citric acid
corn syrup
August 23, 2011

Food Labels: Natural

What does 'natural' mean on a food package?

Jessica: Food labels. They are supposed to help you understand what you are putting into your body. But sometimes reading a food label can be harder than understanding your chemistry textbook! Alphatora acitate. Whoa! Acetite, xeo, citric, mono. It is these types of ingredients that might make the word ‘natural’ seem like a good choice. And it is not hard to find; it is everywhere. But what does ‘natural’ on a label really mean?

These potato chips are naturally baked, so let’s take a look at the ingedients. It is a huge list and it includes modified food starch, corn oil, detrose, salt, brown sugar, artificial flavor, dextrene… Okay, I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this one right, monofosium fosohate, soy leichten. I don’t know. These are just some of the ingredients in these naturally baked potato chips.

The ‘natural’ claim is one of the most vague and misleading green claims that we see out on the marketplace. Urvashi Rangan is a health scientist. She says the term ‘natural’ has little to do with nature.

Have you heard of any of that stuff?

Jonathan: Most likely not. I don’t think so.

Jessica: Does any of it sound natural?

Jonathan: I don’t think so.

Jessica: The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency in charge of regulating our food, has not developed a definition for use of the term ‘natural’.

The only requirement for products that use the word ‘natural’ is that they don’t contain artificial flavors or fake substances. But that means that these products could still contain ingredients that mother nature didn’t create. Citric acid, for example, can be made from a bacteria and that is considered to be a natural flavoring. Red dye can come from crushed beetles, and that can be a natural food coloring. Frustrating for you if you are just trying to figure out what is healthy.

Do you think the food labels are confusing?

Jack: They’re definitely not meant for the common person to understand. That’s for sure. A lot of the words in ingredients aren’t simplified for the average consumer at all.

Matt: Sometimes I’m a little dumbfounded, yeah, especially reading some of those chemistry terms of chemicals and stuff. I have no idea what they mean.

Jessica: So why can these products say they are natural when they have ingredients like corn syrup? Well, it is because they can take a natural ingredient, like corn, then chemically or structurally change it into a form that no longer appears anywhere in nature.

Does corn syrup sound natural?

Joe: No, because of the syrup aspect of corn syrup. I’m okay with it as long as it tastes good. I’m just cool with it.

Jessica: So while ‘natural’ may sound like the healthy choice, it is up to you to decide how close to nature you want to get.

Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.


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