Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"All Natural" Not Always Better

by guest blogger Jody Perrecone

While at the grocery store the other day, I saw many products on the shelves labeled “all natural.”  I wondered how they could be labeled “all natural” since all of these products were processed foods and were in packaged in boxes, bags, and jars. 

Looking into this further, with the exception of meat and poultry, I found the FDA does not regulate these words on food packaging. Without any regulation, “all natural” labeling is like the Wild West.  I saw a bag of veggie crisps labeled “all natural.”  These are potato chip-like snacks. Eight ingredients were listed on the ingredient list including beet powder. Cruising the grocery aisles, I saw bottled salad dressing with 14ingredients listed including lecithin - a processed soy product that keeps the dressing from separating.  “All natural” was also on bottled green tea.  The label said it had “no preservatives, no artificial flavor, no artificial color.”  True, but it did list high fructose corn syrup and “natural flavors” on the ingredient label.   Fruit chews are snacks that are similar to juju beans. They too are “all natural” and “made with real fruit juice.”  One serving had the equivalent of nearly four teaspoons of sweeteners corn syrup and sugar in addition to carnauba wax. Made from leaves of the copernicia prunifera palm found only in Brazil, carnauba wax is also used in shoe polish and car wax but is food safe. The ingredient list of an “all natural” chicken flavored soup base didn’t contain any chicken, but did include maltodexrin and autolyzed yeast extract. A colorful breakfast cereal had “natural fruit flavors” advertised on the front of the box.  The ingredient list had sugar as the first ingredient and no fruit mentioned. One cup of this cereal contains 3 teaspoons of sugar.  Also listed were blue dye #2 and yellow dye #6 which studies have shown to cause tumors in animals.  What a way to start the day!

Don’t think of products labeled “all natural” as necessarily being healthy. Legally, products labeled “all natural” have no preservatives, artificial flavors, or artificial colors.  What is failed to be mentioned is these products are often high in sodium, fat, and calories.  We have a tendency to associate “all natural” with foods described in one word such as apples, lettuce, beans, potatoes, carrots, berries, tomatoes – food that is grown doesn’t need an ingredient list attached to it.

The unregulated words “all natural” sell products.  But don’t be fooled! The words have no credibility.  Until a change in the law (which won’t happen any time soon), we will need to be a little smarter consumer.

Jody Perrecone is a corporate manager for the Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP). CHIP is an international wellness program focusing on lifestyle interventions to create a healthier workforce and reduce overall healthcare costs. Jody works with hospitals, corporations, and communities to offer CHIP programs throughout the U.S.

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