Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Myth: If it says “natural” on the package, it’s better for you.

Answer: BUSTED!

It depends. What kind of package is the word “natural” on? Meat and poultry foods can be labeled “natural” if they are minimally processed and don’t have artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or other additives. That is the definition the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is using for meat and poultry. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t defined “natural” for labeling of foods.

“Natural” on a food package can mean different things to different consumers. Does “natural” always mean “healthy?” Not necessarily. “Healthy” on a food package is not defined or regulated by USDA or FDA. For a food to be labeled “healthy” it must meet certain criteria for the amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and have specific minimum amounts of vitamins, minerals or other nutrients. A food may be labeled “natural” but you might find from looking at the Nutrition Facts label that it is actually high in sugar or sodium. Only if you see “low in sodium” or “reduced sodium” on the label can you be assured that the food has less sodium than its counterpart. Same with fat – look for “low in saturated fat” or “reduced saturated fat” on the label to find heart-healthy foods. 

Nutrition Facts label - read and compare this label to determine whether or not the product is healthy, rather than relying on claims on the food packageSo the next time you are in the grocery store and see the word “natural” on a food package, take a closer look. See if other health claims for fat or sodium are on the package. And read the Nutrition Facts label to find out if the product is truly healthy for you.

Visit the MissouriFamilies website for more information on food labels.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

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