When you grocery shop, do you choose natural food because it’s healthier? The word “natural” on a food label actual means nothing at all. Let’s talk about it.
If you’re a regular reader here, chances are you know that the natural food label is a sham. But many consumers think that natural on a food label means the same thing as organic. Some folks also think that natural food is healthier. Neither of those things is necessarily true.
Natural is an unregulated term that food marketers slap onto labels to help sell products. It’s a misleading practice, and it’s dangerous. Let me share a story with you!
When I went to Florida to visit my family, I made sure to tell my dad that my 15-month-old only eats organic berries. I know, this sounds snooty, but there’s actual science showing that conventional berries are some of the most pesticide-laden produce on store shelves. And pesticide exposure is especially harmful to young bodies.
My well-meaning dad picked up a box of “natural” strawberries, thinking that he’d done exactly the right thing for his grandson’s health. Luckily, I spotted the big marketing graphic on the front of the package and searched for a USDA Organic certification. Surprise! There was none to be found.
Any marketer that wants to can claim that they’re selling natural food. And Urvashi Rangan director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports is as sick of it as I am. He’s petitioning FDA and USDA to ban the natural food label on packaging, saying that it’s way too misleading. I couldn’t agree more.
My dad is a smart guy, but not everyone follows food marketing and food politics closely. Most consumers trust front-of-package labeling, and companies prey on that trust with the natural label.
Will anything come of the Consumer Reports natural food petitions? It doesn’t seem likely. In the meantime, what we can do is educate ourselves and the people in our lives about the natural label.
Not all food with a natural label on it is inherently bad. Just think of that sticker as a red flag. When you see “natural” or “natural food” on a label it’s time to examine more closely. Read the ingredients. Look for meaningful certifications. Be ready to put down the box of strawberries and back away.