Natural or Not

Natural or Not

Food is expensive, grocery budgets are tight and moms often wonder
whether “natural” food items are worth the cost. Find out how popular
grocery items stack up and if it pays to buy natural or not.

Navigating the nutrition waters has become increasingly complicated. The
more we read, the more we seem to wonder, and the more nutritional
claims a food makes, the more time we seem to spend scratching our head
in the aisle of the supermarket. There is an increasingly popular trend to
simplify and get back to the basics of good nutrition, and while the term
“natural” seems to embody this ideal, it is not necessarily the better choice.
When most people see the word natural, they think that the food is
naturally healthier, but the rules governing the “All Natural” claim can be
tricky. Having a basic understanding of what the word means and what you
are looking for in a particular product may help simplify your journey.

1.) What does natural mean? According to the FDA,
manufacturers can use the term “all natural” if their product is void of
artificial flavor, coloring ingredients or chemical preservatives, or any other
artificial or synthetic ingredient. Furthermore, the product cannot be more
than minimally processed. Exceptions are allowed for individual
ingredients. Whoa! What does that mean? Basically, a food can be termed
all natural if it doesn’t contain artificial flavors/colors and chemical
preservatives. Notice that the term says nothing about the nutritional
properties of the food.

“All Natural” is not to be confused with organic. To label a food as organic,
farmers must be certified and adhere to a system of on-farm standards for
crop production and animal treatment. The two terms are not synonymous
nor are they interchangeable. Click here to learn
more about organic labeling.

2.) What are you searching for? When you go to the store, have
a clear idea of what your values are and what type of food you are looking
for. Are you looking for whole foods with short ingredient lists? Are you
looking for low-calorie options? Are you looking for the best price? Are you
looking to limit artificial ingredients? Many foods that boast “all natural”
don’t necessarily mean that they are healthier, but your choice depends on
what matters most to you.

3.) Buyer Beware…Does buying “all natural” foods lead you to eat
more? Here we must learn from past mistakes. In the early 1990’s the craze
was to reduce fat. As a result, manufacturers began a marketing craze –
“Low Fat” “Reduced Fat” “Fat Free…” In the ensuing years, Americans did eat
less fat overall, but calorie intake skyrocketed. Two things happened: 1)
without the fat, the flavor and texture of the food changed, so more sugar
was added, boosting calories and refined carbohydrates. 2) The
psychological component – if we think we are making a healthier choice, we
feel justified eating more. In most cases, the caloric, fat, and carbohydrate
content of “all natural” foods vs. their counterparts are exactly the same. If
you are looking to reduce calories, perhaps your choice shouldn’t be which
type of toaster pastries to buy, but whether to buy them at all.

Decisions about what to buy for the following products have been made
based on a few key principles:

· Keep it simple

· Cost / Benefit

· Is there a major health/nutrition difference

Your choices may differ based on your food values (see point #2 above). No
matter what, always aim for eating mostly whole, simple foods. Stick to the
perimeter of the market for the least processed options, and always pay
attention to portion size – “all natural” or not

Potato Chips:
Ruffles Natural Sea Salt Potato Chips
Potatoes, Expeller-Pressed Sunflower Oil, Sea Salt
Calories / Fat / CHO:
140 / 7 / 17

Ruffles Original Potato Chips
Potatoes, vegetable oil, salt
Calories / Fat / CHO:
160 / 10 / 15

Natural/Non & Why
· Both products contain short ingredient lists.
Save your money

Peanut Butter
Adams All Natural PB
Peanuts, containing 1% or less of salt
Calories / Fat / CHO:
200 / 16 / 6

Jiff Creamy PB
Made from Roasted Peanuts and sugar, contains 2% or less of molasses,
fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, mono and diglycerides, salt
Calories / Fat / CHO:
190 / 16 / 7

Natural/Non & Why
· Stick with short, simple ingredient lists

Hansens Natural Cola
Pure triple filtered carbonated water, sugar, natural caramel color, citric
acid, tartaric acid, natural flavors with extracts of kola nuts
Calories / Fat / CHO:
160 / 0 / 41

Original Coca Cola
Carbonated Water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric
acid, natural flavors, caffeine
Calories / Fat / CHO:
140 / 0 / 39

Natural/Non & Why
Non: (go with what you like better)
· This is a toughie – I would say moderation for either
· Fewer calories in a regular coke
· If you want to avoid HFCS, choose Natural

