Nutrition: Understanding Nutritional Claims Chapter 3

All Natural: Less is More?


“Natural” — Or Something Like That

What is “all natural” when it comes to packaged food? One thing we know for sure is that it is increasingly popular. The U.S. market for “all natural” foods is booming. Surveys have shown that, given a choice, consumers prefer natural foods and beverages. As one food industry report phrased it, “across all food categories, the message that a food or food component is naturally and intrinsically healthy is one of the most appealing to consumers...” READ MORE

Defining Natural

And yet, the term “natural” doesn’t mean much on its own. It is certainly not synonymous with “healthy,” since salt, sugar and butter fat can all be natural. And it is not the same as “organic” even though many consumers confuse the two. In fact, there is no single definition for “natural.” In 1993, the FDA announced that it would follow a policy that considered “natural” as meaning foods to which nothing artificial or synthetic has been added. Basically, foods that don’t include stuff you wouldn’t expect to find there. That may sound definitive, but it wasn’t and isn’t.

Furthermore, even the FDA’s general policy on what is or isn’t “natural” is not enforced in the same way as health claims are. What this means in the grocery store is that most foods labeled natural are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and heath codes that apply to all foods. Except for meat and poultry. The USDA requires that meat and poultry be free of artificial ingredients and “only minimally processed” in a way that “does not fundamentally alter the raw product.” One technique that would generally disqualify meat from claiming a “natural” label, for example, would be injecting it with flavored, briny marinades. Extracting meat from carcasses with power hoses, grinders and screens to produce meat paste would be another. And unlike the FDA, the USDA is much more likely to enforce these requirements.

The confusion over the use of “natural” remains and many consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are calling on the FDA to address the problem and issue clear standards. The FDA has issued warning letters on a case-by-case-basis for the inappropriate use of the claim “natural,” but that doesn’t seem enough. And what about labels that blur it even further, with “natural fruit goodness” or “naturally delicious.” Should they be subject to the FDA’s attention at all? LESS


Is “Natural” Always Better?

While nearly everyone will agree that “natural” sounds better than un-natural or artificial, does it really make a difference? Is “natural” healthier, and if so, how? There have long been concerns about the use of artificial colors, artificial sweeteners and artificial preservatives. Some food additives have been linked to cancer, asthma, or hyperactivity. Certain additives have been banned over the years, but there is little evidence that current additives pose health threats. There are, however, additives such as sulfites or MSG that can cause serious reactions in a small number of people sensitive to these chemicals. There is also some evidence that people who regularly eat meats containing sodium nitrite, a common preservative and stabilizer, are at higher risk for some types of illness. READ MORE

Mixing Meat and Medicine

The overuse of antibiotics over time often results in bacteria that are resistant to these powerful drugs. It has happened with antibiotics used to treat human illness as well as antibiotics used to treat livestock. When that happens, a once-powerful treatment become far less effective. A growing concern in recent years is that the overuse of antibiotics in animals, particularly those antibiotics that are considered “medically important” to humans, could be contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance in human populations. It is extremely difficult to track the spread of resistant bacteria from animal to human populations and such efforts have not been conclusive. But many national and international organizations have nonetheless expressed great concern over this threat.

A 2005 study from the Environmental Defense Fund estimated that 26.5 million pounds of antibiotics were being added to livestock feed each year, most of it to promote growth and prevent disease in the crowded conditions of modern livestock production; just 3 million pounds are used to treat human illness. Of those antibiotics considered medically important, 69% were used in hog production, 19% in broiler chickens, and 12% in beef cattle.

See for the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s summary of the safety of many of the most common food additives. LESS

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.