When making the effort to eat healthier, looking for ‘natural’ foods can seem like the best way to go.
But according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, of Cleveland Clinic, the ‘natural’ terminology that is often found on food packaging can be misleading, if not, downright deceptive.
Because the Food and Drug Administration has yet to define the term ‘natural,’ right now, companies can put labels on food products to make consumers believe they are getting something healthy, when maybe they’re not.
“It really is about being a smart consumer,” said Kirkpatrick. “Number one, if there’s ingredients in that product that wouldn’t have been in your grandmother’s pantry and definitely not in yours, chances are it might not be very natural.”
Kirkpatrick said there are also plenty of ‘natural’ foods that aren’t necessarily healthy either. For example, a cookie with all natural types of sugar in it, is still just a cookie with sugar.
Flip it over
Kirkpatrick tells her patients to beware of the products with the most ‘claims’ on the front packaging, as they are often using smoke and mirrors. She said it’s important to flip over the package, as the truth lies in the ingredient label, not what you see on the front of the box.
Some red flags are obvious like artificial food coloring, but others, like maltodextrin are harder to recognize.
A good rule of thumb? If it’s difficult to pronounce, it’s probably not natural.
Stick with real foods
As simple as it may sound, Kirkpatrick said the best way for consumers to avoid food marketing pitfalls is to make sure that the food they are buying is actually food – meaning that it’s something that comes from nature, is fed from nature and will eventually rot.
“I tell my patients, when you go to the grocery store, define whether or not what you’re putting in your cart is actually food and if it’s not fitting one of those three definitions or all three, then it’s not and it probably shouldn’t be on your plate,” said Kirkpatrick.
The FDA recently finished collecting input on how to define the term ‘natural’ on food packaging and is expected to make some rules soon on how companies can use such terms in the future.