J500 Media and the Environment

Buying into Food Labels by micolea

As I stroll down the aisle of my local grocery-store, my eyes are suddenly drawn to a box with an appetizing picture of caramel-coated, chocolate popcorn on it. I pick up the package and take a closer look. The box is labeled Smart Food. Intrigued, I scan the package and find in very fine print the words, “naturally flavored.” I must confess, the crafty marketing of this food product hooked me and without thinking anymore about it, I tossed the “naturally flavored” popcorn into my cart.

As I drove home, I began to ponder over what the term “natural” meant. Words like wholesome, healthy and pure came to mind.

Boy, was I in for a surprise!

As a frequent food shopper and someone who tries to buy organic food when I can, I like to consider myself a fairly health-conscious consumer. Yet, still, I am often confused by the terms on food labels. When it comes to food guidelines and standards, what does it mean when a product is labeled as natural? For the consumer, it can be extremely difficult to interpret such labels and attempt to figure out the meaning behind it.

When I see the word natural on a food label, it immediately sends a signal to my brain that this food must be healthy and sans artificial sweeteners. Little did I know, there is no standard definition for natural. Though, there is an exception: meat and poultry. The USDA has defined natural as “not containing any artificial flavorings, coloring ingredients, other artificial or synthetic ingredients or chemical preservatives and is not more than minimally processed.”

Is this definition truly ruling out all artificial additives such as high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils? Most likely, it’s not. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate use of the word natural. Which means processed foods, vegetables and fruits can contain artificial sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Even certain brands of whole grain breads have not escaped the wrath of high fructose corn syrup.

To be sure you are not eating any artificial additives, sweeteners or chemicals, be sure to read the ingredient label meticulously. We have the right, as consumers, to be choosy about what we eat. So the next time I go food shopping and see a label that reads, “all natural,” there will no longer be any confusion. I will be able to differentiate between sly marketing and the truth.

Micole Aronowitz


2 Comments so far
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Labels are definitely very confusing. Even the organic label is complicated. There is 100% Organic, Organic (which means that 95% of the ingredients are organic) and “made with organic ingredients” (which means made of 70% organic ingredients). I keep a list in my purse of ingredients whose names are too long for me to remember that should be avoided. I am curious… what what the “natural flavor” in your popcorn? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev


When I examined the ingredient label, I was suprised to find that the “natural flavors” were not identified. It is simply listed as natural flavors but not further specified. Though, on the ingredient label, “natural flavor” was listed twice and the second time, in parenthesis, next to it said, “including milk.” I’m not sure if that means one of the natural flavors is milk or that milk is used in the processing. Thanks for your question!

Micole A.

Comment by micolea

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