What Does the Word “Natural” Actually Mean?
Posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 at 7:00 am
Many of us have become very discerning about the types of food that we will buy and feed to our families. We avoid processed foods and seek out the natural ones. But, what does “natural” actually mean? The answer to that question is more complex than you may think.
In general, we all know what the word natural means. The word brings up concepts of health, cleanliness, and nutrition. Dictionary.com has several different definitions for the word “natural”. One of them says: existing in or formed by nature (as opposed to artificial).
When we see the word “natural” on a package of food, we automatically think that it means the food is, well, healthy and good for us. In reality, the word “natural”, when used on a food label, doesn’t mean as much as you might have hoped.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has some clarification about the world natural. It says “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.”
It continues with more information that people should be aware of. It notes that the FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. The FDA doesn’t object to use of the word “natural” if the food doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
US News points out that foods that have a “natural” label can contain “added sugar, trans fats, and genetically modified ingredients or GMOs”. In other words, you shouldn’t assume that a food that has been labeled with the word “natural” won’t have things in it that you are trying to avoid.
What about the word “organic”? It has somewhat more meaning than the word “natural” does. The FDA “uses state agencies to inspect and certify food companies that market organic foods. Small farmers with less than $5,000 in organic sales such as those selling at farmers’ markets, are exempt from the certification process but they must still be truthful in their label claims and comply with the new government standards.”
One big difference between the word “natural” and the word “organic” on a food label is the regulation involved with the word “organic”. Foods that truly are organic will have a sticker on them that says USDA Organic. If the sticker isn’t there – the food isn’t really organic.