Sounds great, doesn’t it? What do you think of when you read this phrase? I’d like to say I think of crisp lettuces, fresh from the garden, a homemade all veggie juice or perhaps a raw kale salad with some wild salmon sashimi.
Notice what all of the above have in common?
So while it’s probably safe to say that if you’re eating these types of food on a regular basis, you really are eating naturally, fresh food, there’s no telling what you may be in for if you eat a packaged item labeled as such.
Case in point: I’m on a flight this morning to Philadelphia and I do my usual once over of the tray of food the person sitting next to me is presented with.
One might argue that it could do in a pinch.
Keeping in mind that the plain chicken breast is likely not pasture-raised and the small side salad is not likely to contain organic greens, there are certainly worse options one might entertain, such as the person on the other side of the aisle, partaking of the cheese-ravioli option.
Let’s hold the conversation about whether or not it even makes sense to eat at all during a flight and focus on what caught my eye in particular.
No, it wasn’t the person eating pasta (hey, unless it’s a client of mine, I’m not poking my nose into someone’s business. How annoying would that be!?).
It was something in a small container, labeled Naturally Fresh.
In this instance, it was a one-ounce serving of balsamic vinaigrette.
Sounds innocent enough, right?
If someone chooses to follow a more or less paleo-inspired eating approach and opts to have the occasional drizzle of balsamic, there are far worse things they might eat that aren’t technically by-the-book paleo OK than vinegar in a small dose.
However, this wasn’t actually just good old balsamic with olive oil.
I did a little investigating on Google and found the brand being served.
Here’s what it contains:
Water, soybean oil, vinegar, sugar, olive oil, maltodextrin, salt, dehydrated onion, balsamic vinegar, stabilizer (mono and di glyceride), guar gum, xanthan gum, polysorbate 80, garlic powder, spices, nonfat dry milk, dehydrated green and red pepper, caramel color, natural flavor, xanthan gum (food fiber), lemon juice powder, silicon dioxide to prevent caking, ending with a disclaimer stating that it contains milk.
Seems three of the top major US GMO crops are well represented:
- Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
- Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop)
- Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop)
And how nice that we see not one, but two mentions of xanthan gum! We’re sure to have a consistent, uniform product that will not ever cake, will never spoil, will never change in taste or consistency and that you can likely keep on your shelf for a good two decades.
Forget about what you choose to eat and whether it’s paleo or vegan or gluten free. How on Earth could anything with a label 23 ingredients long, some of which are not even identifiable as food be considered Naturally Fresh?
In this case, it’s simply because the company happens to be called as much. In fact, their address even attempts to illustrate it further as the label indicates that this little container of salad dressing was manufactured by N.F.I. (one can only assume this stands for Naturally Fresh, Incorporated?), located on, you guessed it, Naturally Fresh Blvd. in Atlanta.
Sure, we can name our products anything we want; there’s no law that I’m aware of anyway, that says one cannot create a food product and call it anything they like.
But on a larger, scale, what goes into determining whether or not the USDA sees something as being natural or not?
It’s every bit as alarming as you might suspect, sadly.
It takes nearly three pages for the FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) arm of the FDA to outline in legal jargon what does and does not equal natural in their Food Standards and Labeling Policy book.
Suffice it to say that because there are few regulations governing the labeling of “natural” foods, food manufacturers can include ingredients that may not be considered natural by some consumers.
Bottom line: read between the lines on an ingredient panel!
Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that an ounce of soy-based, preservative laden, corn syrup infused dressing is a good idea.
While it won’t kill you if you were to eat it now and then, why suffer the consequences of eating such highly processed ‘food’?
Opt to eat as many things as possible that don’t come in packages with labels in the first place and if you must, be sure, at the very least, that you can identify each item in the list as a food and that the list is short. The fewer ingredients the better!
As for preserving and stabilizing… how about just buying a smaller container that you’ll use up quickly instead.
Preservatives in food end up as preservatives in you.
 Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book. USDA.