Consumer Report: Not-So-Natural Foods

By: Lauren Evans Email
By: Lauren Evans Email

The term “natural” has become a big buzzword on processed food packaging. But Consumer Reports ShopSmart says, be aware it doesn’t always mean what you think. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t adequately define what “natural” means, so a manufacturer can make the claim even when a product contains artificial ingredients.

Which explains how foods like Kikkoman soy sauce can boast that it is naturally brewed, yet contain synthetic sodium benzoate, a preservative. It also means Bosco Chocolate Syrup can brag that it’s “All Natural,” but still list high fructose corn syrup the highly processed sweetener as the first ingredient. And Crystal Light Natural Lemonade sounds wholesome, but it contains things like maltodextrin, artificial coloring agents and BHA, a synthetic preservative. Even Whole Foods own Doctor Snap soda, which proudly calls itself all natural, also contains artificial caramel coloring, which Consumer Reports tests’ found can contain 4-MEI a possible carcinogen.

ShopSmart Magazine says there are ways to detect a misleading “natural” label.

Watch out for wording like:
-- “Made with Natural Ingredients”
-- “Naturally Flavored”
-- “Naturally Brewed”

All are meaningless terms that can make food sound wholesome, even if it’s not. And don’t take labels at face value. You always want to look at the ingredients list. If it contains a bunch of things you can’t pronounce, you probably want to do a little more homework.

Consumers Union, the advocacy wing of Consumer Reports, plans to call for a ban on the use of the word “natural,” on food packaging. Instead it recommends looking for foods that are labeled “organic” a term that is well regulated. is happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules:

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