Q: What makes a food “natural”? It seems I see “natural” on all kinds of things these days that I wouldn’t expect to be natural.
Answer: The short answer is that natural is not legally defined, so there isn’t much done to stop anyone from calling a product natural. The Food and Drug Administration simply says that it “does not object” to the term as long as there are no added colors, synthetic substances or artificial flavors.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates food containing meat, poultry or eggs. It says natural means foods that are “minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients.” Other than that, there are no limits. So although you could never go pick a loaf of bread off a tree, it can still be natural.
And since there is no specific definition and no way to determine whether a food is natural or not, there is no way to measure whether natural foods are more nutritious, safer or in any other way more beneficial than foods that are not labeled natural. In many cases it is more of a marketing ploy to get us to buy more of that brand, or to charge more. Buyer beware!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.