It’s sort of a given in our modern food culture that just because a product makes health claims, doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything healthy about it. In many cases it’s the exact opposite – think “heart healthy” (sketchy monetary donations to the American Heart Association may be involved), “muligrain” (read: “many” processed grains), “light” (really, what does this even mean?), and “fat free,” (the fat is often taken out and replaced with chemicals and sugar).
“All natural” is another really common claim that manufacturers love to slap on products. While it may give you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside that your favorite snack is labeled “all natural,” and flashing some pastoral imagery like a sunshiney farm on it, it really doesn’t mean jack when it comes to the origins of your food. In fact, the FDA admits that it doesn’t have a set definition for the label “natural,” just that added colors, artificial flavors or synthetic substances may stretch the definition. Only Organic’s video “The Natural Effect” captures the phenomena – and made me LOL:
My favorite part is “If you ask me, by genetically combining two organisms, that’s 200% NATURAL!” Long story short – don’t pay attention to products that are trying to take a free ride on the “natural” train. Instead, look for the USDA organic label to be sure that your foods are pesticide, hormone, genetically modified organism (GMO) and antibiotic free.
When it comes to health claims in general, don’t let a claim about one individualized nutrient or aspect of the food lead your decision; think about the bigger picture of what you’re eating. Choose whole foods and learn what your body responds well to and what it doesn’t. When you’re reaching for a food that comes in a bag, box or jar, turn it over to the ingredient list and focus on that. Ideally, the ingredient list is short, the ingredients are ones you know you respond well to (so in my case, I’m making sure there’s no wheat or dairy), and there are no hidden sugars or any weird ingredients you’re not familiar with.