“Natural” Food Claims: What To Know And How Not To Be Fooled By Labels

Mar 24, 2014 @ Project Juice

There seems to be so much conflicting advice on what to eat and what to avoid.  You try to make healthy choices, roam the grocery store aisles, dazed and confused by all the pretty packaging…all-natural, light, fortified, wholesome, organic.  Navigating your modern day grocery store leaves you asking, what do all these food package labels all mean, and more importantly, do they translate to “healthy?”

“100% Natural”

This is the most ambiguous term of all, with no Federal Regulation around its use. Many of the products labeled “natural” are actually made from genetically modified organisms.

Instead look for the USDA organic label.   There are fixed and regulated standards for organic certification so you know the product you are buying was not made using artificial chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides. The organic label also guarantees that the product has not been genetically modified.


One of my personal favorites.  Light compared to what??  A carton of ice cream and a dozen glazed doughnuts?  This can be used to connote all sorts of things including low in calories, sugars, fat, carbs, salt, texture, or color. It isn’t a term you can trust. Even tobacco companies have jumped on the bandwagon, labeling cigarettes with terms like “low tar”, “light”, “ultra-light”, “mild” or “natural”.  Light or not, we all know that lighting up a cancer stick certainly isn’t healthy, so don’t necessarily trust it when it comes to your food!

“A good source of fiber”

Yes, we all need fiber in order to ‘stay regular’, and nice to our spouses.  But in order to be helpful, it has to be the right kind of fiber.  Packaged foods that use the term “a good source of fiber” sometimes use a fiber additive that’s not as beneficial as the fiber found in whole grains and veggies naturally. If the fiber has been over processed, it doesn’t require your body to do the work, and the benefit is lost.

“Made with whole grains”

Many of these products have only trace amounts of whole grains. They also generally have refined corn flour, which is not helpful because it has a high glycemic index (sugar!) and very little fiber.  To make sure you are getting the healthy, fiber-rich grains you need, look for “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grains.”

“Made with real fruit”

More often than not, the fruit that’s advertised is not the fruit that’s actually in the item, and whatever is in there has been pasteurized, concentrated and messed with so much that the nutrients have been killed off and mostly just the sugar is left behind.  When it comes to fruit, just eat the real thing.  You will find it in the beautiful produce aisle, not in the pop tart box.

The best advice is to stop eating processed junk to begin with.  A carrot doesn’t need a label for me to know it’s good for me. To steal a great quote from Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, “If they have to put the word ‘natural’ on a box to convince you, it probably isn’t.”

Photo credit: cathyse97 via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND