What Does “Natural” Really Mean?

What does the label “natural” mean in ads for junk food? How about “100% natural”? Watch this commercial from the “False Advertising Agency” and you’ll know.

The video is produced by a company behind labeling of organic foods in the U.S.

Even better than looking for labels would be to eat real food. You can find this by using Michael Pollan’s suggested rules. For example, don’t eat anything that never rots, and nothing with ingredients impossible to pronounce (or with more than five of them).

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18 Comments

  1. Gretchen
    I think the rule not to eat anything with ingredients you can't pronounce is stupid. Is a compound with a complex name more dangerous than a compound with a simple name? Most people can pronounce cyanide and arsenic (which we hope won't be put into food). A lot of people might not be able to pronounce selenium or lycopene or alpha-tocopherol.
    Replies: #3, #10
  2. FrankG
    I don't think the fact that the ingredient is hard to pronounce is the key issue here (many unpronounceable chemicals are still "natural") but rather that such a listing serves as a marker of an highly-processed, manufactured food-like substance.

    In general, I buy real, whole food, locally sourced and seasonal from a trusted source... food which does not even need a label.

  3. robert
    The thing is, if you buy real food, the list of ingredients won't have to list all the micronutrients etc., but might just say "eggs, salt, butter, ground nuts". Real food only has real-food-ingredients, and there are common and very old names for these.

    If the list of ingredients resembles a surprisingly long list of chemicals and E-numbers and/or contains vague weasel-words like "vegetable oils", you're looking at processed stuff, supplements or drugs.

  4. Glen0
    Awesome clip, very funny. I love the idea of GMOs being 200% natural because they are a combination of 2 different, 100% natural organisms.
  5. Gretchen
    "I don't think the fact that the ingredient is hard to pronounce is the key issue here." But that's what Pollan said.

    If he said not to eat anything that required an ingredients list, I'd agree with him.

    Anything with "eggs, salt, butter, ground nuts" probably also contains preservatives. They're not required to list things with <0.5 gram, and who knows what's in any prepared food.

  6. tz
    Tobacco.
  7. Mike from L.A.
    Indeed. Alcohol is also natural, as is asbestos and E coli.

    I'm not particularly thrilled with the fact that organic veggies are fertilized with animal feces when regular veggies are fertilized with synthetic nitrates derived from natural gas.

  8. Galina L.
    I am so annoyed with the most popular citation from Michael Pollan (eat mostly plants), that I don't care much about his advice, however I agree with his take on "eatable food substances". I am still happy to live without an abnormal appetite, which was the curse of my life till 46 years old, The key to eating less for me was not exercising discipline or listening to my hunger, but eating eggs and meat daily, while seriously cutting on carbohydrates. I use plants mostly for adding gastronomic value and variety to my food.
  9. bill
    Interest is building for the Central Coast Nutrition Conference
    here in San Luis Obispo, California on March 1st, 2014.
    We're getting calls from all over for this event that features:

    Eric Westman, MD:
    The Latest Science on the Low Carb, High Fat Diet
    Jay Wortman, MD:
    The Ketogenic Diet for Diabetes and Other Chronic Conditions
    Steve Phinney, MD. PhD:
    Inflammation and the Low Carb, High Fat Diet
    Jeff Volek, PhD, RD:
    How your Blood Panel Values Respond to a Ketogenic Diet

    If you will be in Central California in a couple of weeks, this is
    a great opportunity to see and talk with doctors on the cutting
    edge of the LCHF revolution.

    Here's the link to our website:

    http://www.ccnutritionconference.com/Home.html

  10. I think the rule not to eat anything with ingredients you can't pronounce is stupid. Is a compound with a complex name more dangerous than a compound with a simple name? Most people can pronounce cyanide and arsenic (which we hope won't be put into food). A lot of people might not be able to pronounce selenium or lycopene or alpha-tocopherol.

    That's not the point. Stuff with ingredients you can't pronounce is likely to be hyper-processed junk.

  11. NS
    Galina,

    My apologies for the crudeness, have you noticed any (unusual) darkening of your urine since starting your LCHF regimen? Or, if you've had regular blood tests, slight abnormalities in your AST, ALT (liver), or uric acid (kidneys) levels? When I fail to eat sufficient quantities of vegetables (i.e. mostly protein and fat) or drink enough water, I have these issues to deal with. This may just be related to my case; I have many health challenges.

    Thanks.

    Reply: #14
  12. Boundless
    A prominent "Natural" on the package means only one of two things:

    1. The maker is a charlatan, and thinks the customer is a gullible idiot.

    2. Contains no supernatural ingredients.

    As with bold claims of "Gluten Free", "Natural" is a warning label (in the case of GF it usually means high-glycemic junk carbs, but no gluten).

  13. Murray
    Ralph Waldo Emerson's sage advice regarding dinner guests applies equally today to food labelling:

    "The louder he spoke of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."

  14. Galina L.
    No, NS, I noticed nothing of it. I have a blood test two time a year because it is required before a prescription for thyroid hormone replacement gets renewed. I have a dark urine when I fast or fat-fast (just drink 2 - 3 cups of coffee without sugar with heavy cream during the day), I don't do it often now,it used to be once a week. I eat two times a day now, and it is impossible to eat too much veggies on a such regiment. I think the advice to eat mainly vegetables encourages frequent eating, which I disagree with.
    I eat vegetables 1 - 2 times a day as salads, side dishes, soups , but I used to consume much more while being too hungry on a low-fat diet.
  15. NS
    Galina,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.
    Your correspondence is as helpful as ever!
    I agree mostly with what you write.
    Hope you find continued success with your HRT regimen.~~

  16. Mark Johnson
    @bill

    Interest is building for the Central Coast Nutrition Conference here in San Luis Obispo, California on March 1st, 2014.

    I'd love to be in California for the conference but sadly I'm on the wrong side of the Atlantic without the time to attend.

    The line up of speakers looks fantastic.
    Will their talks be live online on the day or on You Tube at some point?

    Reply: #17
  17. bill
    We probably will have a video up after the
    conference. I'll post here when we do.

    http://www.ccnutritionconference.com/Home.html

  18. Galina L.
    Thank you, NS, so far HRT is working.

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