Consumers warned of unhealthy “natural” foods, WA research program

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 15th August 2016

The Western Australian government’s ‘LiveLighter’ health program is warning consumers to not assume products marketed as “natural” are always healthy options.

The warning comes after the health promotion group funded by the WA government, analysed 331 supermarket foods with the words “natural” or “nature” on the packaging and discovered that that 154 of the items (or 47 percent) were “not a core part of a healthy diet”. This equates to 5 out of 10 of the products either being high in saturated fat, sugar or salt.

The Live Lighter program warns Australians to be careful after the new research also revealed that more than three in five Australian adults say they are more likely to purchase food described as “natural”.

Campaign Manager for LiveLighter Victoria, Alison McAleese, said that natural does not always equal healthy.

“Just because something says it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s good for you,” Ms McAleese said.

“The word natural can be very hard to define and in Australia there are no clear guidelines for its use on food and drink products, leaving manufacturers free to use the word in a way consumers might not expect,” she stated.

Commenting on the research, Heart Foundation’s Victoria Healthy Living manager, Roni Beauchamp, said if consumers want to be sure they are eating something natural they should be sticking to foods like fruits and vegetables.

“Stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket where you’ll find an abundance of nutritious foods to snack on, like seasonal fruit, vegetables like celery and carrots which you can cut up and enjoy with hummus or ricotta cheese and reduced-fat plain or Greek yoghurt,” Beauchamp said.

Which types of food and drink products carried natural claims?

  • Discretionary foods (including snack bars and muesli bars, chips, crackers, biscuits and lollies) accounted for 47 per cent
  • Dairy products including yoghurt, milk and cheese accounted for 21 per cent
  • Meat and alternatives, including fish, eggs, nuts and legumes, accounted for 16 per cent
  • Grain foods, including breakfast cereals, quinoa and bread, account for 10 per cent
  • Fruit accounted for five per cent
  • Water accounted for two per cent
  • Vegetables including legumes and beans, counted for one per cent