"All natural" is now teetering on the edge of becoming mainstream. Case in point? Pizza Hut. Their new "all natural" pizzas have hit the stores and marked the beginning of...well, something. I'm not entirely sure what though. It seems like a good thing, but is it? If Pizza Hut can use the term "all natural", doesn't it make you question how strict the requirements are for earning that status? Before "all natural" completely takes over, let's take a step back and make sure we know exactly what it does and does NOT mean. Prepare to be shocked!
What "All Natural" DOES Mean:
No Artificial Sweeteners or Colors: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated that nothing synthetic can be labeled "all natural". Artificial sweeteners and colors are the quintessential "synthetic", so those are covered and "all natural" foods won't contain them.
No Artificial Flavors: The FDA defines a natural flavor as one that is derived "from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf" or similar plant (or even animal) material. While this looks good at first glance, you could "derive" many unnatural products from natural plant or animal materials. But at least purely synthetic artificial flavors are not going to be found in "all natural" foods.
What "All Natural" DOES NOT Mean:
"All Natural" Does NOT Mean Organic: Most foods claiming to be "all-natural" are simply stating that they haven't added anything man-made to the animal or plant that you are consuming, such as the variety of chemical preservatives commonly found in our food. However, there is a strong possibility that the plants or animals used in the product were subjected to pesticides, herbicides, genetic modification or chemicals during their growth. On the other hand, the label "USDA organic" has received a national definition in the U.S., and strict rules and regulations to go along with it...which include no use of pesticides, herbicides, genetic modification or chemicals.
"All Natural" Does NOT Mean No High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): This one is unbelievable, but true. The FDA says: "HFCS contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets FDA's requirements for the use of the term 'natural.' HFCS, like table sugar and honey, is natural. It is made from corn, a natural grain product." I have NO IDEA why they say this - HFCS is not found in nature and requires multiple enzymatic treatment steps to be made. "All Natural" should most certainly, DEFINITELY mean NO HFCS. Some companies (such as Schweppes, Kraft and Snapple) have been sued in the past for labeling HFCS ridden drinks as "all natural".
"All Natural" does not mean NO processing: It is virtually impossible to get food that has not been processed unless you are buying it from a farmer's market.
"All Natural" does not mean healthful: Remember that all "natural" things are not necessarily good for you. For example:
-MSG is natural and there is a great deal of concern about its health implications.
-Salt is natural, and so over-abundant in today's foods that most Americans consume 2-3 times more than their recommended daily allowance.
-Sugar is natural. Because "all natural" means no artificial sweeteners are added, some "all natural" foods may be saturated with sugar to compensate. Be sure to check for the amount of sugar on the label.
Going back to the "all natural" Pizza Hut pizza, it has 220 calories, 8 grams of fat and 460mg of sodium per small slice...a far cry from being healthful. How did Pizza Hut do on the “natural” part? Well, it looks like the ingredients really are natural, although the pepperoni contains “natural flavors” and as we know, that could mean just about anything.
So what does this all mean? Unfortunately, it means that it’s not that simple to make sure that you really are eating what most of us would consider to be “all natural” food. That being said, many "all natural" foods really are what we would think of as "all natural". We have to stay vigilant and informed so that we make the right food choices and I will do my best to bring you the most important information.