Ahh, the “All Natural” label. Such a deceitful little stamp, constantly putting grand notions of healthy eating into our heads. But what’s behind this label, and why is it so controversial? In this post, I’ll discuss the term “All Natural” and how you can determine if a food is truly healthy or just a big, fat fake.
First, let’s find out what “Natural” means from a government perspective:
According to the USDA: “a product containing no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as ‘no artificial ingredients; minimally processed’).”
Note that this definition does not address antibiotics or growth hormones that can be found in meat or dairy, so milk can be labeled “Natural” but still contain one or both of these. This label is also not highly regulated by the government, which means there is no “Natural” certification or inspection done when this label is slapped on a product. As a result, companies can include some questionable ingredients in their products under this label, which I’ll get into shortly.
There is no government definition of the term “All Natural.” This is a completely made-up term by companies for marketing purposes to take the term “Natural” one step further.
What are some questionable ingredients that some “All Natural” foods contain?
- Natural Flavors. This is one of the most common ingredients and is found in all sorts of foods. They are used primarily for flavor uniformity across products and can be derived from either plants or animals (vegetarians/vegans take note!). Natural flavors are made in a lab and just one flavor can contain up to 100 ingredients, which are all contained under the single umbrella term. To show how natural flavors are not that different from artificial flavors, I’ve included both definitions below:
- Natural flavor is defined as the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
- Other Forms of Sugar. While artificial sweeteners are not permitted, other forms of sugar are often added under names we may not recognize. The more sugar we consume, the fatter we get. These sweeteners can be listed as caramel color, acacia gum, corn syrup, anything ending in -ose, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate and MANY more.
- Antibiotics & Growth Hormones. These will not be listed as ingredients in meat or dairy products, and unless the packaging clearly states they have not been added, you can bet they probably were. These can mess with our bodies and lead to increased risk of cancer.
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils. These are trans fats. ‘Nuff said.
Which food products can have the “All Natural” label on them?
- Ice Cream
- Canned & Boxed Items
- Frozen Meals
- Meat & Dairy
- Pretty much anything processed!
So, what do we do about this as consumers?
- Don’t buy products based only on the “All Natural” label. Are there some actual healthy foods that may have this label? Sure. But you’ll only know that by looking at the ingredients on the back of the product, not the marketing on the front.
- Choose whole, real foods over processed foods. An apple won’t have the “All Natural” label on it because it doesn’t have anything to prove. For items like pasta, crackers, bread, sauce, etc., choose those that are minimally processed and made with quality ingredients.
- Do some research, compare products and shop healthier. While stores like Whole Foods aren’t perfect, they are likely to have some better options for the foods you normally like to eat. If you’re brand loyal to a food that’s not quite natural, compare it to a healthier version and see if it’s worth the switch. Do some research online ahead of time to find some viable options.
- When it comes to meat and dairy, buy from a reputable source/company. Ensure the animals had no antibiotics or growth hormones injected into them, as these are permitted in “All Natural” foods.
What are your thoughts on “All Natural” foods? Leave a comment!