October 6, 2006, Newsletter Issue #18: Buying All Natural -- Is It Worth It?

Tip of the Week

When you shop in a specialty store, a health food store, or even the organic or “natural” section of your grocery store, you'll be barraged with products that are labeled as “all natural.” What, exactly, does that mean? And are all natural products worth the extra money?

One thing to remember when buying “all natural” is that an all natural label does not automatically mean less calories, fat, or carbs. In fact, often all natural products are laden with sugar (sweeteners like cane sugar and honey are, indeed, all natural) or carbohydrates (whole grain bread, brown rice, and the like may be all natural but still high in carbohydrates). So if you're looking for a reduced-something diet, don't assume that all-natural is automatically the way to go. Even though all natural does not mean reduced fat, calories, or carbs, in general all-natural is a healthier way to go.

All-natural foods are made without traditional preservatives (all those ingredients you can't pronounce on the label) and use “alternative” sweeteners and preservatives that are made from fruit, vegetables, and other natural sources. Some not-so-great things you'll avoid if you stick with all-natural food are trans fats and corn syrup.

Trans fats (anything labeled “partially hydrogenated”) came into being in the 1950s and for a long time were widely used in food as a preservative. Recently, some doctors and nutritionists are reporting alarming side effects of trans fats (among them, a link between trans fats and heart problems), and many people are trying to stay away from them. Corn syrup is another ingredient often found in prepackaged food, and it is usually used as a sweetener. Like with trans fats, many doctors are now warning against excessive consumption of corn syrup, citing a link between corn syrup and a higher risk for diabetes.

One other thing to consider when buying all-natural food is that since they use less preservatives, the shelf life of all-natural foods is often shorter than their non-natural counterparts.

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