The World of Au Natural
Woo. As the world seems to be jumping on the bandwagon with the “health craze,” there seems to have been a surge of “natural” products and foods coming out of the wood works.
Warning: A food marked “Natural” does not mean that it is a health food.
What is natural…?
The Dictionary defines the word “natural” as “existing in or formed by nature.” According to this definition, there are a lot of things that are “natural.” In fact, the USDA has yet to set in stone where the line is drawn when referring to “natural” food products.
- “The definition most commonly referred to dates back to 1982, when the USDA’s regulatory agency – the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) – published a policy guidance stating that products can be labeled ‘natural’ if they contain no artificial or synthetic ingredients, and if they are minimally processed. However this refers only to meat and poultry. (Policy Memo 055, “Natural Claims”).” –USDA.
(hmm… and I wonder how they define “minimally” processed?)
- Additionally, “[the] use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides in agricultural production is not off limits to anyone making a “natural claim.” –USDA
In other words, there are no definitive regulations when it comes to labeling any food as “natural,” and the above regulations only refer to meat and poultry products. The above citations make it very easy for food manufactures to label their products as “natural,” when in fact words such as “minimally processed,” in addition to openly allowing for the usage of chemical fertilizers, and the like, leaves food companies a lot of wiggle room.
Regardless, I find that the term “natural” is thrown around in every which direction these days.
When I think of the word itself, my first instinct is to associate it with nature, and therefore health. Obviously, right? How many of you have initially swooned over a “snack-food” labeled “natural” upon first glance?
I have.. and I hope I am not the only one!
Why do I bring this up? The word “Natural” seems to have taken on a whole new meaning as far as food manufacturing, and packaging is concerned. Food companies seem to be focusing heavily on it in all of their marketing endeavors and it is wildly misleading.
Misleading how? A Natural product does not mean a healthy product, and for someone that doesn’t know nutrition like the back of their hand, it can be downright confusing, and mean!
A potato, for instance, is natural. It comes from nature. If it is sliced up, doused in “natural” sunflower seed oil (or canola oil, or…), and then fried (or kettle cooked, or baked, or “popped”)—it is still “natural.” Throw those chips in a more “natural” looking bag, use some fancy green and gold lettering, and you got yourself a wonderfully marketed product that only appears “healthy”.
In reality however, you have a cooked potato that is high in cooked fat, and probably considerably high in salt (and generally not a Celtic sea salt, which is preferable).
But hey! It is still natural right?!
That brings me to mention my dear friends, the veggie chips. As tasty as these little characters may be, there is no question as to where they stand on the health barometer.
These veggie chips are popping up like daisies in every health food establishment, and can even be found in oversized clear containers in one of my favorite grocers, Whole Foods.
These GIANT clear containers showcase brilliantly-colored carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, and the like, all the while silently alluding to the fact that because they are cheery vegetables, that they are also a health food. While it wouldn’t be unhealthy if they were baked (dehydrated would be ideal, and therefore healthiest), these little guys are FRIED in canola oil, dextrin (derived from starch), and salt.
While they are infinitely better for you than any processed junk food (think Regular ‘Sour Cream and Onion chips’, Twinkies, M&Ms, Big Mac and fries…), I cannot seem to be able to decipher them from any “natural” potato chip. Why? When it all comes down to it, the amount of oil used to fry these vegetables, is quite far from healthy. Most of them contain about 6 grams of fat per cup. Most chips contain less than that. While we should not be concerned about the amount of fat in natural and raw foods, like avocado, for instance, the canola oil used to cook these chips, is a far cry from raw, or natural (in my book). You would be better off eating a baked potato, or blue corn chip, than a fried vegetable chip.
Poor vegetables… and gosh darn “Natural” marketing…
A vegetable is healthy when is contains essential nutrients, and enzymes that nourish the body and can be broken down by the body. Raw, and lightly cooked (and steamed) vegetables are therefore ideal sources of nutrients for the body. When a vegetable is cooked at a very high temperature, it loses all, if not most of its nutritional properties. When oil (or any fat) is cooked to very high temperatures, its chemical structure is altered and it becomes more difficult for the body to breakdown. If the body has to “work” to break down a food, it is not an ideal source of energy for the body because the body actually loses energy “working” to break it down. No fun.
In other words, while “Natural” food products, and veggie chips may in fact be healthier than other more heavily processed foods, or foods that utilize synthetic, and artificial ingredients, they should not be considered synonymous with the phrase “health food.”
That being said, there are plenty of healthier snacks out there for those of you that love to snack on something other than veggies… I like Bare Fruit Apple Chips, there are plenty of raw food bars (Lara Bar, PURE bar), I also love baked blue corn tortilla chips, dehydrated vegetable chips and fruit by Just Tomatoes, Dark Chocolate by Dagoba (not a snack, but for dessert), a piece of Eziekel bread topped with raw honey, or guacamole, or raw veggies dipped into hummus, or almond butter, or guacamole… or Nature’s Path corn flakes cereal… I could go on… and on… all delicious, all relatively nutritious!
Here are some tips for shopping for Healthy Chips…
Another interesting article about “Natural” Ingredients…
How do you define the word “Natural” when buying food products. Have you ever felt mislead into thinking a “natural” food was healthy, when it really wasn’t? What food?