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Originally published September 22 2010

Marketing of the Word Natural: Read beyond the Big Letters and Examine the Fine Print

by Heidi Fagley

(NaturalNews) One of the most overused words in the food world has become dominant on many packaging labels, and companies and corporations are making big bucks using it as a marketing tool. In recent years the word "natural" has multiplied on food products as manufacturers capitalize on the emotions its very mention conjures up.

This one word, however, may be the least trustworthy of all food labeling terms. While it evokes thoughts of being healthy and wholesome, very little is actually said about the nutritional makeup of the food products. Legally a food manufacturer cannot lie about the nutrition and ingredients of its products, but since there are very casual guidelines about the term "natural", shoppers might easily be misled into thinking an item is healthier than it really is. Many consumers believe that "natural" means they are getting a food that is as close to the way it was grown as they can get, but is this the case? In reality, "natural" is empty of nutritional meaning and is not the same as being nutritious or even good for you.

Food companies use labels to sell their products. Natural has become the word people are seeking out. In fact, in 2008 packaged foods labeled natural outsold those labeled organic by 4:1. It has become a catch-all term mainly because many manufacturers recognize that by using it, consumers are literally more apt to buy their products. Many shoppers interpret the word to mean more nutritious or healthier, even though that may be far from the truth.

The current code for "natural" used by the US Department of Agriculture - which applies to meat and poultry products only - is as follows: "The product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient or chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed." Any other product on your grocery store aisles that bears the word can pretty much mean anything the manufacturer wants it to mean.

The FDA allows chicken and turkey to be labeled "all natural" when they've been injected with salty broth. Both beef and chicken are labeled natural, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they have been raised without the use of antibiotics or artificial hormones. And, animal products that have been genetically modified can also be labeled as "natural".

Food containing "natural flavors" can legally use the label "natural." Yet some "artificial flavors" are made by flavorists in a laboratory by blending either natural or synthetic chemicals to create flavorings.

Listing the word natural on a label along with other multiple ingredients can also mean that a portion of the food's ingredients contains something that was, at some point, naturally derived. Just because there are trace amounts of actual cheese in a sauce or a drop of real fruit in an "all natural" juice, it does not mean that the product can't or doesn't contain any other un-natural elements. Listing an entire product as natural when only a percentage of all ingredients may have been grown from the earth does not make an entire product natural.

Labels can be misleading. They are designed by the food processor's marketing and advertising departments and can contain whatever popular words will help sell the product.

Read beyond the big lettering on the front of the package; examine the fine print. The bottom line is that "natural" doesn't necessarily mean a product is the healthiest or safest or even that it originated from nature.

About the author

Heidi Fagley is a Holistic Nutritionist and has two culinary arts degrees - one in Raw, Living Foods and another in Natural Foods. Educating others about nutrition and the benefits of using whole foods to heal and prevent disease is her passion.

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