Toaster Pastries

Nature’s Path Toaster Pastries (frosted blueberry)
Wheat flour, evaporated cane juice, evaporated cane juice invert, palm oil,
whole wheat flour, apples, powdered sugar, corn starch, vital wheat gluten,
dextrose, blueberries, rice starch, sea salt, leavening, tapioca starch,
blueberry flavor, honey, molasses, rice bran extract, citric acid, vanilla
flavor, algin, sodium citrate, monocalcium phosphate, whey protein
Calories / Fat / CHO:
200 (per pastry) 4 / 38

Pop Tarts (frosted blueberry)
Enriched flour, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, soybean and
palm oil, sugar, cracker meal, wheat starch, salt, dried blueberries, dried
grapes, dried apples, cornstarch, leavening, citric acid, corn cereal, gelatin,
partially hydrogenated soybean oil, modified corn starch, natural and
artificial blueberry flavor, modified wheat starch, soy lecithin, tricalcium
phosphate, xanthan gum, caramel color added, natural and artifical flavor,
turmeric extract, red #40, vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide, reduced iron,
blue #2, blue #1, B6, B2, Thiamin, folic acid
Calories / Fat / CHO:
200 (per pastry) / 5 / 38

Natural/Non & Why
Natural – in moderation
· This is another one where we are splitting hairs – neither is a great
· Stick with less processed ingredients
· If you are concerned about price and less concerned about ingredients,
go non-natural

Mac & Cheese
Annie’s Natural Mac&Cheese
Organic semolina pasta shells, cheddar cheese (cultured pasteurized milk,
salt, non-animal enzymes), whey, buttermilk, butter, salt, natural sodium
Calories / Fat / CHO:
270 / 4 /47

Kraft Mac&Cheese
Enriched macaroni product, cheese sauce mix (whey, milk, salt, skim milk,
milkfat, milk protein concentrate, modified food starch, contains less than
2% of sodium tripolyphosphate, buttermilk solids, sodium phosphate, citric
acid, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, lactic acid, cheese culture, calcium
phosphate, yellow 5 yellow 6, enzymes)
Calories / Fat / CHO:
Per svg (3svg/pkg) information provided before prep:
250 / 2g / 49

Natural/Non & Why
Natural – in moderation
· This is another one where we are splitting hairs – neither is a great
· Stick with less processed ingredients
If you are concerned about price and less concerned about ingredients, go
Try to find whole wheat pasta noodles – both Kraft and Annie’s Brand make
this option.

Granola Bars
Nature Valley 100% Natural Granola Bars
Whole grain oats, sugar, canola oil, yellow corn flour, honey, soy flour,
brown sugar syrup, salt, soy lecithin, baking soda
Calories / Fat / CHO:
190 (2 bars) / 6 / 29

Kroger Granola Bars
Whole grain rolled oats, sugar, canola oil, crisp rice with soy protein
molasses, honey, salt, soy lecithin, natural flavor, baking soda, mixed
tocopherols (preservative), maple syrup, brown sugar, peanut flour.
Calories / Fat / CHO:
190 / 7 / 29

Natural/Non & Why
NON – go with price here or favor a more truly natural granola bar that has
less added sugar, bars with just fruit & nuts)

Fruit Snacks
Stretch Island fruit strip
Apple puree concentrate, cherry puree concentrate, orange puree
concentrate, natural black cherry flavor
Calories / Fat / CHO:
45 / 0 / 12

Sunkist naturally flavored fruit roll ups
Calories / Fat / CHO:
50 / 1 / 12

Natural/Non & Why
· Simplier ingredients

Raw Sugar
Calories / Fat / CHO:

White Sugar
Calories / Fat / CHO:

Natural/Non & Why
· Go with what you like best. You will pay more for Raw sugar, but some
like its coarser texture.
· Raw sugar is minimally less processed, but it is still pure sugar.
· Both contain the same amount of calories.
· Portion size is key!

Meat: Many meats are labeled “All-Natural,” yet meat, especially
poultry, is
often enhanced – injected with water or saline solutions to make the meat
more tender and improve flavor. These enhancements can constitute up to
15% of the product’s total weight. Labeling laws are being scrutinized to
create more transparency for consumers. Until there is greater clarity, look
at the sodium content and prefer natural, non-enhanced options.

Terms defined here

Kristi Spence is a registered dietician and Director of Health & Wellness at
the Utah Dairy Council
For more information visit;

On Twitter: @DairyUTNV

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