Dear Dietitian – What are natural foods?

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Published Sunday, October 21, 2018
PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
by Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers,

What images come to mind when you think of a natural food?  An apple freshly picked from a tree?  A loaf of bread fresh out of the oven?  Fresh green beans right out of the garden?

Some food manufacturers are finding themselves in hot water for labeling their foods as "natural" when maybe they're not so natural after all.  Food companies are cashing in on the "natural" perception, as consumers often believe these products are better for them and are willing to pay more. 

After settling a lawsuit, General Mills agreed to remove "Made with 100% Natural Whole Grain Oats" from their Nature Valley granola bar labels. Another lawsuit was filed against Natural Beverages Corporation, parent company of LaCroix drinks, who label their drinks as "natural." The suit alleges that the drinks contain artificial ingredients, but LaCroix strongly denies the claim. It should be noted that just because an ingredient is artificial does not mean it is harmful.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being called on to create parameters for using the term "natural" on food labels. According to the FDA,it has considered the term "natural" to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. The FDA did not consider whether the term "natural" should describe any nutritional or other health benefit (

Normally I am not a proponent of lawsuits, but in this situation, anything that protects the consumer is a good thing. In the meantime, we await the FDA's regulatory definition of the term "natural."


Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian with over fifteen years of experience. Have a question?  Email Leanne at may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase products or services through links in an article. Prices, when displayed, are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time. Commissions do not influence editorial independence.

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