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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beware the 'All Natural' Label

This is termed "All Natural", but is it healthy? (Image from Flickr, by dvs)
How many times has someone tried to argue that something is healthy because it's "all natural"?  Has that happened to you?  I've had this discussion a million times, and when you're talking about eating real foods, one would think the "all natural" label would be a welcome sight.

For me, it's not.

The idea of "all natural" should make us feel comfortable about what we're eating.  After all, it means no mad science experiments were involved in the making of our food.  This should be considered a good and welcome thing, and on the surface, it is.

However, there's a flip side (isn't there always?).  As I like to tell people who say things like, "It's healthy.  It's 'all natural'" is that so is arsenic and cyanide.

Yes, it's melodramatic, but it gets the point across quickly. Granted, it has the subtlety of a nuclear strike, but it also leaves no room for a lot of back and forth argument.  Probably not the best way to open dialog, but this has been a pet peeve of mine for years.

It's like this.  All natural can be a good thing.  However, many people use it to absolve themselves of reading the labels.  They simply accept that it's all natural, and that's all they need to know.  It isn't.

A nice, attractive label is a lot like the blue light on a bug zapper.  It makes you feel warm, confident, and safe.  Then, just when you think all is well...ZAP!

There is no thing as a shortcut.  Read. Those. Labels.  Read the ingredients.  The rule of thumb I tend to pass along is if you can't pronounce it, do you really want to eat it?  Even then, words of three syllables are generally not a good idea.

Yesterday, I hit the grocery store.  Most of my purchases were along the outside of the store, which is where the fresh food is.  Pork loin, chicken, beef, broccoli, squash (scored some beautiful yellow squash), zucchini, green beans (Are they paleo?  Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson both seem to argue they are, so I'll roll with them on this one), and a pile of other real, yummy foods.

However, I did snag some stuff from inside the ring.  Most of it paper plates and such, but not all of it.  One of the things I really enjoy is sauerkraut.  I got turned on to it several years ago, and I really like it.  So, I decided to grab some as a side dish to vary up our meals a bit (my wife is very picky about vegetables...I've opener her mind up a bit, but still a way to go).  Out of two varieties at the store, which did I pick?  Simple.  The one with the fewest and easiest to pronounce ingredients.

The idea of all natural sounds great.  However, there are plenty of things in nature that can hurt us.  Intellectually we know it's out there.  We just don't think of it as being "all natural".  Instead, we lump it into another category completely, the one that contains viruses and harmful bacteria most likely, and call it a day.  We don't need to do that.

Instead, use that "all natural" label as a flag, but then do your own examination.  If the ingredient list is short, contains no forbidden items - and every diet has things you're not supposed to eat to some extent - then it's probably good to go.  Just don't let that flag lead to your surrender.

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