The word “natural” shows up on a lot of foods, even though it has no official meaning.
The FDA has been declining to define the term for decades, and the USDA says fresh meats and poultry and all eggs products are “natural” as long as they contain “no artificial ingredient or added color and [are] only minimally processed.” This means that basically anything can be labeled as “natural.”
1. Crystal Light Natural Lemonade
Can you spot anything actually found in nature in this product?
Ingredients: Citric Acid, Potassium And Sodium Citrate, Aspartame, Magnesium Oxide, Contains Less Than 2% Of Natural Flavor, Lemon Juice Solids, Acesulfame Potassium, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Color, Yellow 5 Lake, BHA (Preserves Freshness).
2. Blue Diamond Almond Breeze
There are a lot of reasons to choose almond milk over regular dairy, but consumers should realize that even though it says “all natural,” it is still a highly processed product. That means it has a number of highly processed ingredients including added synthetic vitamins and carrageenan, an additive extracted from seaweed, whose safety has been questioned by some scientists.
3. Peach Mangosteen Snapple
This Peach Mangosteen Snapple claims to be “naturally flavored,” but it doesn’t list any actual mangosteen in the ingredients. Instead, the drink uses flavoring from concentrates of pear and carrot, which explains how one bottle has 40 grams of sugar. (Concentrates are made from real fruit, but the processing often loses the fruits’ nutritional content, leaving mostly sugar behind.)
4. Natural Country Nectars Premium Guava
Besides water, there is more high fructose corn syrup in Natural Country Nectars Premium Guava than any other ingredient, including actual guava (and even the guava has been processed into “concentrate”). You’ll also find common additives like guar gum, processed from guar beans and used in non-food industries including hydraulic fracking, textiles, and construction, and xantham gum, which is made from mixing sugars with a certain strain of bacteria.
6. Hormel Natural Choice
Despite being a processed product, the ingredients list on Hormel’s Natural Choice Deli Ham is relatively straightforward, especially compared to the company’s “low sodium” non-“natural” alternative — which still has 440mg of sodium per serving, btw. But the word “natural” has no bearing on how the animal was raised, including, for example, whether it was fed antibiotics and/or hormones, or given enough room to move around.
7. Butterball Ground Turkey
Like with other meat products, “natural” here does not say anything about how the turkeys were raised. (However, while “all natural” poultry can still be raised with antibiotics, unlike with cows and pigs, it is illegal to give them hormones.) Both chickens and turkeys have also been selectively bred to have extra large breasts, and in the case of turkeys, those breasts are so large that the only way they can reproduce is through artificial insemination.
8. Walden Farms Salad Dressings
Seeing the words “calorie free” on any food should give you pause — all food has calories. But that is triply true when the words are on creamy bacon salad dressing and accompanied by the “all natural” claim. This particular dressing has a mix of recognizable ingredients — salt, Dijon mustard — and mysterious ones — imitation bacon, xantham gum and sodium benzoate. (The sodium benzoate at least partly explains how despite having “zero calories,” one serving can have 160mg of sodium.)
9. Canada Dry Ginger Ale
The “natural flavors” in this soda include high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate, and caramel color. Actual ginger isn’t even on the ingredients list, despite what it says on the bottle.
10. Sparkling Ice Cherry Limeade
Things that do not occur in nature: potassium benzoate, ester gum (made from wood), and Red #40.
11. Mott’s Medleys
Pro-tip: If you’re looking for a snack with natural fruit flavors, try fruit, which come with real vitamins, delicious flavors and textures, and none of the mystery ingredients found in this product. Carnauba wax, for example, is a palm-based wax used in this product, as well as in household cleaners and car paint.
12. Tyson Fun Nuggets
Because this is a processed meat product and not a fresh one, the FDA regulates it and not the USDA. Therefore, the USDA requirement that “natural” meats can only be minimally processed doesn’t apply and Tyson can still use the term on flavored, breaded dinosaur shaped chicken. (Like with other meat products, the “natural” label says nothing about how the animal was raised.)
13. G2: Natural Gatorade
Discontinued last November, Pepsi said the product “did not resonate with [its] core consumer.” It failed to mention whether its “core consumer” was actually just very confused by the notion of “natural” Gatorade.
Looking for something actually natural? Check the ingredients, contact the company, or take Michael Pollan’s advice and only eat something your grandmother would have recognized as food.
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