Pop quiz: Which of the
following can be legally labeled "natural"?
a. Foods with chemical preservatives
b. Foods with artificial sweeteners
c. Foods with added color
Answer: All of them. It's true. When it comes to packaged foods like cereal, the FDA makes no stipulation about the use of the term "natural." Food scientists can cook up anything they want, out of the creepiest of chemicals, and sell it to you as something that’s as natural as rain.
Makes you kind of mad, huh?
But here's something even worse: When the Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog group, recently analyzed so-called "natural" cereals, it found that not only were many made with ingredients Mother Nature couldn’t pronounce, but they were often contaminated with pesticides and warehouse fumigation-chemical residues, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), and ingredients grown in sewage sludge.
"These companies are using conventional ingredients to produce their 'natural' cereal, most likely produced with pesticides and fumigants," explains Charlotte Vallaeys, director of farm and food policy at Cornucopia. Read on for 5 popular cereals that promote themselves—explicitly or not—as natural. (And don't miss our entire list of "Natural" Cereals That Aren't.)
Back to Nature's
"natural" granola products contain conventional ingredients that are
produced on conventional farms with the use of pesticides and other synthetic
inputs that would be prohibited on organic farms. "Conventional grain
ingredients destined for processed foods like granola can be fumigated in the
warehouse," explains Vallaeys. "The USDA has tested ingredients like
wheat flour for toxic fumigant residues, and has found some samples to be
contaminated with levels higher than the maximum acceptable level for children.
Organics, which prohibits these fumigants, offers a level of protection that
'natural' products don't."
Organic Alternative: Laughing Giraffe granola
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Grape Nuts may carry that crunchy,
earthy image—and food industry giant Post did form the "Post Natural
Advantage Line," which includes Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, and Raisin
Bran—but the ingredients used in these cereals are
grown with chemical pesticides. USDA data shows that wheat is often
contaminated with residues of malathion, chlorpyrifos methyl, and
chlorpyrifos, toxic bug-killing chemicals that could harm neurological
development. "They are 'natural' only in the sense that they do not
appear to contain artificial preservatives," explains Vallaeys. "But the
ingredients are conventional ingredients, from crops grown on
conventional farms which can use toxic pesticides, synthetic
fertilizers, genetically engineered crops, and a whole host of other
inputs that are strictly prohibited on farms growing crops for organic
cereal." For that reason, Post landed rock bottom on the Cornucopia
Institute's Cereal Scorecard.
Organic Alternative: Cascadian Farm Organic Raisin Bran
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Don't let this granola's
earthy-looking packaging or claims of whole grains fool you, warns Cornucopia.
This granola contains harmful high-fructose corn syrup and partially
hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, and other hard-to-pronounce ingredients
that sound like they belong in a lab, not your mouth. "There is nothing
natural about this product. Given that Kellogg's policy is to source GMOs,
consumers should also assume that the corn, cottonseed, and soy ingredients in
this granola are genetically engineered," says Vallaeys. Luckily,
high-quality, organic granola is readily available.
Organic Alternative: Lydia's Organics Grainless Apple Cereal
One of the best things about the brand-new Eat This, Not That! 2012 is that it helps you find healthy, fat-fighting food no matter where you are: movie theater, coffee shop, vending machine. We've also identified the most bloating beverages in gas stations, bars, smoothie counters, and coffee shops across America. Click through the Worst Drinks in America to see what drinks are safe to sip—and which you should skip.Additional reporting by Leah Zerbe
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