“Natural” Disaster

I try not to get up on my soap box too much, but this is one I just couldn’t hold back on any more. The word “natural” is really getting on my nerves with it’s overuse and misleading connotations in the world of food.

We’ll get to what set me off in just a second, but first, a little information for those of you who want to do good by yourselves and your family by buying only “natural” foods.

Look for this on foods if you want to at least be doing better than average.

When a food is labeled as “organic” with the USDA organic label, there is actually some meaning to that. The labeling process requires the food producers to trace all of the ingredients to make sure that everything in there is cultivated in a way that is in line with the guidelines set forth by the USDA. Whether or not you think those guidelines are strict enough (currently it means only 95% of the ingredients must be organic for example…) is of course up for debate, but there is a level of accountability and meaning behind this label.

In fact, the bureaucracy involved in government labeling is so tedious, there are many small farms that can’t earn this label because they can’t keep up with all the paperwork. Even though they meet or exceed the guidelines in their everyday practices.

There are regulations on other terms as well, like “light” (or “lite”) which means that a nutritionally altered product contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the reference food. If the food derives 50 percent or more of its calories from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat.

But what about “natural?” The USDA is silent on the matter and the FDA has no formal definition except to say that a product that is natural is one that has not had any artificial or synthetic substances added to the product that would not normally be expected to be in the food – including artificial flavors or color additives. (But let’s not forget that most of the “natural flavors” you find on ingredient labels are in fact synthetically made…)




“All Natural” really is a meaningless term, and food manufacturers know it. They are banking on you liking how it sounds, and choosing a product with that phrase on the label, and hoping you won’t ask any questions about what it really means.

All this is well and good, and has been a pet peeve of mine for some time, but has never warranted a rant on my part. Until this morning. That’s when I saw this:

“Naturally, we slice it…”

I guess that can be taken two ways. I mean, they could mean, “What else were we going to do with it? Make love to it? Naturally, we slice it!” But do they mean, “We slice it in a natural fashion?” What the hell does that mean? What would it be to have “unnaturally” sliced fries? Do other companies summon hoards of demons to do their French Fry manufacturing?…

It is pretty obvious that what Wendy’s is trying to say is that their fries are all natural, that is, the potatoes and salt (and hopefully oil used for frying) are all natural. But what does that mean? Does that suddenly mean they’re good for you? According to the Wendy’s website, here is the breakdown of the nutritional value of a Medium “Natural Cut Fries”:

Weight: 142g
Calories: 420
Fat: 20g (14% of the total weight…)
Calories from fat: 180 (43% of the total calories)
Sodium: 500mg (~20% RDA)

Let’s compare these stats to a medium “unnatural” fries from McDonald’s:

Weight: 117g
Calories: 380
Fat: 19g (16% of the total weight…)
Calories from fat: 170 (45% of the total calories)
Sodium: 270mg (~12% RDA)

The only difference between the two is that the use of “sea salt” at Wendy’s is resulting in a heck of a lot more sodium being on the fries… But neither of these are exactly a healthy option people. Wendy’s new marketing scheme is to make you believe their “natural” fries OK for you and the environment, but please, they’re just fries. It doesn’t matter how you slice them – naturally or otherwise – they are not going to be good for you.

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3 Responses to ““Natural” Disaster”

  1. Swan says:

    Wow. I’ll be interested to see how their sales go. Does “natural” fool people?! Prolly. Especially with the packaging, too. The container is made of a matte paper that looks like it could be from recycled products. It’s healthy! It helps the environment! Buy, buy, buy! Eat, eat, eat!

    I can’t believe they’re worse in nutritional value than McD’s! I assumed McD’s would be king.

    BTW, of French Fries at fast food chains, I love Five Guys the most. That’s a twice-a-year treat. VERY indulgent, but sooooo good!

  2. Chef Matt says:

    Swan: I was shocked too to see that there was more sodium in the sea salt fries. So many places are now touting sea salt to be the lower sodium way to season things. Campbell’s Soup being the first to come to mind on that one. But you know, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what type of salt you use, it’s how much you put on… Maybe Wendy’s loses some flavor in their “natural slicing” process, and as a result, they need to put on twice as much salt to make them taste right.

  3. WILLOBIE says:

    My first thought upon seeing the phrase “natural sliced fires” was that they were being sliced on the premises, as when McDonald’s made the best fries in the world. They were peeled, sliced, left to stand in water baths to remove excess starch, dried, blanched, and then fried (in tallow!) Those were the days. Then they started using frozen/blanched fries like everybody else. If “natural sliced” means anything, it should mean that they were not sliced in a fry factory.

    To get real fries today one needs to find a Pakistani street vendor in London or Oxford, where they are called “death wagons”. Their specialty is fish and chips fried in tallow. To die for, and you probably will, eventually.