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'All Natural' Products: Check Under the Hood Before You Buy

By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist,

When I see a packaged food with a ‘natural’ claim on it, I am always perplexed. Natural vs. what? Artificial? Or synthetic? Isn’t all food supposed to be natural? To me, it’s kind of like seeing produce advertised as ‘fresh’ at a grocery store: what other options are there, folks?

Let’s be honest. The term ‘natural’ is merely a marketing tool. Even if ‘natural’ is all about vegetarian feed and no hormones, I would still, when possible, opt to pay extra for organic, grass fed, and free range. And here is why.

The problem with ‘natural’ is quite simple: just because something is natural, it doesn’t mean it is good for you. Natural beef, for example, can still be raised using hormones and antibiotics in a crowded and unsanitary area, fed genetically modified, nutrient-depleted grain (still vegetarian feed), and slaughtered in ways far from humane.

Compared to organic, ‘natural’ is unregulated by the USDA, and manufacturers take full advantage of this fact.

So unless a package explicitly states otherwise, or unless you know the farmer and trust the integrity of their farming practices, the term ‘natural‘ should raise a cautionary yellow light in your mind rather than the green go signal.

Safeway and their new line, Open Nature, that was introduced earlier this year, is a perfect example. The chain’s goal was to redefine the term ‘natural’ by offering customers exactly what they wanted: complete transparency.

Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it seems. Telling consumers that a bread now has no high fructose corn syrup and that cattle is fed vegetarian feed is simply not enough. In fact, it adds to the confusion because bread is not supposed to have any added sugar (and especially no corn syrup), and cattle is not supposed to eat animals.  They are not carnivores!

It is hard to talk about transparency when basic facts are misrepresented.

And this is precisely why you need to be thoughtful when using ‘natural’ products, whether on a menu or at home with your family. There is money to be made, however, there is also trust and loyalty to be built. Transparency is important, and even more so when it is done without secondary agendas.

So next time you see that ‘natural’ label or think about making that ‘natural’ steak the star of your menu, do some additional investigation. It will benefit you as a chef, as an operator, and as a consumer.

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