by Mallory Carlson ‘19
From those who routinely eat a balance of protein, vegetables, and whole grains each meal to those who simply buy fruit at Roots to arrange it in an aesthetically pleasing way for social media while actually eating a cupcake they also picked up, the #cleaneating tag, used to promote eating “real” or “clean” foods, has staked its place in the world of trends and helped carry the rising popularity of natural foods.
Ideally all “clean” foods are not packaged or processed, are healthy, and are, the key word here, natural. Natural food has become the angle for many food producers, like Roots or Whole Foods. Most average grocery stores have a food aisle with a host of products that advertise themselves as natural, but in reality cannot promise anything because of the vagueness surrounding the meaning of the word.
The FDA has not formally defined natural, so its use is not regulated by any law and companies can use it freely. There are some producers who make quality products and use the “natural” advertising in an honest way to promote healthy items, but there are also products that advertise themselves as natural when really they contain artificial components or chemicals. An example is Del Monte fruit cups—Consumer Reports found they contain artificial preservatives, despite the “natural” label.
It’s not just artificiality in products that people need to worry about—there are ingredients that have become trendy in the #cleaneating world that are misleading. Agave, a nectar that’s used to sweeten many products, causes many people to see only the absence of cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup on the ingredient list and not think twice, but Agave is about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and usually highly processed before being added to a product. Similarly, coconut oil is perceived as a healthy choice, as it comes from a fruit, but it’s still a mostly saturated fat, which isn’t a healthy fat (like what’s in avocados).
A lot can be hiding behind an ingredient label, so before Instagramming that “natural” snack, take a look beyond the packaging to find out what you’re really eating.