Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

What ‘natural’ can really mean on food labels in Canada

Food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing “all natural” and “nothing artificial” from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement.

M. Spencer Green/The Canadian Press

Do you gravitate toward cereal, pasta sauces or peanut butter emblazoned with an "all natural" label? With all of the products out there competing for our attention, choosing ones that are made with natural ingredients seems like an easy, obvious way to ensure what you're getting is good for you.

Except that it's not necessarily true.

The rules surrounding use of terms like "all natural" and "no artificial ingredients" are often ambiguous and, as a result, can mislead consumers.

Story continues below advertisement

On Thursday, food giant Kellogg said it would be changing some product formulas and removing "all natural" and "nothing artificial" from some Kashi brand products in the United States as part of a legal settlement. A lawsuit was launched against the company in 2011 because many products labelled "natural" or "nothing artificial" contained synthetic ingredients, such as pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and soy oil processed with a component of gasoline, according to The New York Times.

The problem of foods carrying an "all natural" label despite the presence of processed, chemical ingredients is not confined to Kellogg. More companies are using words like "simple," "natural" and "no artificial" to attract health-conscious consumers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created some rules to prevent companies from abusing the "natural" term.

The CFIA says that foods can only be represented as natural if they have never contained an added vitamin, nutrient, artificial flavour or food additive. The food also needs to be in its original form and can't have been processed significantly.

But companies are allowed to use a "natural ingredients" label in cases where products contain some natural ingredients. This could easily give consumers the false impression that all ingredients in the product are natural.

And consumers should also keep in mind that "natural" ingredients aren't necessarily an indication of their nutritional value. A product made with all-natural ingredients can contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium, which can lead to health problems if consumed in excess.

Consumers who want truly natural foods might be best picking those with no label at all.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.