The Truth Behind Natural Food Labels: What They Really Mean

The Truth Behind Natural Food Labels: What They Really Mean

What Does “Natural” Really Mean?

When grocery shopping, it’s common to see the word “natural” plastered across food labels, from granola bars to packaged chicken breasts. But what does this term actually imply?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a strict definition for “natural,” which means the term can be used liberally on food packaging. However, the FDA does have a general guideline that natural foods should not contain any artificial flavors, colors, or synthetic ingredients. This means that foods with a natural label should not have chemically derived additives, such as high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.

But even with these loose regulations, “natural” can still be deceiving. For example, a box of crackers labeled as “natural” may still contain “bleached enriched wheat flour,” which is far from an unprocessed or whole food ingredient. When shopping for natural foods, it’s important to check the ingredients list and ensure that the product aligns with your personal definition of natural.

What About Other Labels, Such as Organic and Non-GMO?

Along with “natural,” the labels “organic” and “non-GMO” are commonly found on food packaging. These terms are regulated by the USDA and the Non-GMO Project, respectively.

In order to use the label “organic,” a food must be made up of 95% or more certified organic ingredients. This means that the ingredients were grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetic engineering. Additionally, animals used for organic meats must be fed and treated with organic practices, and they should have access to the outdoors. In contrast to “natural,” the regulations for organic foods are much stricter, and the use of the label is enforced by the USDA.

Similarly, the “non-GMO” label means that a product was made without genetically modified organisms. The Non-GMO Project is an independent organization that verifies that the product is non-GMO throughout the entire supply chain. The Non-GMO Project label is widely used and has become a recognizable symbol for consumers seeking to avoid genetically modified foods.

It’s important to note that just because a food is labeled as organic or non-GMO does not automatically mean it is healthy. These labels only indicate that certain agricultural practices were used in production, and the final product could still be high in calories or contain unhealthy additives. Always read the nutrition label and ingredient list to ensure that the product is aligned with your dietary needs and goals.

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