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Nutrition 101: Natural Foods? That's Not Always the Case

January 7, 2020

In a quest to get healthier, many people gravitate toward products labeled with certain buzzwords. “Natural” is one of those words. As a result, many new products have been popping up with the word “natural” on the label. But what exactly does it mean?

This is a question the FDA is attempting to answer. At this point in time, “natural” has never been officially defined. Many people may not see a problem with this, however, food companies can then use any definition for it. Their definition could vary greatly compared to how the general public defines the word.

Many companies do label “natural” products, such as those that don’t contain artificial sweeteners, flavors or colors, high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or GMO products. However, because there’s no formal definition yet, other products can contain these ingredients and still call themselves natural.

Often, these misleading natural products will be lined up in the health and wellness aisles. Just because these products do not contain artificial ingredients, does not necessarily make them healthy or a good choice.

And while there is nothing wrong with removing these artificial ingredients, be sure to read the label and make sure you are still picking something that aligns with your health goals. For example, if a company has removed artificial sweeteners from its product, check out how much added sugars it contains. Re-read this article for a refresher on added sugars and read more about artificial sweeteners here.

When looking at food label, make your first stop the serving size. All information on the label is based on the serving size. Be sure you are comparing similar serving sizes when comparing two products. Checking the calories is a good way to determine how dense a product is. Keep in mind, if the item is for a snack, typically a lower calorie option is better. If the item is for a meal, a few more calories can be OK.

Many people look at the percentage of daily value instead of actual numbers. These percentages can used to determine if the food product is a high or low source. For nutrients that people typically need more of (like calcium or iron), look for products with a percentage of daily value of 20% or more. When looking at nutrients that we need less of (like saturated fat and added sugars), look for a percentage of daily value at 5% or less.

If you are interested in “natural” products – and you’re concerned about the growing practices companies may use – try looking for the 100% USDA Organic seal or choose more raw, whole foods.

To find out more information on how small changes to your diet can help with your health goals, contact your UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown dietitians at (641) 854-7530 or email dietitians@unitypoint.org.

Find out more information about UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown’s Medical Weight Loss Clinic here.

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