Food Myths Debunked: Are "Natural" Foods Better for You?

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When given the option, many of us will choose a “natural” food over one that is processed. We even choose foods labelled as natural over those labeled “better for you.” There is something about the word “natural” that makes us comfortable, and we believe it contains only ingredients that are good for us.

They are natural, so they cannot be bad right? However, it seems that these natural foods may not be as good for us as they want us to believe. Let’s take a closer look at the latest in a series of Food Myths Debunked.

How to Uncover the Truly Natural Foods

Processed foods try to con us into buying them by using sugar-free and reduced-fat labels. These are designed to look healthy when in reality they are not. Thankfully, most people are catching on to this and avoid foods with these supposedly healthy labels.

When it comes to healthy foods there are a few things you need to remember to help you choose the items that are truly healthy for you. This way you can avoid the ones that only claim to be.

Step #1: Check Your Ingredients  

To date, the FDA has not developed a legal definition as to what can be termed natural. It is allowed to be used for items that don’t contain food coloring, synthetic substances, or artificial flavorings.

As you’ve probably already noticed, though, this leaves a gray area as to what really is natural and the interpretation is left wide open. There are several food items that are given the term natural but yet are linked to health issues.

For example, carrageenan is deemed a natural derivative of seaweed; although it is technically natural, it causes inflammation. Given this information, it is best to do a little more research once you see the word “natural” on a product.

Look at the ingredients. Specifically, you want to look for those items which can easily be found in your kitchen. Anything else is likely not as naturally as they want you to think it is.

Step #2: Examine the Sugar Content

There are a host of so-called natural products out there that contain a ton of sugar. While natural sugar is better for you than artificial sweeteners, too much will void any health value to this supposedly natural product.

The way to solve whether or not there is sugar is to look at the ingredients in detail. If there are grams of sugar listed but no sweeteners are listed in the ingredients then no sugar was added.

Any sighting of syrup, brown sugar, cane, honey, or agave in the ingredient list means that sugar was added beyond the natural sugar. With excessive sugar intake linked to obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease, it is important to watch sugar content closely.

Even when items claim to be natural, there may be versions of natural sugars added incognito.

Step #3: Look at Refined Grains

It is a common misconception that refined grains are healthy because they are commonly found in foods that are labeled as natural. Vegan cookies and gluten-free pasta can all be found with organic flour, but it is still refined flour. It goes to show that a vegetarian diet is not always a healthy one.

Once the word “refined” is in place, you can be assured that the item is not natural. There are now so many organic versions of processed foods that may be better, but in the end are still processed.

It is best to avoid items that have refined grains and choose instead whole foods, like hummus and vegetables, over those refined grain snack foods.

The Benefits of Eating a Truly Natural Diet

Sugars and additives do make foods taste good, and they also make us crave them so we eat more. Sadly, foods with additives, sweeteners, and flavorings are bad for your health.

| Related: Food Myths Debunked: Are Egg Whites Healthier Than Eggs? |  

Your risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease as well as cancer can increase by eating an unnatural and unhealthy diet. Your body thrives with natural foods—the more you eat, the more benefits you will reap. Here are the benefits of the truly natural:

♦ Unprocessed foods provide more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, which are essential for system functioning.

♦ By removing sugars and processed grains from your diet, you remove the fuel for harmful gut bacteria.

♦ You reduce your risk for diabetes by cutting out foods with high sugar content.

♦ Less sugar in your diet also helps you maintain a healthier weight and avoid obesity.

♦ Fresh fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants and other valuable minerals that support heart health and can protect you from heart disease.

♦ Whole grains (as well as many vegetables) are full of fiber, improving digestion and more.

♦ Avoiding processed foods with additives protects you from various toxins that can cause skin issues.

♦ Your cholesterol and triglyceride levels will improve.

♦ Natural foods are high in healthy fats that you do need, like omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. These protect organs like your heart and brain and can also aid in fat burning and weight loss.

♦ Eating whole and organic foods is better for the environment, as packaging and waste is reduced.

The Bottom Line

The trouble with food today is that we want everything to be healthy, but manufacturers want to make money. So things get tweaked to be more natural and healthy, but in the end are still processed.

Processed foods with too much sugar and refined grains can cause a host of health problems and should be avoided. To truly eat healthy and natural, always choose organic, and fill your diet with lean protein, whole grains, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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