‘Natural’ Labeled Food

Find yourself buying groceries labeled with the word “natural” thinking that it’s the healthiest option? We’ve all done it at some point. But ask yourself this - what does a “natural” product consist of? Your answers are probably along the lines of healthy, organic, non-GMO, no additives, no chemicals, etc. So, how true does the word “natural” hold up to its assumed definition? Or, is it simply just a marketing gimmick? Let’s find out!

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), products labeled “natural” do not contain artificial ingredients, artificial preservatives and contain minimally processed ingredients. However, they still may contain antibiotics, GMO’s, and other chemicals (1). On the other hand, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a defined explanation behind the word “natural.”

Similar to how  the USDA defines the term, the FDA considers “natural” labeled products to be free from artificial or synthetic ingredients although the labeling does not address food production methods, food processing or manufacturing methods (2). That being said, including the word “natural” on products is  not meant to endorse any nutritional or health benefits!

Feeling deceived and misled? You’re not alone. Fortunately, the concerned public has already taken action by challenging the FDA to create a formal definition of the word “natural.” The FDA accepted  public comments on how the word should, or should not, be used on product labels, which closed in May 2016 (2).

Until the FDA thoroughly regulates and defines the term, be cautious when buying products labeled as “natural.” The use of the word can be  a deceptive marketing strategy to attract unaware customers with  the false belief that the product is healthier.

Next time you’re leaning towards a “natural” labeled product, always double check and read the ingredient list. To ensure  that the product is, in fact, organic or contains no GMO’s, the product should clearly state as such and include a certified label.

  1. http://www.gcbl.org/live/food/healthy-diet/what-do-food-labels-really-mean

  2. http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm