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: Nutrition Label Confusion and Why My Mom Believes “All Natural” Actually Means All Natural

Nutrition Label Confusion and Why My Mom Believes “All Natural” Actually Means All Natural

Online Media Specialist

Disclaimer: My mom is one smart cookie, and rarely gets fooled. (Get it? Cookie. It's a nutritional blog post.)


As a recent marketing grad (yes, we have entered the workforce and are coming for you), I live for trying to spin phrases or use buzzwords to make a product sound revolutionary. Buzzwords play a huge role in attracting attention, but sadly they can also be used to skew consumer perceptions of packaging-confusing them at best and outright misleading them at worst. There's a difference between saying a product has "forceflex" technology and misrepresenting nutritional benefits, but where is the line? And what is the danger when that line is crossed?    


Not everyone has time to stay up-to-date on the newest jargon that takes advantage of popular scientific results. (I just got cable for the first time in five years; I can name all members of the Real Housewives, including Miami now. So that takes up a lot of my downtime.). In all seriousness, nutrition labels often have confusing information that is crammed into a tiny space and nearly impossible to understand for most people. It's hard to know what you're buying, let alone what's actually in the product you're buying. For countless reasons, most consumers know very little about the items they are purchasing for themselves and for their families. To help clear up some of the confusion, below is a guide for understanding why "all natural" doesn't mean what you think it means. 


Caution: These Labels Can be Misleading or Confusing


Gluten Free

All Natural

Made with "Real Fruit Juice"


Gluten is found in whole grain, which provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals. People with celiac disease must follow a gluten-free diet, but don't confuse this dietary restriction with an actual diet.


This phrase is very loosely FDA approved. Foods with this label can't contain artificial flavors or synthetic substances, but feeding animals growth hormones or using pesticides while they still are alive is considered a loophole within this designation.

Although this label means that the product contains juice from actual fruit, it's best to look for any "added sugar" under the ingredients. Fruit juice is naturally sweet and shouldn't need more sugar.  

The multi-grain label literally means there is more than one type of grain. Not much nutritional value here. It's better to look for 100% whole grain


Labels to Look For






Fair Trade 



 Animal Welfare

This is what you want to see instead of "natural." Products are produced without growth hormones, use minimal pesticides, and contain only natural preservatives (salt, etc.).


Fair Trade USA is a non-profit organization that ensures products are grown-and sold-in an ethical manner. That means fair wages for employees, better prices for farmers, and less middleman. Although not exactly a nutritional concern, it's a good way to help developing countries.

Founded in 2006, AWA is a food label for meat and dairy products that certifies the animals were treated humanely. This helps sustainable farming, makes sure the animals aren't force fed, and guarantees a good living environment. So although "free range" is a tricky gray area, this picture is trustworthy.


It takes time and effort to research each label on your food products, but for common labels, it's worth it. When my mom said that "all natural" meant that the food doesn't contain preservatives, honestly, it worried me. The thought of her buying food that she assumes is healthy (and for good reason), but instead uses a marketing ploy, is frustrating. Thankfully, major steps forward have been made in the past five years toward legally defining keywords so that labels are more transparent, making it easier for future generations to eat right without the work.

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We invite and encourage anyone interested in current public health and health communication trends and issues to join MMG's contributing bloggers in adding their voice to the ongoing discussion about how we can advance health, together.


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