavenge free radicals from human cells. The scale was developed by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Blueberries score 3,000 units per 3.5-ounce serving and Montmorency cherry juice has 5,286 per 8-ounce glass, while dark chocolate tips the scales at 13,120 units per 3.5-ounce serving†. ORAC numbers do not currently appear on nutrition label, but with the growing awareness of the importance of antioxidants, it will hopefully happen in the near future. Read more about comparative ORAC units in different foods.

*Based on a glass of juice reconstituted from 2 tablespoons of concentrate.

Wild blueberries are the food with the highest ORAC value. Photo courtesy Blueberry Council.

†Note that a normal portion of chocolate, unlike fruit and vegetables, is 1 or 1.5 ounces; 3.5 ounces is a larger size chocolate bar meant for more than one portion. For the sake of consistency, all foods are measured as 3.5 ounces and all beverages as 8 ounces. But for realistic calorie control, an ounce or so of chocolate is about 4,400 ORAC units.

The USDA regulates the term organic under a federal law, the Organic Foods Production Act, passed in 2002. The objective of the act was to foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.


An ecology production management system that promotes biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of the interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people. Organic farming methods respect the earth and nurture animals. Consumers who choose organic products contribute to promoting sustainability and the health and well-being of the planet. They also ensure that they are consuming products that are pesticide-free, non-irradiated, and not genetically modified or biologically engineered.

Organic farming: no chemicals and land conservation. Photo courtesy Carthage Agriculture.


To include the term organic on packaging, a manufacturer must create its product in accordance with USDA rules. The USDA’s National Organic Program certifies products as organic based on farming, handling, manufacturing, distribution and labeling practices. Requirements include: no antibiotics or growth hormones for animals, animals must be raised on organic feed and have free range to graze, crops must be raised with no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers containing synthetic chemicals, no sewage-sludge fertilizer, no bio-engineered foods or irradiation, and no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Farming practices should enhance and preserve soil and water. A government inspector must certify the farm after visiting it; farmers must keep detailed records on crops.

The official seal of a certified-organic product.

All ingredients, not counting water and salt, are organic. Products with this rating can use the green and white USDA Organic seal (image at right).

At least 95% of the ingredients, measured by weight (excluding water and salt), must be organic. The remaining 5% can only be natural or synthetic ingredients that are not available organically, drawn from a preapproved USDA list. Products manufactured to this standard may use the “USDA Organic” seal on the label.

Products with at least 70% organic ingredients may say “Made With Organic Ingredients” and list up to three ingredients. This category may not use the “USDA Organic” seal on the label.


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