The evidence increases that what you eat – and how much you eat – impact your health. Today, more people are well aware that good nutrition is a major factor for a healthy lifestyle. The problem is that figuring out what’s a healthy food and what is not can be confusing.
As we became more concerned about the source of our food and the ingredients in it, companies created new strategies for their marketing. They redesigned their food labels to reflect our willingness to go out of our way or pay a little more for healthy foods. Companies started using the terms like “all natural”, “hormone free”, “no artificial ingredients”, and “free range”.
As a result of all this advertising, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published definitions for many of the marketing terms, including “natural”, so that consumers would have a better idea of what they were purchasing. According to the USDA, food can only be labeled natural if it contains no artificial ingredients or added colors and is minimally processed.
This definition is enforced through the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which monitors how food is produced and what goes into it. They’re responsible for backing up product labels with regular inspection.
The term “all natural” was the most used label on new food products in the US last year. Manufacturers wanted to cash in on last year’s $13 billion dollar natural food market.
The main reason that natural food products sell so well is that you and I believe that if a food is labeled “natural” it must be good for us. Plus, we’re willing to pay extra if that natural food keeps us healthy.
The problem is that even with the USDA regulations, the term “natural” isn’t well-defined. There’s no standard definition for the term except for meat and poultry products other than the product contains no synthetic or artificial ingredients including artificial flavors and food colorings.
And a natural food may not be a healthy food, either. For example, a brand of vanilla ice cream may meet the natural standard but the product is high in calories and saturated fat. That’s not too healthy!
Right now there’s only one way to even attempt to make wise decisions for natural food products. Read the label. The label will help you compare one product to another and tell you which natural food product – or regular food product- fits your dietary needs.