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March 28, 2019

Grocery shopping hack: Foods labeled 'natural' don't mean they're healthy

In fact, the term could be slapped on just about anything

Healthy Eating Food Labels
grocery store shelves scanning app unsplash NeONBRAND/Unsplash

Listen, healthy eating can be tough. Whether getting the motivation to actually follow through with a specific way of eating has been your roadblock, or whether you're at a loss of where to start.

When you do try to eat "healthy" you might scan the grocery shelves for things with healthy-looking packaging that might even be labeled "natural." Products labeled "natural" are kind of misleading, however.

A recent survey Wakefield Research for Label Insight found that 53 percent of U.S. shoppers would be more inclined to purchase products carrying a “natural” label. That makes sense, because, by definition, the term means "existing in or produced by nature; not artificial."

Recently, the makers of KIND bars led a charge to bring a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, asking the agency to crack down on misleading advertising on food packaging. “By bringing greater rigor to the use of nutrient claims, FDA can increase label transparency and help people better identify foods that contribute to a healthy diet, which KIND has long advocated for,” the petition reads.

RELATED READ: The internet is saying Cheez Whiz is healthy — well, not exactly

According to Men's Health:

... the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have a formal definition of “natural” as they do for “organic.” They do, however, have a “longstanding policy.” A food labeled “natural” should be free from artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, artificial preservatives, and color additives. The FDA doesn’t address how a natural food can (or can’t) be processed, grown, or raised.

The FDA had been asked so many times about how foods labeled as "natural" fall in their jurisdiction that the agency has posted a concise statement, Food Dive adds:

"From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances."

Obviously, the ideal solution to this confusion would be for the FDA to define "natural" so that consumers wouldn't have to worry about whether a product is actually healthy or not. It doesn't seem like that will be happening any time soon so, consumers should be sure to scan the ingredients label and nutrition table on the back of any packaged good that is being marketed as "healthy" — you may be surprised at how many of those foods aren't quite what they seem.

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