Natural' Has No Regulated Meaning
There are a lot of buzz words flying around the food industry. Many of them are in reaction to shifts that are resulting from people seeking healthier food choices. Big Industry is struggling with the trend to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, and many words are being tossed around to convince shoppers that products are healthy, even when they are not.
Words like organic, natural, vegan, vegetarian, and even high-fiber, and the diet products words like diet, low-fat, reduced-fat, and light all are either unregulated terms or they have a very specific meaning that doesn't necessarily make them good choices. Organic-only references the farming practices used to grow or raise food. Natural actually has no regulated meaning at all. Vegan only means there are no animal products in the food at all. Gluten-free is only healthier for people with gluten sensitivities, and doesn't have anything to do with healthy diet otherwise. Vegetarian means no meat.
Diet, low-fat, reduced-fat and light reference products in comparison with similar ones, and usually either have less fat or artificial sweetener. Less fat, however, doesn't mean less carbs or salt, and usually means there are artificial means of getting a good texture, such as low-fat sour cream. Shopping the perimeter, reading labels, and cooking for oneself is really the way to go.
Shopping local and seasonal meats, poultry, eggs and produce make lots of sense financially and health-wise. Choosing organic produce, meats, and dairy products when they make sense may be a good health choice as well, but beware confusing organic and healthy. Packaged, processed, and shelf stable foods are not necessarily evil in themselves compared to their whole-food counterparts, but gauging what is in them is difficult.
With things like granola for instance, if one makes their own, or chooses home-made muslix instead, one can reduce the big dose of vegetable oil that is used to make them, and can choose sweeter dried fruit while reducing processed sugars. Shifting habits when one is so familiar with their food because it was made at home is much simpler. It's also easier to watch portions when one knows just how much oil one is taking in with each bite.
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