Beware of natural foods, unnatural labels

Labels promoting “healthy” foods are not always as straightforward as buyers might believe they are.

by Keelia Moeller

The dieting industry seems to be losing more and more popularity, according to MPR News. Lean Cuisine’s frozen food sales have dropped 15 percent between 2014 and 2015, and diet pill sales have dropped by 20 percent over the past year.
We could attribute this, in part, to the fact that people have tried and failed to lose weight through diet programs like Jenny Craig or Medifast. However, this may not be the only contributing factor to the decreasing popularity of diet foods. 
While society’s obsession with weight loss remains unchanged, nowadays it seems more people are hoping to get thin by means of healthy eating. This means focusing on fresh, natural ingredients and gluten-free, vegan or non-GMO foods, rather than paying attention primarily to calorie counts. 
But the fact is, there is no concrete scientific link between many health food fads and effective weight loss. Regardless, the craze for “health food” has diet companies scrambling to keep up with the consumers’ desires.
As a result, corporations are throwing labels like “cholesterol-free,” “gluten-free,” “sugar-free” and “all-natural” every which way, taking advantage of customers who are desperate to lose weight.
For example, Weight Watchers brags of its “natural,” home-cooked meals. This appeals to the growing body of consumers who want to make their diets healthier. But the Weight Watchers products are actually processed, low in fiber and high in sodium. 
Similarly, Lean Cuisine has added “no preservatives,” “gluten-free” and “non-GMO” labels to its products, without changing their formulas. The labels do not misrepresent the products, but they only exist to advertise what consumers want — “health” food. 
New labels don’t change the fact that meals like Lean Cuisine’s typically don’t include sufficient amounts of fruits or vegetables. Furthermore, the low-calorie nature of the meals tends to come from their very small portions. 
Complicating the problem of unclear food labels is the fact that there’s an enormous disparity between what different consumers think “natural” means. For example, a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey revealed two-thirds of people believe “natural” food is produced without artificial ingredients, genetic modification or pesticides. 
In reality, however, the Food and Drug Administration has no  strict guidelines regarding the term “natural.” The word doesn’t always mean “good for you.” 
The same survey revealed that one-third of people (wrongly) believe “raised without antibiotics” to mean that the animal was given no drugs at all. 
At the end of the day, too many consumers are blindly following labels that promote healthy food without realizing what these labels really mean. In turn, food companies are taking advantage of how utterly misinformed their customers are, selling them foods that might not be as healthy as they think. 
Those who want to take their health or their weight loss regimen seriously need to do more investigation into the processes which produce the labels on their food. 
Keelia Moeller welcomes comments at [email protected].