Diane May Nutrition Blog

Do You Know What You You Are Getting When The Label Says Natural?

May 20th, 2016

Food labels have the power to persuade you to buy things with the promise of being healthy and clean.  But do you really know what natural means on a food label?  The FDA considers natural to mean “that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food”. This definition does not include how the food may have been manufactured or processed, including pesticides, antibiotics, GMO’s, irradiation and growth hormones. Although the FDA has given this definition of natural, they do not regulate it at this point in time. An example of a food product the FDA would consider natural is high fructose corn syrup (not the healthiest ingredient).

Being a food detective and reading labels becomes important. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, even if the label says its “all natural”, look it up.  You might be unpleasantly surprised. The more ingredients in a food label, the more you should be aware. If you are concerned about avoiding GMO foods, look for certified organic on the label. Unless a label specifically states it is antibiotic free, even if the label says natural, you will still need to contact the manufacturer if you want to confirm the product does not contain antibiotics. Do not assume foods labeled natural have not been sprayed with pesticide or irradiated. Energy bars tend to be glorified candy bars, even if they have natural in the label.  On average, most bars have a minimum of three different forms of sugar, including high fructose corn syrup.  They also tend to contain cellulose (a non toxic wood pulp). Natural prepared salad dressing tend to be loaded with sugar and other fillers.  It is very easy to make your own dressing with your favorite vinegar, olive oil, herbs and mustard (if you want emulsification).  Cereal, chips and many other boxed goods have ingredients that can tout they are natural but may contain ingredients that you may not want to consume.

Just because the label says natural, do not assume it is good for you.  The best way to ensure you are eating the healthiest you can, it is best to avoid packaged and processed foods as frequently as possible.  Eating a whole food diet is always the best way to go. It is easy to be wooed by labels promising health and wellness using the word natural, but buyer beware! It is not always as good as it seems.

Tilapia & Summer Vegetable Packets

From EatingWell:  July/August 2007EatingWell for a Healthy Heart Cookbook (2008)


Makes: 4 servings

Active Time: 

Total Time: 


  • 1 cup quartered cherry, or grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced summer squash
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 12 green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped black olives
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into 4 equal portions



  1. Preheat grill to medium. (No grill? See Oven Variation, below.)
  2. Combine tomatoes, squash, onion, green beans, olives, lemon juice, oregano, oil, capers, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
  3. To make a packet, lay two 20-inch sheets of foil on top of each other (the double layers will help protect the contents from burning); generously coat the top piece with cooking spray. Place one portion of tilapia in the center of the foil. Sprinkle with some of the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, then top with about 3/4 cup of the vegetable mixture.
  4. Bring the short ends of the foil together, leaving enough room in the packet for steam to gather and cook the food. Fold the foil over and pinch to seal. Pinch seams together along the sides. Make sure all the seams are tightly sealed to keep steam from escaping. Repeat with more foil, cooking spray and the remaining fish, salt, pepper and vegetables.
  5. Grill the packets until the fish is cooked through and the vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. To serve, carefully open both ends of the packets and allow the steam to escape. Use a spatula to slide the contents onto plates. Oven Variation: Preheat oven to 425°F. Place green beans in a microwavable bowl with 1 tablespoon water. Cover and microwave on High until the beans are just beginning to cook, about 30 seconds. Drain and add to the other vegetables (Step 2). Assemble packets (Steps 3-4). Bake the packets directly on an oven rack until the tilapia is cooked through and the vegetables are just tender, about 20 minutes.


Per serving: 181 calories; 7 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 57 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 24 g protein; 2 g fiber; 435 mg sodium; 591 mg potassium.

Nutrition Bonus: Selenium (68% daily value), Vitamin C (30% dv), Potassium (17% dv).