Natural Foods

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A term used to describe food that complies with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) standards for natural processing, handling, and labeling. The standards stipulate that the food product must contain all Natural ingredients. No artificial ingredients, coloring or flavorings are allowed as well as no chemical preservatives. The food cannot contain hormones or antibiotics. In addition, the food can only be minimally processed however, the processing can include traditional methods to preserve the food in order to make it edible and safe to consume. In terms of Natural or All-Natural beef, pork, poultry, fish, and seafood which are all becoming increasingly popular, preservation processes that are allowed include freezing, smoking, roasting, drying, and fermenting. Physical processes, such as grinding, which alter the raw product, are not allowed.

When properly labeled, Natural or all-Natural Foods should include a statement defining the term "Natural" advising the manner in which it applies to the specific product. Generally more expensive than many traditional versions, Natural Food products typically do not provide a significant difference in terms of taste or nutrition. The key points made in favor of Natural or All-Natural Foods is that they are more nutritious than highly processed versions and more environmentally friendly. Natural Foods are commonly believed to be better for the environment in terms of the procedures for raising, growing, processing, or handling the products.

There are numerous different types of Natural Foods with many new products being added each year to the products available for the consumer. A few examples may serve to provide insight into the processes involved with making the Natural Foods designation fit the product. Some varieties of canned tuna fish have received the approval to be designated as a Natural Food since no extenders or additives have been used in the processing. Further the tuna is sustainably harvested in designated bodies of water (oceans)and are taken in a manner that is acceptable to be rated as Natural. Chicken as well as other meats are not allowed to be raised with hormones, they are minimally processed with no additives, preservatives or artificial ingredients so they can be classified as Natural. Chemicals and substances such as nitrates or nitrites as well as MSG are not added as they may be with other products that cannot be classified as Natural. Prepared food dishes, such as chili are available with the Natural Foods designation. Ingredients to acheive this designation may include soy protein instead of meat products and various vegetables that meet the required standards. Flatbreads made from organic ingredients and processed according to the regulations and standards allows the product to be labeled as Natural. Products with grains, dried beans and many other products will also be classified as Natural and are becoming more readily available in food stores throughout the world.

A classification that is often confused with Natural is organic, since there are similarities for both designations from the USDA. An organic food product can be labeled organic if the food is grown or if the food contains ingredients that have been produced without the use of antibiotics, chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides. The food must be produced using "earth-friendly" farming practices, limiting the loss of topsoil or soil contamination and maximizing the renewability of the land. In addition, the USDA requires that if the food is to be labeled as organic it must be produced without the use of synthetic fungicides, herbicides, or pesticides. For the production of organic meat and poultry, the USDA requires that the animals be raised in an environment that provides access to fresh air, sunlight, shade, and other similar environmental features. The animals cannot be treated with antibiotics or hormones and must be fed with foods that are free of chemicals.

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