What Are "All-Natural" Foods?

“All natural” foods, also sometimes known as organic foods, have a reputation of being more healthy than foods without the label. This is not necessarily true, at least when considering a food’s nutritional value, although there can be a number of potential health and social benefits to choosing to purchase and eat natural foods. Understanding exactly what “all natural” refers to, though, should be an important part of your decision to spend the extra money on natural foods if you so choose.

Method of Production

“All natural” food, when organic, usually refers to the method of production. Organic farmers try to use only natural methods of producing produce and dairy. That means no chemical pesticides or fertilizers in fields and no growth hormones in animals. Animals are typically free-range or at least not confined to factory-like settings as well. To receive the label of “organic,” a food must have been prepared in a manner in which 95% of the production didn’t involve unnatural pesticides, hormones or fertilizers. Only those labeled “100% organic” use no unnatural chemicals whatsoever during the production.

Be aware, though, that foods not produced organically are not necessarily bad for your health. In fact, there has been no conclusive evidence that non-organic food is unhealthy, as long as you wash and prepare your food properly. However, you may choose to embrace organic “all natural” foods simply because you don’t want to take the risk. Or, you may choose to purchase organic in order to support the farmers who choose to pollute less and be more humane to animals.

Method of Preparation

“All natural” foods may also refer to the method of food preparation if you’re examining a box of cereal or some other good that you can’t get straight from the farm. It may mean that there are no additives or chemicals in the product, which can be a health benefit, but it does not guarantee that the food itself is low in calories, fat or sugar. In fact, sugar itself–as well as its common substitute, high fructose corn syrup–is an all natural product. If you prefer to keep chemical additives out of your body–which are not necessarily detrimental to your health, but it’s a debatable subject–the food’s nutritional value may be irrelevant anyway, in which case you should purchase “all natural” foods.

A Caveat about the Label

Unlike the term “organic,” which is actually subject to the USDA’s standards, “all natural” foods are not necessarily subject to a uniform standard. Some foods are “all natural” and “organic,” but some are not organic at all. One food manufacturer’s determination of what’s “all natural” may be different than another’s.

Lack of Nutritional Differences

You should remember that “all natural” does not automatically mean that a food is more or less nutritious than other foods. Watch the nutritional value labels if you’re concerned about a food’s level of nutrition. Even organic foods are not necessarily more or less nutritious than non-organic foods.

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