Natural Does Not Mean “Good For You”

Natural Does Not Mean “Good For You”
By: Diana Mirkin, RD., L.D.

Smart consumers know that “All Natural” on a food label doesn’t mean it’s nutritious or healthful.

The list of ingredients on just about any processed food is likely to include either “natural flavors”, “artificial flavors”, or both. Many manufacturers try to use only “natural flavors” because critical consumers believe they are more healthful. But Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, shows that the distinction between natural and artificial flavors is arbitrary and absurd. It’s based more on how the flavor is made than on what it contains. For example, banana flavor comes from the chemical amyl acetate. If you use amyl acetate that has been distilled from bananas with a solvent, it is a Natural Flavor. If you get it by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol, it’s an Artificial Flavor. Since they are chemically identical, taste and smell the same, it’s unreasonable to think that the natural flavor is healthier than the artificial one.

If you think apples don’t taste the way they used to, it may be because your taste buds are now accustomed to food that tastes more like apples than apples themselves, thanks to the chemical wizards in New Jersey who create the “flavors” of chain restaurant foods and most of the foods you buy in a box or a bag. Flavoring formulae are top secret, and manufacturers are not required to list the contents on food labels. The strawberry flavor used in a fast-food milkshake has 47 ingredients.

We’re not saying either natural or artificial flavors are bad for you; all of the ingredients are on the “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) list, and anyway, the amounts used are incredibly small. One drop of the chemical that provides the flavor of green pepper is enough to flavor five swimming pools full of water. But if you want food that’s close to nature, use your eyes: look for fruits, leaves, flowers, stems or seeds. If someone has to print the word “natural” on a box to persuade you, it’s probably not.

Tobacco, cocaine, vodka, marijuana and opium are All Natural, but you wouldn’t want to feed them to your six-year-old. You may feel the same way about fast food if you read Fast Food Nation. And if you think it’s your idea to buy a burger and fries, wait until you read the “Seven Styles of Nagging” your kids learn from their ads.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, Houghton Mifflin, 2001, pp. 125-127.

Let’s just take a few simple steps to make 2008 a Happy Healthy New Year.

Contributed by Nancy Warner, Wellness Educator
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