The word “natural” on food labeling, what does it mean?

I see this label on a lot of food items, from uncooked chicken breasts to frozen food to yogurt. This label is on way too many things, almost everything! Does it  make you want to buy that brand over another because it says ‘all-natural’?  This marketing term is deceptive in that it tricks people into thinking it’s ‘healthier’ than the next product. This term is not regulated by the FDA. So what does it mean?

If I see all-natural on a package of chicken breasts, all that means is that it is a package of chicken breasts. It’s not from a cow, it’s not from a lamb, it’s not fake soybean chicken like substance, it’s chicken breast! It tells me nothing about if this chicken was raised humanely, if it is free of antibiotics, or free of GMO exposure from the chickens eating GMO feed (which does alter the composition of the meat).  Usually all natural in reference to meat, is a factory farmed (stressed) and antibiotic treated animal.  This is the worst kind you can eat.

When looking to buy any meat, there are a few things to look for. Look for a label that says organic, because those chickens were likely not fed GMO feed.  I like seeing terms like humanely raised or certified humane.  Even better is pastured chickens! The less stressed the animal, the healthier the meat. But pastured chicken and eggs are usually limited to farmers markets and online buying. At the very least, look for ‘antibiotic free’.

The simpler and shorter the ingredient list, the better. In fact, if it is one ingredient, like a fruit or vegetable, then that can truly be called all-natural. But you won’t see labels on fruits or veggies, because there is more money for processed food companies than for farmers.  It’s the processed foods that are labeled as such, and you are now much more savvy than that! They can even use artificial ‘natural’ flavors (you read that right) and call it natural, even though it is blueberry flavor and not blueberries flavoring that yogurt or drink.  It may have a long list of thickeners, GMO’s, high fructose corn syrup and the list goes on, yet still have the label ‘all natural’ because the original unprocessed source was natural.

You will never look at the term all-natural the same again.


Want to make a difference and get involved? The FDA is taking comments to help them define what the term natural should mean on a label.  Let them know before February 10, 2016! Here is my comment:
It should not contain any GMO’s, or animal meat that was fed GMO’s. It should not contain natural or artificial flavors, artificial or natural colorings other than an actual single food coloring source, artificial flavorings, thickeners, stabilizers, or preservatives. Natural should mean whole single ingredients.

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