Natural Or Artificial Foods? Don’t Be Confused That You Want… Badly

Advanced Guide To Natural The supermarket shelves are full of products whose packaging is proclaimed to be natural, in order to imply that they are healthy: “100% natural”, “grandmother’s recipe”, “homemade”, “without dyes or preservatives ”,“ nothing artificial ”… These advertising messages confuse consumers; Nutrition experts warn of half-truths, or even fallacies, that are often hidden behind them. In fact, many foods that are advertised as natural contain highly recommended ingredients, the consumption of which should be occasional.

Advanced Guide To Natural Or Artificial Foods Don t Be Confused
Advanced Guide To Natural Or Artificial Foods Don t Be Confused

Appealing to the natural constitutes, according to José Miguel Mulet, professor of biotechnology at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and author of the book Eating healthy (Destino, 2018), “a very powerful marketing tool because concepts like natural spaces ”. With this claim it is possible to “create a positive feeling in the consumer so that he buys”.

But the truth is that considering that everything natural is good for health and that everything artificial is harmful is completely meaningless. Beatriz Robles, food technologist and dietitian-nutritionist offers two clarifying examples: “In nature we can find lethal substances such as botulinum toxin.” On the other hand, there are synthetic compounds (that is, ‘artificial’) “that help us fight diseases, like medicines.”

In Robles’s opinion, messages about the supposed benefits of nature used by the food industry seek “an emotional reaction, in this case based on fear: consumers try to avoid certain components of food because they think they can be harmful” .

This rejection of what is artificial or of what contains chemical substances is known as chemophobia and extends to many areas of life, including food. Like many other phobias, it thrives on both the irrational and ignorance. At the end of the day, as Mulet emphasizes, chemistry is found in everything that surrounds us, including ourselves: “Everything is chemistry”.

Robles points out that chemophobia in the food field has focused, above all, on additives. “We cannot value foods based on the additives they contain,” he warns. He acknowledges that products “with many additives are likely to be ultra-processed, but in that case the problem does not lie with them, but with the food itself, which will surely be made with poor quality raw materials.” So how do you discern whether a food is healthy or not? To find out if a product is of good or bad quality, the expert recommends reading the labeling, looking at three key aspects:

Name of the food (not to be confused with the brand or trade name), located just in front of the list of ingredients. For example, it can be a “turkey cold cut” (of poorer quality than “turkey breast”) or a “cheese substitute”.

Ingredients list, which follows a decreasing order depending on the quality. Thus, for example, if in the first positions we find refined flours, sugar, poor quality vegetable fats … we are facing a sign that it is not a good product.

Table of the nutritional value, in which special attention must be paid to aspects such as the amount of salt (which will be moderate-high if it exceeds 0.7-0.8 grams per 100 grams of product) or saturated fats. All of the above influences the quality of food much more than additives or E numbers, which, in Robles’s words, “have no greater problem.”

Additives are, according to the definition of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (Aesan), “substances that are not consumed as food, nor used as ingredients, and whose intentional addition to food products has a technological purpose in any of the stages of its elaboration ”.

Clear And Unbiased Facts About Natural Or Artificial Foods? Don’t Be Confused (Without All The Hype)

To be authorized, the additives must not pose any danger to the health of the consumer when used following the proposed doses. They must have been toxicologically evaluated and subjected to tests that demonstrate their safety. In reality, as Mulet asserts, “there is nothing harmless.” Everything can be lethal depending on the dose; in the case of water, “if you drink 7 liters at once, you die”.

Both Robles and Mulet reject the countless hoaxes around additives, which are subject to strict regulation. The technologist says that the black legend around them dates back to the late 70s of the last century. “It was the result of a labor dispute at a beverage factory in France, whose workers decided to boycott by releasing a list of allegedly carcinogenic additives.” And that and other lists of presumably dangerous E numbers continue to generate confusion in the 21st century.

Additives are named on the labeling of food products by means of a code consisting of a letter (which in European regulations is “E”), followed by three figures. The hundreds figure refers to the type of additives, classified into the following four groups: Dyes. Preservatives. Antioxidants, stabilizers.

For example, E-403 corresponds to alginate, a stabilizer. Mulet emphasizes that this coding “does not refer to them being artificial additives”, since some are synthetic and others of natural origin. Therefore, a product with E numbers on its labeling could be advertised as “no artificial additive” food. Obviously, it is not the type of allegation that the experts consulted by CuídatePlus are betting on, since, as already mentioned, the artificial term generates great confusion. Another common practice is to declare that a product is made “without preservatives or dyes”, when it does contain other additives with their corresponding E numbers, such as antioxidants or stabilizers.

In summary, neither the E numbers nor the advertising claims about the natural origin or the supposed (and completely impossible) absence of chemical substances provide really useful information about the quality of a food, its nutritional value or its influence on health and disease prevention. On the other hand, the content of salt, saturated fats, sugar, refined flours … does offer very useful clues that these are ultra-processed foods, whose consumption should be occasional. Mulet summarizes in a few words how to ensure a good food choice: “in the supermarket we should not be guided by natural marketing and we have to worry about eating a lot of fruit and vegetables and less fat and sugar”.

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