‘Natural’ food is good for us … right?

When you see the word “natural” prominently displayed on a package of food, what do  you think of?

Organic? Healthy? Free of artificial ingredients you can’t pronounce? Devoid of genetically modified organisms?

In reality, the word “natural” doesn’t mean much of anything.

Take Kraft Natural Cheese. It contains the antifungal natamycin, which is also used as a pesticide, to slow down mold growth, says Consumer Reports.

And Wesson Vegetable Oil claims it is “Pure and 100% Natural,” but Consumer Reports points out that the oil is made from soybeans, which are genetically engineered to withstand herbicides.

The consumer organization reports that nearly 60 percent of grocery shoppers look for the word “natural” on food packages, but most of us assume that label means more than it actually does.

Why the confusion?

The Food and Drug Administration has no official definition or standards that companies must meet if they want to put a “natural” label on their packaging. Consumer Reports, other advocacy groups and consumers aim to change that.

They’ve called for the FDA to ban use of the word all together, or at least to give it a meaningful definition with criteria companies must meet before they can use it.

In response, the FDA is currently calling for consumers to weigh in on what they think “natural” should mean.

Perhaps the result will help us shoppers looking for healthier meal alternatives avoid confusion — and frustration — the next time we head to the store.

Got a health question? Email healthmatters@ajc.com.

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