It seems that almost every company today are claiming that their products are all-natural. You can find all-natural food, all-natural clothing, all-natural bedding, even all-natural hair coloring. But are these claims true? And what defines the word “natural”, actually? Webster dictionary describes natural as: existing in or produced by nature : not artificial . So then what does artificial mean exactly? Well, Webster then defines artificial as: humanly contrived often on a natural model. So if you compared the two words, then it appears that artificial derives from nature. But good old common sense can tell you that artificial is usually man-made and not derived from nature. If all of this just sounds too daunting, then imagine what us as consumers can feel when it comes to buying natural products.
The natural food and products industry wasn’t very popular or prominent a few years ago. There was hardly a demand for them and the cost was too high. But as people across the world, and mostly in the United States realized the importance of eating more naturally, the business grew and became almost an overnight sensation. The government and private sectors all had an interest in the natural food and products industry and even mandated organic guidelines and labeling. However, the government has yet to mandate natural ingredients and that’s because there’s a fine line between what companies call their products as “natural”, and what us as consumers really think natural is. And the baffling part is – the owners, stockholders, and employees are also consumers, so wouldn’t they worry about their imprudent claims of their products being “all-natural”? Do they not serve those same products to their own families? Well, one would think so, but then money and power comes into play and us, the real folks who look for natural and organic products are left in the dust.
So how do you really know if a product is made from natural ingredients? In 1990, a law passed in the US that gave the FDA authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods regulated by the Agency; and to require that all nutrient content claims and health claims meet FDA regulations. The FDA is a pretty powerful agency within the United States Federal departments and when the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/Inspections/InspectionGuides/ucm074948.htm) was approved, I think most people rejoiced. Parents knew that the foods their kids were eating were going to be recognizable and they had a choice in whether to buy them or not – based on the list of ingredients. I, for one, always read the label of ingredients first before I buy anything and that goes for food, clothing, cleaning supplies, etc. But reading the labels can be a guessing game too especially when some ingredients do not use generic terms like, “whole wheat” or “apples”. In fact, some words that may look scary, like A. barbadensis is really just the aloe vera plant. So then how do you really know what is natural and why some people label ingredients using their Latin terms?
When it comes to food for instance, you should always make sure they are ingredients that don’t offer potential health risks down the line. For instance, artificial food coloring has certain dyes in them that can prove fatal for some people. Certain ingredients like aspartame, potassium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup can cause harm to your liver and kidneys and make them work harder than necessary to process those toxic ingredients. Although some might argue that minimal ingestion is okay, when you think about it – if you ingest them minimally on a regular basis, then you’re taking in more than you normally should. And artificial ingredients do not have any essential nutritional benefits such as vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy. So when the big companies add nutritional content into their artificially-made food letting you think that you’re getting something better, well, you’re really not. Your best bet is to eat something that came from nature. After all, centuries of evolution proved to us that we as human beings, have learned something from our ancestors. And as we watch people get sick from eating too much junk we come to realize that eventually, we’ll have to make smarter food choices otherwise we might face health problems as we get older. My dad, who is a doctor, always conveyed his important message: “You may enjoy those foods now, but when your body gets older, you’ll regret it”. But when we’re younger, we don’t really care whether that piece of chocolate cake was made from natural ingredients like whole wheat flour, eggs, and cocoa or made with Red 40 or Yellow 5 food dyes. And yes, as young and inexperienced as kids can be, there are many adults who are still oblivious to the dangers of artificial ingredients, or they simply don’t care. That’s why babies and young children need to learn early on that all those fun colors they see on their cupcakes and cookies aren’t necessarily good for them. Sure, they’re fun and tasty, but there are alternatives to those nasty ingredients.
That’s when the natural ingredients come in. Natural food coloring such as beets and purple carrots are used for many types of food such as beverages, frosting, and cakes and they are extracts of red beets and purple carrots. Much healthier than those old-fashioned synthetic food colorings and probably better looking too. Those bright red and pink colors on cupcakes were never really attractive to me in the first place and I steer clear from them whenever my son and I are grocery shopping. Other natural ingredients such as whole wheat flour are more beneficial to you than enriched wheat flour because whole wheat flour is made from the entire berry of the wheat which includes the bran and the germs and thus yielding all of its natural nutrients. Although enriched wheat was brought upon by a deficiency of vitamins and minerals in the US, if we eat food in their natural state, we are actually getting more out of them. Other favorite and popular natural ingredients such as brown rice flour, maple syrup, and sea salt are among the best-tasting ingredients you can find as supposed to artificial sweeteners, table salt, and white flour. And although table salt and white flour derives from salt and wheat, they are heavily processed and thus stripped of their natural nutrients, so in essence, they have become “man-made”.
So as we are getting more aware of natural food and natural products, we must also be aware of reading the labels on those natural food and products. Put the labels to good use – they’re there for a reason – so that you can make a sensible decision on whether to buy that or not for your kids. If you’re ever in doubt, look up the ingredients and determine if they are naturally-derived and if they are beneficial to your health. But be warned, there are also other natural ingredients that can harm you as well. My number one rule is – the lesser ingredients listed, the better. Unless the product your buying is meant to include more all-natural ingredients for taste and nutritional value. Some whole wheat breads contain not only whole wheat, but oat flour, barley, and honey for nutritional benefits.
And as much as we would love to cook all of our meals from scratch, in reality, we really can’t. Time, resources, money, they all factor into the convenience of buying food made by food companies. We just have to be wiser, look harder, and decide what is really natural enough for us and how much of it we should eat. After all, sugar is still natural, but that doesn’t mean we should be pouring it down our throats either. We as parents, even more so, must teach our children to eat more naturally and to make healthier food choices when they are grown up.
Now, how about those natural cleaning products? Well, that’s another story for another time!