When it comes to food, be wary of definitions

Eating healthy is essential to optimal health, yet at the same it is difficult to do.

But eating healthy should be easy, right? All it takes is eating fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and grains. Not so fast.

Chemical herbicides and pesticides have been sprayed on much of the fruit and veggies that are marked as “farm fresh” in stores. Many grains are bleached and then “enriched” with vitamins and minerals not in their natural state. Packaged foods labeled as “natural” are often far from natural, but there is no law keeping manufacturers from using that designation. In the end, the consumer – no, the person – suffers the ills of poor health. And the recent definition of what constitutes “processed” foods, is scary.

What Does “Natural” Food Label Mean?

While hundreds of food brands contain the word “natural” or “all natural” in their labeling and marketing campaigns, the food could be far from natural. Why? Because there currently is no legal definition for use of that term. Here is what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to say about the “natural” labeling of food packages:

“From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

So while the FDA does “not object” to the use of the label under certain circumstances, it has not authority to “object” to its use when not appropriate. Why? Because they have “not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives.” This is troublesome, because many unsuspecting consumers who want to eat healthier look at claims on food packaging for clues as to their healthfulness. Yes, the foods inside those packages may be far from natural.

Don’t’ Let Brands Fool You

Another obstacle in the healthy eating maze is reliance on specific brands for providing health food alternatives. I love grocery shopping in Whole Foods and Trader Joes, but neither market sells organic and non-GMO foods exclusively. While I understand that the Organic and non-GMO market is growing yet still small, markets like these and others should be very clear about what is and is not “conventional.” Conventional is the new term for unhealthy food. That is, food that is over processed or sprayed with super toxic chemicals and, therefore, not healthy to consume. I wrote more about this in Rounding Up The Herbicide Debate.

Whole Foods does have signs designating on which farm their produce was grown, so customers get a sense of pride in “shopping locally” and “supporting their local farmers.” Yet, many local farms spray their produce with Roundup and other chemicals that are known neurotoxins. So while they are fresh off the local farm, they are not “natural” or “organic” or “fresh as nature intended.”

As a rule, if you want to eat healthy, avoid all conventional produce listed on the “Dirty Dozen” list. This list is updated each year with the most toxic laden produce wherein the chemicals used to keep the bugs off cannot be washed off the food, because it is a systemic part of the produce. It is poison to eat. I previously wrote about the “Dirty Dozen” and listed the worst foods in my articles, Take the 7-day organic challenge to detox and Avoid The Worst ‘Healthy’ Foods.

The Bait and Switch

No one likes to be lied to and certainly no one likes to feel betrayed. And that is exactly how thousands of unsuspecting consumers felt when, a year or so ago, Whole Foods Markets did the old “bait and switch” on some of the foods in their 365 Brand. It happened like this: a bunch of foods packaged by Whole Foods Markets were labeled as “organic,” whose designation is strictly defined. Then one day, the same products were marked as “natural” without a word to the change and consumers, like me, were none the wiser. Suddenly word got out, the issue was identified and realized by consumers and we all had a fit. We felt betrayed by a store and a brand we trusted.

The Official Definition of “Processed”

By now, every health-conscious eater has heard that it is best to avoid packaged foods. When shopping at the grocery store, shop around the edges of the store where the fresh foods requiring refrigeration are stocked, and avoid the middle isles where packaged foods can sit for months and years without going bad. In other words, there is no way processed foods can be healthy because they contain preservatives and trans-fats that allow them to be “shelf stable.”

Well, the latest definition of “processed” released on July 24, 2014 by the American Society of Nutrition (ASN), is less strict or hard-nosed than one might want. Here is the opening of the report abstract:

“Both fresh and processed food make up vital parts of the food supply. Processed food contributes to both food safety (ensuring that sufficient food is available) and nutrition security (ensuring that food quality meets human nutrient needs).”

According to the paper, things as simple as “washing fruit” and “freezing vegetables” get the same “processed” designation as adding preservatives and transfats. Ridiculous! What’s more, the ASN only cares about “food nutrition” in their definitions and not whether a food has been made poisonous through chemical sprays or manufacture. That is insane. Nutrition is only one piece of a healthy diet. Another is whether a food is safe to eat.

What to Do

Americans truly are facing an eating fiasco. We rely on our governing bodies to regulate and designate for us what is healthy and safe, and we get blindsided by poor definitions or no definitions. Labels cannot be trusted because food packaging is marketing copy for manufacturers out for a buck. The only way truly to eat health is to buy items market “Organic” and “Non-GMO” as much as possible. Never eat anything on the “Dirty Dozen” list, unless it is labeled organic. And always read the ingredient labels (not packaging copy), to look for and avoid: food coloring, transfats, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, preservatives.

It’s a tough road to change. But once you get a few shopping trips under your belt you learn which brands and items within a brand are good to go, and you can stick with those each trip moving forward. Then it becomes a snap to buy and eat healthy.








Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.