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BellaOnline's Allergies and Colds Editor

Natural labeling confusing

Food allergy sufferers need to scrutinize all food labels even those using the claim of being “natural.” Often a marketing ploy, “natural” on labels is not well defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA allows food manufacturers to use the word “natural” if the food contains no added colors, artificial flavoring or synthetic substances but that doesn’t mean it’s safe for food allergy sufferers or anyone. For instance, cyanide is considered “natural” but I wouldn’t want it in my food.

One’s best defense against this confusing term is to read food ingredient labels carefully. If the product is 100 percent natural, it should say under ingredients, “100 percent of a particular food.” There should be no additives. For example, 100 percent orange juice should contain 100 percent orange juice.

“Natural” labeling can be baffling to even the most seasoned label readers. I recently was grocery shopping and looking for tomato sauce. I picked up a can of Hunt’s tomato sauce which uses “100 percent natural” on the label.

I assumed this wording meant the product contained 100 percent tomatoes. Wrong. Other ingredients include citric acid, water and natural flavor. All of these ingredients are “natural” but still merit concern for those of us with food allergies and candida issues.

The wording “natural flavor” on the tomato sauce label made me wonder what the mystery ingredients were. According to the FDA food labeling regulations, “natural flavor or flavoring” can mean anything from a spice, herb or root to protein hydrolysate, edible yeast or myriad of other ingredients.

You’re only guarantee is that if any of the top eight allergens were used, they must be disclosed on the label, according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. The top eight food allergens are: milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.

If you are watching for ingredients other than the eight major food allergens, this law will not be of much help. You best bet will be to check with the manufacturer because natural flavor can be made from just about anything made from a natural source.

Once you start checking ingredients on food products that claim to be “natural,” you are in for a few more surprises. You probably figure that a fresh, raw chicken contains nothing but chicken. The fact is chicken can be labeled “natural” even if it’s been injected with saltwater or chicken broth.

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