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Au Naturel


Recently, I was in a convenience store ordering a turkey sandwich from one of those computerized kiosks. As I clicked through the menu, I was given the option of purchasing a regular turkey sandwich or an “all-natural” turkey sandwich for $2.00 more. Immediately, I wondered what “unnatural” mystery fare was in the regular sandwich and decided to fork over the additional $2.00 for “real” turkey. I didn’t want to spend lunch time trying to figure out what kind of abominable meat I was eating (and I decided against discussing the matter with the teenage employee behind the deli counter).

I wasn’t really sure what the difference between the all-natural turkey and the regular turkey really was. I assumed the all-natural turkey was free of preservatives and chemicals like MSG. Then I thought, “Maybe it’s just a scam perpetrated by the convenience store to separate me from my $2.00.” And so this begged the question, when it comes to our food, what exactly does it mean when “all-natural” is stamped on the label?

Obviously, most consumers prefer to purchase products that have natural flavors listed on the label, out of a belief they are healthier. While the FDA restricts the term “natural” to products that contain no artificial color additives and flavors, so-called “natural” foods can still contain a wide range of processed sweeteners, lab-produced “natural” flavors and colors, and preservatives. According to Eric Schlosser in his book, “Fast Food Nation,” “Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods…[and] a natural flavor is not necessarily healthier or purer than an artificial one.”

In the case of meat and poultry (e.g. my turkey sandwich), the “all natural” moniker means that the meat does not contain any artificial ingredients or added color and is only “minimally processed.” However, the term “natural” does not define how animals are raised or fed. This means GMO feed and pesticides, growth hormones, and non-therapeutic antibiotics may still be used.

Have you been fooled by the “all-natural” label on your favorite drink, snack, or turkey sandwich? I know I have. A recent study by the Organic Trade Association found that 86% of consumers expect a “natural” label to mean processed foods that do not contain any artificial ingredients. While this seems like a reasonable expectation, the truth is chemicals like high fructose corn syrup and even genetically modified organisms (GMO) can still be used in “natural” foods. And in case you’re not familiar with the term “GMO,” it is defined as, “plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs…” Yum.

Be sure not to miss the point here. The point is not whether GMO, artificial ingredients, growth hormones, lab-produced flavors, etc. are good or bad for you and your family. There are certainly plenty of consumers that feel strongly one way or the other about these types of things. Further, my goal is not to spark a discussion on business ethics and corporate responsibility, but rather to encourage you to become an educated consumer and not blindly assume (as I used to) that products labeled “natural,” “all-natural,” or “100% natural” are 100% healthy and do not include any potentially harmful chemicals or additives.

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Martial Arts for Life

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Health & Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment