Natural foods, what are they? There is confusion on the subject, and the FDA equivocates, saying, "From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth."
A natural food "has probably been processed," so it's no longer natural. Is every leaf of kale processed? And what does "processed" mean? Is home cooking processing? So this non-answer answer doesn't clarify. It adds confusion.
In practice, the FDA doesn't object to use of the term "natural" if a food doesn't contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. This practice, however, eliminates foods that many of us would consider perfectly natural, and it includes foods that we consider completely unnatural. By these terms, Middle Eastern turnip pickles with a beet added for color are not natural. The same pickles without the beet but sweetened with a heavy hit of high fructose corn syrup, long considered "natural", pass inspection.
Those "natural" labels obscure the sugars loaded into those products, sugars that are natural, just inflammatory and unhealthy. So-called "natural" foods may contain GMOs or come from animals treated with growth hormones or antibiotics, since the FDA definition includes no statements about those processes.
So let's start with a better comparison: real food vs. commercially created food products. This might get us a little closer to creating a framework for discussion. Real food is food made wholly from real ingredients like fruits and vegetables, beans, grains, seeds, nuts, meat, eggs and dairy products. Perhaps the food is organic, perhaps not -- that's a separate defining term, a term well-defined by the FDA. This definition does not exclude frozen food, which passes through a commercial process.
Commercially created "food products", a phrase coined by Michael Pollan, points to artificial food, food with little or no "real food" at its base. The label on commercially created food products is probably long with many unrecognizable scientific-sounding names. Often loaded with sugars, many hidden and unhealthy fats, predominating in Omega 6s, devoid of natural fiber and low in nutrients, especially the micro-nutrients packed into real plant foods, these products offer little nutritional value and a lot of potential harm.
If you see the word, "natural" on a label, leave that food product on the shelf. In fact, for the most part, you can skip those shelves. They're all food products. Instead, head for the produce section of your local food store, and load up on real food, food that doesn't need to announce that it's natural because . . . well, it just is! It's real food.
Michael Pollan says, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Dr. Joel Fuhrman says, make 90% of the food we eat every day unrefined plant food. With these statements, both stress real food. These plant foods, focused on veggies and especially nutrient dense greens, leave little room for animal products and no room at all for commercial food products.