What Do Those “Natural” Ingredients Really Mean?
Organics, free range, all-natural… it’s hard to figure out what all those labels really mean. Just because something says it’s all-natural, is it really better for you? There’s no sure answer, but “natural” definitely doesn’t always mean healthy. In fact, a number of “natural” ingredients are actually seriously unhealthy. So before you grab that all-natural product from the grocery store shelf, take a peek at the ingredient label. If you see any of these ingredients, you’d do best to put the product back.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup is a generic sweetener found in everything from bread to juice to salad dressing. You may have heard about the health problems it can cause, but high fructose corn syrup is still found in many food items that are labeled as natural and especially low-fat foods. High fructose corn syrup adds empty calories to your foods, has been linked to heart disease, and potential adds mercury and other contaminants which can lead to serious brain health problems including vision, hearing and coordination loss. High fructose corn syrup is created in a highly industrialized process, so there’s really nothing natural about it and it’s certainly not good for you.
Evaporated Cane Juice
While evaporated cane juice may conjure up images of natural sugar cane, it’s actually nothing more than white sugar disguised by a more natural-sounding name. Evaporated cane juice is highly processed and lacks any kind of nutritional benefit. Avoid evaporated cane juice and try to swap it for foods with sweeteners that are actually natural, aren’t as highly processed and add nutritional value such as molasses or raw honey.
Fruit Juice Concentrate
Ever noticed “from concentrate” on a carton of juice and wondered what it meant? Fruit juice concentrate is actually just another misleading name for a generic sweetener that’s found in many fresh and frozen juices, fruit-flavored drinks and jams. Fruit juice concentrate adds empty calories to your drink and is particularly high in fructose, an especially unhealthy form of sugar. As tempting as a juice or fruit-flavored drink may be on a hot day, you’ll be happier and healthier if you opt for fresh fruits or snacks with natural sweeteners for refreshment.
After consumer backlash against the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, food companies began substituting those trans fats for palm oil. However, palm oil is just as unhealthy as trans fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and often leads to poor heart health and high cholesterol. Palm oil is most often found in breads, crackers and other baked goods, so be sure to scan those labels particularly carefully. Try to find options made with sunflower or safflower oils, but avoid canola oil or soy oil because they cause many of the same health problems as palm oil.
Enriched flour is found in many grocery store staples, but despite the “enriched” title it is essentially starch that has been refined and bleached. Enriched flour is highly processed and lacks any nutritional value, and the enrichment process that occurs after a rigorous refinement and bleaching process sometimes adds contaminants that make the flour even less healthy. Try to find food made with less refined flour instead.
The takeaway here is to always read the nutrition label all the way through because simply labeling a food as “natural” doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you. Sugars and processed ingredients are often found under misleading names to trap consumers into believing they are healthy ingredients, but don’t be fooled. The best way to avoid these ingredients are to maximize the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables you buy and always read the labels of processed foods. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, a simple quick search will usually tell if it’s healthy or harmful.