beware of “natural foods”

Jessica Penner, RDSmarten Up3 Comments

Grocery store sign: "Natural foods"

“Natural Foods.”

Have you ever come across this in your grocery store?

Grocery store sign: "Natural foods"

Unfortunately you can’t see the big exaggerated air quotes I use when saying these words together.

It’s a section that sells gluten-free, vegan, and other alternative foods and supplements. It’s separate from the rest of the store. You might find it, as I did, tucked away between dairy and home decor.

Seeing this section of “natural foods” made me wonder in frustration, “what, is everything else in this store considered unnatural?”

vegetables in a grocery store

These veggies are sooo unnatural

And why on earth are the veggies not in the natural section, when I can peek into the natural section and see these…

Cheez puffs in a grocery store

Cause everyone knows how natural cheese is when you spell it with a Z

A recent survey found that the word “natural” helps to sell over 40 billion dollars worth of food every year in the US.  But what does it mean, if Cheez Puffs are natural, and vegetables aren’t?

You keep using that word…  I don’t think it means what you think it means

In truth, there is no real definition of “natural food.”  There are no standards that need to be met in order to call a food “natural.”  It’s just a term used to sell products, by preying on the public’s lack of knowledge.

This is known as nutrition washing (kind of like brain washing).  It’s when food manufacturers find a term that sounds healthful, and then they plaster it all over their products. Because they know it will make you buy their products, even if you don’t really know what it means.

This study asked participants to look at foods labeled with a buzzword like natural, organic, or gluten-free.  They were then asked to look at “different” products, which didn’t have those buzzwords. Each and every time, the participant figured the product that contained the buzzword was “significantly more healthful.” The two products were exactly the same.

I can’t blame people for being confused.  As a dietitian, I increasingly have to undo the damage that food manufacturers are causing, as they capitalize on consumers’ good intentions to eat healthfully.

Grocery shoppers: want to eat natural? Buy foods WITHOUT labels and nutrition facts. The more processed a food item is, the less natural it is, in my opinion!

Grocery stores: smarten up and start incorporating these alternative foods along with the rest of the food you sell. You might actually find more people buying it if they don’t have to venture into the “natural” section.

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3 Comments on “beware of “natural foods””

  1. Exactly, the gluten free trend for “health” reasons (other than intolerance/celiac) is very strange. I obviously understand the market for replacement products, given my husband’s intolerance, but replacing wheat products with incredibly processed rice/tapioca and other starches with little nutritional values should not be marketed as more natural or healthy….

  2. Exactly. I would love to find GF pasta beside regular pasta, for example, instead of in a totally different aisle. Good article, thanks for sharing!

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