These days “all-natural” or “100% natural” can be found on just about any food label. From granola to even Cheese Puffs, this term has become a supermarket regular on food packages. But what does “all-natural” actually mean? Should we assume that something “natural” is good for us and a healthy choice? According to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website:
“ The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.”
Currently, there is an open comment period conducted by the FDA for the public to submit their comments and concerns in regards to natural food labeling. This is a response to submitted petitions from the public for an action from the FDA to further define the term natural on food labeling.
A Little Bit About “Organic”
Foods labeled “natural” are not synonymous with organic foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates organic food labeling. In order for a food to be labeled organic, the farmers, ranchers, and food processors follow a defined set of standards to produce organic food and fiber. Congress described general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and the USDA defines specific organic standards. These standards cover the product from farm to table, including soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives. Further research is needed to determine the health benefits of consuming organic foods.
Below is the Nutrition Facts Labels for All-Natural Cheese Puffs versus regular Cheese Puffs. As you can see, the calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates are very similar and both foods are calorie dense instead of nutrient dense (refer to our article on what does it mean to eat right). Also, there is more sodium in the All-Natural than the regular Cheese Puffs. An example of a better snack choice would be sliced apples and peanut butter.
“Natural” Cheese Puffs Regular Cheese Puffs
In summary, a food labeled “natural” should not be a key factor in determining your food selection. Further research is needed to determine the long-term health effects of consuming synthetic foods. It is important to read the Nutrition Facts of all foods, labeled natural or not, to make good food choices that fit into your diet.