Written on the 8th of December 2009 by Don Tolman

Taking a Closer Look at “Natural” Foods

If you could bite down on a crispy, crunchy potato chip that was “natural”, tasted great and totally good for you, you’d probably buy it, right?

Makers of potato chips, corn chips, pancake mixes, frozen waffles, frosted breakfast cereals, ice cream and other taste tempters think so too. That’s why the word ”natural” appears so frequently on food packages these days. Marketing experts know that, for many consumers, “natural” equals “healthy”, and “healthy” sells.

In fact, the word ”natural” on a food package means next to nothing because ”natural” has no meaning in law or regulation. For these reasons, the use of ”natural” on food products all too often detracts attention from more important considerations.

“Natural” and “Organic” may even be misleading if it implies that the product is free of chemical additives (often not the case) or that competitors’ products are “un-natural” and therefore bad for you.

Almost all foods today are processed in some way, and unless you are able to buy exclusively from a farmers’ market or grow your own fruits and vegetables, much of what you eat have seen the inside of a lab, factory or high-tech warehouse. Food science has become so sophisticated that it can be difficult to know where natural and organic ends and unnatural and organic begins.

There are breakfast cereals made from organically grown wheat with raisins made from organically grown grapes. But the cereal itself can have lots of preservatives. Or it may contain lots of added aluminized salt and processed sugar which are ”natural,” but in the quantities that you find in breakfast cereals, they’re not healthful and can be very harmful. Even natural and organic foods require some degree of processing. “Is it organic? Is it natural? Well, NO.” Not if natural in this case means: “the way nature made it”.

When it comes to shopping for items in the fresh fruit and vegetable aisles, be aware that the nutritional content can vary considerably from store to store. A good question is, how long ago were they picked? You never know for sure how long fruits and vegetables have been on the shelf or even on the truck in the warehouse.

Fruits and vegetables loose nutritional value over time. If they are fresh when you bring them home be sure to eat them within 3 or 4 days of purchase or they will have lost so much of the nutritional value you’d be better off buying frozen.

So what’s my recommendation? Wherever possible, buy organic, locally grown produce that has recently been picked. It’s best not to buy produce that has been transported, stored and refrigerated for days and weeks on end, even if it does carry an “organic” label. First and foremost, I always choose fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables and enjoy them within the first few days of taking them home.

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