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What Do Natural and Artificial Mean?

Naturally flavored? Contains artificial colors? No artificial preservatives? Keep on reading if you have some curiosity as to what these claims actually mean.


NaturalThis term, to be honest, does not mean much. It simply means... More vs. Artificial

We need to understand the difference between natural and artificial. First off, “natural.” Most of us have a pretty good idea, but here’s the exact definition.


“Anything taken from  spice fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products.”


Basically, anything you can find in nature. From there, we can derive the term “artificial,” which is defined as anything not found in the above list. Artificial products are synthesized by humans and not found anywhere in the environment.

See also: What’s on the Nutrition Label?


From here on out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.



A flavoring added to foods is natural if it comes from one of the aforementioned things. It can be in many forms, like oils, distillates, or essences, and can be obtained through various measures like roasting, heating, or cooking. Examples are pineapple juice, olive oil, and cocoa powder.

See also: How to Understand and Apply the Nutrition Facts



Artificial colors are commonly found in junk foods and sodas. Any food or drink that has something added to it to change its color is considered to be artificially colored. For instance, a banana is “naturally colored” yellow, and milk is “naturally colored” white. Manufactures don’t normally add the term “naturally colored” to their products, because it could seem misleading, implying that color was added at all.

See also: Get to Know Your Nutrients

An interesting side note is that even if a color is made from natural substances, the food or drink is still “artificially colored.” All coloring used needs to be declared on the label, but it is optional for butter, cheese, and ice cream.
Some examples of colors are Yellow 5, Red 40, and Blue 1 Lake (you will see “lake” at the end of colors if they are not in a soluble form).


A sports drink ingredient label
An example of a colored and flavored drink


Spices are basically any vegetable that smells. The spice can be broken down, crushed, whole, powdered, etc. Technically, garlic and onions are not considered spices even though they meet the criterion because they are considered by most people to be foods. Some examples of spices are saffron, oregano, dill seed, and nutmeg.


Chemical Preservatives

Chemical preservatives are any chemicals added to a product that prevents deterioration of color, texture, flavor, etc. Things like salt, spices, oils, and sugars would not be considered chemical preservatives. Companies are not required to say that chemical preservatives were used on fruits and vegetables if they were pesticide-related chemicals  and used only before harvest.


To Summarize

Now you know what dictates something to be natural, and by process of elimination, everything else in artificial. However, those guidelines tend to be abused. For a substance to be “natural” it simply has to be present in a food, so your “naturally blueberry flavored” granola bar most likely just has a chemical that happens to be found in blueberries.


All-in-all, just because something says it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you; furthermore, natural substances are not necessarily better for you than artificial ones.


Thanks for reading!





Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 101, February, 2016. Accessed October 8, 2016.


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