Label Me This, Label Me That – Dicing The ‘All Natural’ Food Label Riddle

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Often we see packages with “all natural” or just “natural” printed on the box (usually in green lettering). These labels give us a feeling that we are purchasing something that is better for us or more gentle on the planet. Actually the term has no real definition.

Unlike the term “USDA organic”, there are no regulations on usage of the term natural so each company’s definition of natural is….well…..different.


FDA’s 1993 policy states the general rule of thumb for their definition of the acceptable use of the term “all natural” is:

[FDA] has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Use of the term “natural” is not permitted in a product’s ingredient list, with the exception of the phrase “natural flavorings.”

Label me this, label me that

USDA allows the use of the term “natural” to be used in meat and poultry labeling on products that contain no artificial ingredients or added color. The product also must be only minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term natural, for example, no added coloring; minimally processed.

As consumer interest rises in products that do not harm them or the planet, the term “natural” is often used in marketing campaigns to make the consumer feel more comfortable with their purchase.  Consumer Reports National Research Center, surveyed 1000 people and almost 60 percent of people said they look for the term “natural” on food labels when they shop.


One of these food labels is not like the other…

Consumers also assume that products labeled “natural” may be better for you or “healthy” when in fact they may be loaded with sugar, fat, or other items that when consumed in a larger quantity may not be good for your overall health. Looking at the ingredients, calories, and other items on the labels will give you the best indication of how “healthy” the item may be.

  • Foods free of pesticides and GMO’s are easier to identify because the USDA Organic label is monitored and has a set list of requirements including the exclusion of the use of GMO’s in crops and livestock feed. Some small farmers cannot afford the actual organic seal.  Speak to your local farmer and ask questions.
  • If you want to avoid genetically modified products you can search for the USDA organic label or you can look for The Non-GMO Project certification that certifies that the products are free from GMO’s by looking at all aspects of its production (click here for details on their certification process). It is important to note that while all USDA Organic items are GMO free The Non-GMO Project certified items does not always mean they are organic.

The term natural has no agreed upon definition so when searching for products look at the ingredients and determine if you feel like it is “natural” enough for you.

All natural meats meets the ‘well-being’ market


If you are looking for natural skin care products our new Earth911 marketplace is loaded full of eco-friendly well-being products.  Also, The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep is a great resource.  The site will help you determine which ingredients you should avoid as well as hundreds of brands which they have tested and scored.

Do you look for all natural on your product packages?

Feature image courtesy of Erik Kuo

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Leigh Garofalow

Leigh Garofalow is a self described 'born environmentalist' who won a recycling poster contest in 3rd grade and has been green ever since. She is a mother of two children under the age of 6 who think taking a cloth napkin and their own utensils to school is normal. She loves writing about anything related to health, wellness, and the environment. One day she hopes to make every up-cycled item and recipe she pinned on Pinterest!

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