The Ultimate Natural Living Shopping Guide

Fruits and some natural health products.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a chance you’re one of many people that feel confused and overwhelmed when shopping for natural health and organic products (not unlike the feeling you had trying to pronounce Ashwagandha).

But, fear not (about the shopping, not your fear of mispronouncing Ashwagandha) because it’s truthfully quite simple. You just need to know what to look for. So, to help you learn how to navigate these products, we’ve broken down the labelling, and laid out exactly what you should be looking for, so you can live your best life—the natural way.

Natural living involves having both a holistic (balance of body, mind and environment) and sustainable lifestyle. It means aiming to make a low impact on the environment and maintaining respect for our planet. You’re basically trying to be a more mindful person. It’s a mindset that focuses on prevention vs. a cure and aims to seek treatment through natural remedies, when possible. We’re not implying that you should retreat to the woods and live off the land, we just want you to have the knowledge to make healthy choices and be aware of the natural options that are available to you. In order to help you incorporate more real, natural products in your daily lives, we’ll break this down into 3 sections: What to look for when shopping for natural products, what to look for when shopping for organic products, and how to shop for natural health products (NHP’s)—which are differentiated from the larger umbrella of natural products.

What to look for when shopping for natural products

When shopping for things like cosmetics, cleaning products, and other articles, you’d find in a health food store, you need to keep two things in mind: Holistic natural shopping and clean labels.

Holistic natural shopping is an approach to living mindfully of our relation to our surroundings. It’s the idea that we are connected to the planet, to the food we eat, and all the products we use whether that be cleaning products, cosmetics and so on. A quick check to make when taking this holistic approach is ensuring that the products purchased are sustainable: Environmentally, socially, and economically. And the way to determine the sustainability of products is through “clean” labels.

Young man reading a product label.

A clean label, takes this into account:

  • There’s a simple list of ingredients, and ingredients are wholesome and natural (you don’t want a complex list of ingredients you can’t recognize and pronounce) .
  • There are no harmful chemicals.
  • There are no artificial colours, dyes and flavours.
  • There are no GMO’s.
  • There are no artificial or synthetic hormones.
  • The product is local.
  • The product is ethically produced and takes into account both human welfare (ethically manufactured, paid a fair wage with acceptable working conditions etc.) and animal welfare (free-range, grass-fed etc.).
  • Only natural sugars.

In order to bring some awareness to clean labels, organizations strive to bring transparency to product labelling.

What to look for when shopping for organic products

Organic products are regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Broadly speaking, organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed—produced using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods. Narrowly speaking, it’s an easy way to make it seem like you’re more sustainable, socially and environmentally conscious than your friends (…we’re kidding, obviously).

When shopping for organic products make sure to keep an eye out for these seals and logos:

Additionally, the Canada organic standards are non-GMO, forbidding the use of GMOs in seeds, animal feed, and in processed organic food and products. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) defines genetic modification  as the introduction of new traits to an organism by making changes directly to its genetic makeup, e.g. DNA, through intervention at the molecular level. This creates organisms that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. The issue with GMOs is that we don’t know what, if any, impacts they have on our health. There are many unanswered questions and no scientific consensus on the safety of GM foods.

GM foods are not currently labelled in Canada.  However, if you want to avoid them there are a number of things to look out for. Buying certified organic would be the first option. You can also avoid processed foods containing corn, canola, soy and cane sugar as these crops are well established and likely to be modified, if not clearly labelled as organic. You can also look out for the Non-GMO Project Verified logo, a voluntary standard that provides label transparency and signals that a product has been assessed and determined not to contain GM ingredients.

And there are already concerns that it negatively impacts farmers. It’s also responsible for bringing about the existence of “super weeds” and “super bugs” that can only be killed by even more toxic herbicides/pesticide, so its negative impact on the environment is an issue. As much as we’re all about “super” things i.e. superheroes and superfoods, there’s absolutely nothing enticing about super weeds and bugs.

Other terms you may come across when shopping are the Clean 15 and/or the Dirty Dozen lists. Clean 15 refers to crops that have the least amount of pesticide on them—a great option for when you aren’t able to buy organic produce. Plus, it’s a catchy term because it rhymes. On the other hand, the dirty dozen are the crops with the most amount of pesticide on them i.e. yikes.

Here’s the Clean 15 list for 2020:

And here’s the Dirty Dozen list for 2020:

How to shop for natural health products

Natural Health Products (NHPs) are a class of health products used to restore or maintain good health, such as vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal remedies, traditional and alternative medicines, probiotics and enzymes. They are safe and effective when used as per directions. All NHPs in Canada are approved by the government.  

If your trusted health professional has mentioned that you have a vitamin B12 and magnesium deficiency, and you’re looking for supplements to compensate for those deficiencies, you may be wondering how you would go about choosing a specific brand from all the options available. We get it—shopping for Natural Health Products can initially feel daunting. But rest assured, there’s yet another label to help give you confidence that the products you purchase have met the regulatory requirements and are safe and effective.  

All regulated Natural Health Products have an 8-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number – Homeopathic Medicine (DIN – HM). This number demonstrates that the product in question is approved by Health Canada. So, for example, as long as the brand of vitamin you are gravitating towards has an NPN listed on the label, you are good to go! For more information on the strict labelling requirements required for NHPs, check here.

All products issued an NPN or DIN-HM by Health Canada will show up on The Licensed Natural Health Products Database (LNHPD). The LNHPD is a great resource which lists all the licensed products and ensures that they’ve been assessed by Health Canada to be “safe, effective and of high quality under their recommended conditions of use”. The LNHPD can be accessed here.

A guide to show how to decode your NHP label

With all these logos, numbers and considerations in mind—you have something to look out for that guarantees the products you purchase will allow you to feel confident and secure on your journey to live more naturally, whether it’s by going organic, buying items with clean labels, purchasing Natural Health Products and so on. With this shopping guide to assist you along the way, a healthier you is just down the next aisle!

  1. “About Natural Health Product Regulation in Canada”. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/natural-non-prescription/regulation.html
  2. Guglielmatti, Petra. “A Guide to Natural Beauty Products”. Health.com. https://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20680538,00.html
  3. “What is Clean Label Project?” cleanlabelproject.org. https://www.cleanlabelproject.org/our-mission/
  4. “Use of the Organic Logo on Organic Products” inspection.gc.ca. http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/requirements-and-guidance/labelling-standards-of-identity-and-grades/for-industry/organic-claims/eng/1389725994094/1389726052482?chap=5
  5. “USDA organic.” usda.gov. https://www.usda.gov/topics/organic
  6. “What is a GMO?” nongmoproject.org. https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/what-is-gmo/
  7. “Choose Canada Organic.” choosecanadaorganic.ca. https://choosecanadaorganic.ca/organic101/
  8. “Clean 15.” ewg.org. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean-fifteen.php
  9. “Dirty Dozen.” ewg.org. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php
  10. “Licensed Natural Health Products Database (LNHPD).” canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/natural-non-prescription/applications-submissions/product-licensing/licensed-natural-health-products-database.html
  11. “2019 “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists released. Produceretailer.com. https://www.produceretailer.com/article/news-article/2019-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-lists-released

As part of the senior leadership team, Michelle develops implements and leads communication initiatives that support the strategic priorities of the Association. She is responsible for overseeing the integrated communications strategy including both internal and external communications, the management of all public relations, marketing, advertising and member communications.