What Does "Natural" Really Mean on Food Labels?

We have been led to believe by health organizations, and even food manufacturers, that the word "natural" means a particular food item is healthy and good for us. You probably believe this yourself, right?

However, viruses and other debilitating, even deadly, microorganisms are natural. But that does not make them good for us. So what does natural really mean anyway?

If you see the word natural on a food label, is that good news? According to the consumer advocate magazine Consumer Reports, this can be a very misleading term.

While not too many food manufacturers will put the term "unnatural" on their foods, food described as natural can be healthy, unhealthy or have no effect on you at all.

Consumer Reports believes so strongly that the natural label is being applied to possibly unnatural foods that it has urged the FDA to ban its use on food labels.

By the way, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the United States has not even come up with a hard definition of what natural really means on a food label. The same problem exists in many other modern countries.

That is why manufacturers of otherwise unhealthy products have been slapping the natural label on their food for years.

If the “Natural” Labeling Process Seems Confusing, You Are Not Alone

A recent survey of 1,000 shoppers conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center revealed that 60% of the survey takers actively searched out the term natural on food labels.

66% of those polled expressed a belief that the term natural means food with no artificial ingredients, genetically modified organisms or pesticides.

But none of those requirements are mandatory for a food to carry the natural designation.

With no hard and fast rules as to exactly what natural means, this adjective could be trusted too much as it applies to food.

Having said that, what steps should you take to find out if the food you are considering buying is actually "natural" or not?

Your first move should be to contact the manufacturer. It may take some time, but get someone on the phone. Ask some hard questions.

Record the name of the individual you are talking to, and ask for any and all relevant information to be sent to you via snail mail or e-mail.

If a representative for a food manufacturer or processor tells you that information is "proprietary" and cannot be revealed, alarm bells should go off.

Also, don't forget that foods with tons of sugar and calories may truthfully be natural, but that does not make them healthy. The bottom line? Try to avoid packaged foods wherever possible.

Eat whole foods, and more fruits and vegetables than processed food items, and you will automatically enjoy more truly natural and healthy foods.

Get more tips in our section here about how to learn healthy cooking

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