I'm not a nutritionist. I'm not a fitness expert.

I am a 57 year old woman who has never felt more healthy and fit in my entire life. Five years ago, at 52, I weighed about 80 lbs. more than I do now. I felt much older, with stiff joints and back aches and no energy. And don't even ask about clothes!

My goal was not just weight loss, but to get healthier. I did not "go on a diet," I did not count calories or carbs. I made lifestyle changes, a little at a time. I tried to eat healthier and move more. You can do this, too. You can make changes to look, and more importantly, feel healthier and fit. You don't have to be overweight to be unfit. You will feel a difference in strength, energy, stamina and flexibility. I'm talking to you, men, too!

I can tell you how I did it. Not everything I do will be right for you. Through posts about my progress; tips and ideas about nutrition and exercise; links to sites I like and find helpful, I hope to inspire others to get fit and healthy and encourage a community of support and an exchange of ideas. And have a little fun on the way! Much of our information will be about local Cape Ann sites - walking and bike routes, gyms, types of exercise, yoga studios, good buys on healthy food - but Guests and commenters from anywhere are welcome as well.

Okay, I know you all want to know. Right now I'm wearing a pair of Levis - size 8. A comfortable size 8!

Twenty year old daughter:
"Mom, why are you wearing my clothes?"
Mom: "Because I can!"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Natural" Food Labels

The results of a survey by The Shelton Group, a market research firm that monitors sustainable and organic industry:

"Our Eco Pulse study revealed that most Americans prefer the term Natural to the term Organic — and they would be more likely to reach for a product with a label that says “100% Natural” over one that says “100% Organic” because consumers believe — erroneously — that Natural is the term regulated by the government, while Organic is an unregulated, fancy marketing buzzword slapped on products to justify a higher price point."

How consumers were influenced:

100% Natural - 31.3%
All Natural Ingredients - 25.4%
100% Organic - 14.2%
Certified Organic Ingredients - 11.7%

The power of marketing!

As I wrote in my last post, “Organic” is a claim strictly regulated by the USDA.  "Natural" - not so much.  This consumer confidence in "Natural" labels has led to the surge in the appearance of "All Natural" products on supermarket shelves.  At a higher price than "conventional" products - just because they can.  Natural is generally still cheaper than Organic because there is no certification process, and the associated costs, involved in being allowed to label a product "Natural."

Neither FDA nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture has precise rules for "natural,"  except as applied to meat and poultry products. "Natural" meat and poultry must be free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and other such ingredients. They are minimally processed and must contain labels that explain the term "natural." It does not, however, refer to how the meat was raised. Meat that was given growth hormones and antibiotics, if not overly processed during the butchering process and free of additives, can be labeled "natural."  "Natural" chicken in the market can be pumped up with "natural" chicken broth, sea salt and seaweed extract to "flavor" it and add to its weight.

The "natural" label for all other food products has no official definition and can be used without any USDA or FDA approval. Those agencies do require that claims on food packaging should be truthful and not misleading, but nobody's watching.  In recent years, consumer groups have successfully gone after some manufacturers about their labeling practices - and the debate over "natural" labels on products containing high fructose corn syrup goes on.  When pressed by a group to take a stand on high fructose corn syrup, the FDA issued a statement saying that HFCS may be labeled natural when synthetic fixing agents do not come into contact with it during manufacturing.  Perfectly clear, isn't it?

Natural does not equal healthy.  Nor does organic, for that matter.  Natural saturated fats and organic sugars are still fats and sugars.

Some food product manufacturers do adhere to a truth-in-labeling policy and others really stretch it and go to great lengths to defend a product's "naturalness."  Reading the ingredients, not falling for a flashy label, is the only way to know what you are consuming.

File under "not following my own advice" -

I was hurrying through errands.  I was parched.  I always have water in my car, but I really needed something else to quench my thirst.  I pulled into a convenience store, spotted iced tea and knew that would hit the spot.  With no time to compare labels, I grabbed a Lipton bottle.  Waiting for my change, I glanced at the calories:  70.  Not bad.  18g of sugar - oh well, I need it.  I drank the whole thing while I finished my errands.  When I finally got home, I read the label.

Servings per container: 2.  That was 140 calories and 36g of sugar.

It's Lipton Pure Leaf Iced Tea.  It has a fancy logo that says:  Contains Natural Antioxidants.  Another fancy logo tells me it's certified by the Rainforest Alliance (at least 50% certified tea).  It's made with fresh brewed tea.  It has a picture of lemons, says "Lemon" under the picture and under that "Natural Flavor."  And under that, "All Natural."  That's all on the front of the label.

I have little problem with the "natural" label for the ingredients:  Brewed Tea from Lipton® Tea Leaves, Sugar, Citric Acid (Provides Tartness), Natural Apple Extract (Color), Natural Flavor, Pectin.

Added natural color?  Marketing - the darker color makes it more appealing.  (Does it make you wonder just how much tea is involved?)  Added natural flavor - that's another long story.  If you're interested, there is an excerpt from Eric Schlosser's book, Fast Food Nation, about Natural and Artificial flavors over at Truthseeker.)

But about that lemon ... the front label suggests that it contains lemon, but doesn't actually state that it does.  Their web site calls it "Iced Tea with Lemon."  Am I missing something?

Seriously, couldn't they just call it what it is: tea with sugar and added flavor and color but no damn lemon?

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