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Healthy Recipe Doctor

with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Elaine Magee's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What Does All-Natural Really Mean?

Don’t be too impressed when you see “all natural” plastered across a food product in the grocery store because it really doesn’t mean anything. I personally find this term useless because there are many things that are “natural” and not synthesized that we would benefit health wise from moderating or consuming less of.

Think about it… Salt and sugar are natural and native to the earth but should we be eating less of them? You bet! Various recreational drugs are technically natural but that doesn’t we should all be using them. And one of the worst types of fat, saturated fat, comes to us naturally from animal foods and naturally from the palm and coconut plants.

It seems that the FDA has no plans to establish a definition of this term at least in the near future. In 2007 the FDA received two petitions, one by the Sugar Association and the other from Sara Lee requesting them to clearly define the term. The FDA is still holding to policy that it released in 1993: “FDA has not established a formal definition for the term ‘natural’, however the agency has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

So this tells us nothing. Don’t let the term used on product labels persuade you to buy it and don’t let the lack of the term on product labels dissuade you. I’m still going to encourage you to do what I tell everyone to do when considering a new product:

  • Look at the ingredient label to see what the main ingredients are.
  • Look at the nutrition facts label to see the total calories, fat grams, saturated fat grams, sugar grams, etc.per serving.
  • Look at the serving size to double check this is about the amount you tend to consume.

Posted by: Elaine Magee, RD at 6:52 am

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