Most of us have been paying attention enough to know the damage that processed foods can cause. Not only do they wreak havoc on our digestive and immune systems, they add inches to the waistline, destabilize the delicate balance of hormones and raise cholesterol levels.
So we shop more carefully in order to eat a healthier diet. And as we dutifully meander through the grocery store trying to be selective, the game keeps changing. Food manufacturers know that we are getting smarter — they know because of what we buy. The whole-foods movement is growing, and folks are trying to make better choices.
Champing at the bit, manufacturers are right there, “helping” us decide what to buy with an arsenal of carefully selected marketing terms such as “light,” “healthy,” “new and improved” and my personal favorite, the overused and misconstrued “natural.” Even if a product is processed and packaged to last until the next ice age, if it says “natural,” we're more likely to buy it.
The dictionary says natural means “produced by nature” or “conforming with nature.” But the Food and Drug Administration says (this is taken from its website): “From a food-science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.”
We think of natural as meaning healthy, unprocessed or even organic, but there is no regulation of the word “natural” and so it is open season on slinging it around on brightly colored food packaging — as you may have noticed. So take your glasses with you to the market and look a little closer. The ingredients list will tell you what is really in the product and you can make a more informed decision. Many times I have picked up an item touting natural — thinking, “wow this could be yummy,” only to read the ingredients list and put it right back on the shelf.
Don't be fooled. I'll sign off today with what I hope will be my epitaph: Keep it real.
Author of the book "All Health's Breaking Loose," reach Loa Blasucci for questions or comments at gotoloa.com