Buyer Beware of “Natural” - ONIE Project

Buyer Beware of “Natural”

Posted by ONIE Project on 04/30/2015

ONIE Project:Checking for Real Natural Products

Many food items are labeled as “natural” on the front of the food package and we often think these foods are safer or at least healthier.  In fact, research shows that most us believe that food items labeled as natural do not contain pesticides, artificial flavors or colors, preservatives, antibiotic, growth hormones, and we may think they are not made from genetically modified organisms or GMOs[1]. Caution is needed; using the word natural on food products is only a marketing strategy.

Natural does not convey any information about the product or how it is made.  In fact, the only way to know what it is in your food is to turn the package around and read the ingredient list.

ONIE Project:Checking for Real Natural Products

 ONIE has a few tips to make it easier for you:

  • Tip One: Look for foods with shorter ingredient lists.
    • If there is a long list of ingredients, then it usually means the food item is not natural and is more processed.
  • Tip Two: Look for familiar ingredients.
    • A food item is probably not natural if it contains an ingredient that you cannot pronounce.
    • For example, sodium benzoate is a chemical preservative and is not natural. Yet, it is legal to label a product with sodium benzoate as natural. Buyer beware! Research studies have shown that this ingredient increases hyperactivity among children[2], and when in soft drinks may react with vitamin C to make benzene, a cancer causing substance[3]. 
  • Tip Three: Is the ingredient in your kitchen?
    • This is another tip for identifying familiar ingredient. Most likely, your kitchen does not have sodium acid pyrophosphate. If it is not in your kitchen, chances are that the product with this ingredient is not natural. 

ONIE Project:Checking for Real Natural Products

Watching for the ingredients in products can be a bit overwhelming and confusing. We have a few other tips to help you choose foods that are more natural.

  • Tip One: Choose more fresh, whole, and unprocessed foods like apples, bananas, grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers.
  • Tip Two: Shop mainly around the outer edges of the grocery store. This means limit your time in the middle aisles that contain chips, cookies, soda, etc.
  • Tip Three: Reach for the whole grain breads and whole wheat flour because these are less refined. Canned and frozen vegetables can also be a good choice, if you choose items with no added salt and few added ingredients. Just remember to read your ingredient labels.

The ONIE Team

ONIE Project

  1. Consumer Reports National Research Center. (2014). Food labels survey: 2014 nationally- representative phone survey. Yonkers: Author.  Retrieved April 30, 2015, from
  2. McCann, D., Barrett, A., Cooper, A., Crumpler, D., Dalen, L., Grimshaw, K., . . . Stevenson, J. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet, 370(9598), 1560-1567. doi:
  3. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2015, March). Data on benzene in soft drinks and other beverages. Retrived April 30, 2015, from





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