“Natural” May Not Actually Mean What You Think

In today’s society, people are looking for every way to stay in shape and maintain a healthy weight. Many people also know that a large part of doing this requires eating the right foods. When thinking about the “right” foods, most people are looking for products that are authentic, wholesome, and natural. While words such as these are used by countless companies to promote their healthy products to customers, one word that often comes to question is “natural”. Walking through a grocery store, a shopper would not be able to count on hand the amount of times they see “all-natural” written on labels in the chip and cracker aisle alone. Many widely known companies label their foods with this word, but what do they really mean by it? The majority of Americans take one look at labels such as these and automatically think “oh well it says all-natural so it has to be good for you”. Sadly, this misconception is far from the truth. The word “natural” does not always equate to being healthy, and many people are fooled by these types of food label claims every day.

All natural

Stamp with text all natural inside, vector illustration

Many people are aware of what “natural” food should be. It should be full of real, wholesome ingredients that haven’t been processed and altered in a factory. Foods like whole fresh produce, nuts, and raw eggs are obviously both natural and nutritious. Despite this, there are several reasons why the word “natural” does not necessarily mean healthy. The most prominent reason is the fact that there are no specific guidelines in place to define a food as natural. The word natural itself has about twenty different definitions in the dictionary. Not to mention, the use of the word on food labels has not yet been officially defined by the FDA or USDA (U.S., 1). This means that food companies are completely free to dub something as “natural” whenever they want. For these reasons, consumers who want to eat healthily must be cautious of all the fake natural foods on the market.

Some of these disguised unhealthy products are more obvious, while others are a bit tougher to spot. Many “natural” foods possess only a portion of natural ingredients. They often contain processed ingredients that have no nutritional value (Miller, 1). One large culprit of this that is sometimes looked over is processed junk foods. Certain health food brands claim their products to be healthier and less fattening than the original version just because the ingredients are “natural”. For example, a brand called Nature’s Path makes toaster pastries that seem very similar to the widely known Pop Tarts by Kellog’s. The major difference is that the Nature’s Path pastries are labeled as “deliciously organic, frosted and naturally flavored with real organic sun-ripened strawberry and whole grain.” Sounds promising, right? At first glance, a buyer may think that the Nature’s Path toaster pastry is healthy, while a Pop Tart is not. The Nature’s Path toaster pastries do contain natural ingredients as promised; such as strawberries, apples, honey, and whole wheat flour. But if a closer look is taken at the nutrition labels, both products still contain added sugars in the ingredient list. In fact, the Nature’s path pastries actually contain three more grams of overall sugar compared to Kellog’s version. The Nature’s Path pastries may contain more natural ingredients than Pop Tarts, but both brands of toaster pastries provide very little nutritional value (White, 1). So the bottom line here is that junk food is junk food. Cheetos are not healthy. So just because a company comes out with a so called “natural” version of cheese puffs, it does not mean that they suddenly become healthy. Cheese puffs do not grow from a plant and they still contain simple, refined carbohydrates that are in no way beneficial to human health (Miller, 1). Many other food companies are guilty of this same false advertising.

 

When it comes to calling out fake “natural” food products, the manufacturers of these foods are quick to defend themselves. One argument commonly made by the producers is that they would not have the authority to write “natural” on the label if it was not approved by the FDA. So therefore, if the label says natural, it must be true. Yes, it is true that the FDA has certain policies that food manufacturers must follow. And while the FDA does have a policy that declares the term “natural” must mean nothing artificial or synthetic, this is not quite enough. The FDA’s web page clearly writes: “However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation” (U.S., 1). So while the term “all natural” may mean the food is coming from a natural source, it does not mean the food is free from processed sweeteners, lab produced colors or flavors, or preservatives (Miller, 1). So basically, buyer beware. Not all food products on the market may actually be what they seem.

Food products labeled as “natural” have been a misconception for quite some time.  This is why the FDA must come up with some better way to regulate the lableing of “natural” on food prducts. These “natural” foods can either be great for one’s health or completely detrimental. Many food manufacturers will continue to try and make false claims about their products. This leaves consumers mislead about what they are putting into their bodies. To solve the problem, the FDA needs to set an exact definition of the word “natural”. They also need to be strict on enforcing this definition before approving foods made by manufacturers. Until then, consumers must become educated about the types of products they are purchasing. It is important that buyers read nutrition labels and ingredient lists. Doing this is the only way to reveal the truth behind fake “natural” food products. Knowing the definition of what “natural” truly means is essential to making healthy choices. The important fact to remember is that healthy foods are natural, but not all “natural” foods are healthy.

Works Cited

Miller, Tracy. “7 “100% Natural” Foods That Aren’t.” Prevention. N.p., 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. <http://www.prevention.com/food/smart-shopping/what-all-natural-means– food-labels>

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “”Natural” on Food Labeling.” N.p., 12 Nov. 2015. Web.18 Nov. 2015 <http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm>

White, Dana Angelo. “Ask HE: What Does “Natural” Mean?” Food Network. N.p., 22 Apr.2010. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. <http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2010/04/22/ask-he-what-does-natural-mean/>

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