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Site of the Day - January 23, 2007 on Action 4 News Sunrise.



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January 2007

Is Food Labeled Natural, Really Natural

Author: Chef George Krumov


There is a recent trend by food manufacturers to label certain food products as "natural" and charge more money for it.

But is it really natural?:
There isn't a clear definition of what is considered natural food and when this word should be used on food labels. Since more and more consumers become aware of the bad health effects of nitrites and MSG (including ingredients with a lot of free glutamates), those are the ingredients that the "natural" designation want to conceal. I see in every grocery store bacon, hot dogs and ham labeled as "Natural Selection" or "natural", from many different food companies. The ingredients on such packages are collectively advertised as "only the good stuff", and they usually are: pork, water, sea salt, vinegar, cane sugar, cultured celery extract, spice, dehydrated garlic, and smoke. Doesn't sound very bad, does it. Not until you have a second thought. The two underlined ingredients are the ones that I would like to point to your attention.

Cultured celery extract:
All processed meats are required to contain nitrites as a preservative. Since more consumers are becoming aware of the adverse health effects of nitrites, the food manufacturers have found how to disguise this ingredient. Let me tell you, this is not celery, this is nitrite obtained from celery. The term "cultured" usually applies to bacteria, not to vegetables. If you reached in the grocery store for the package labeled "natural", as I did, you probably didn't know that cultured celery extract is the same as nitrite. Now you know that, and if you still need to read some more about that and confirm it, just search the web for "what is cultured celery extract".

Aren't food labels required for that exact reason; to tell me what kind of "spices" they are using in the product they want to sell to me? In this case I believe that the word "spices" replaces MSG or most likely other forms of glutamic acid such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, soy protein concentrate and so on. Otherwise, why this secrecy? The dehydrated garlic is also a spice, but it is listed on the label. Let's face it, there is no way to make processed food taste good without the use of some form of glutamates. You just cannot grind some junk and make it taste good for human consumption without some form of msg, and my belief is that "spices" stands for msg. If you don't believe it, research it further. There is no other reason for a food manufacturer to write "spices" on a label, if it was something good. If it is paprika, you write paprika; if it is ginger powder, you write ginger powder, it is as simple as that. They are not entitled to secrecy when our health is on the line.

Another laughable claim on those kind of healthwashed food packages is "made only with real beef". I have never seen any unreal animals so far in my life, have you? This is just another example of using the word "real" as though it is something really good. A cow grown on antibiotics and steroids is as real as an organically grown cow. So, in this case, the word "real" means nothing, really.

My advice: If you can't completely avoid eating processed food, you should at least reduce it. Remember, moderation is the key to a healthy life. And, also, pay more attention to foods labeled as "natural", "real", "only the good stuff" and "no preservatives". Those claims might as well be lies. You are the one who has the power to stop that, and demand better food from the companies to whom you are paying your hard earned dollar. Are the food manufacturers going to change, due to customer awareness? May be, but not too much. Without using some form of preservatives and artificial flavor enhancers, the processed food would be simply unsaleable. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to be informed, and to protect your own health. Good luck.

Chef George Krumov

Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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