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One of the most used qualifiers, even abusive, when promoting a food product is, without a doubt in recent years, is that of "natural".
For many people, the addition of the adjective "natural" to the name of a food or diet is enough to automatically endow it with properties that are supposedly lacking when they are not subject to such qualification. Reality teaches, however, that these properties only exist in the imagination of believers in the so-called "natural diet." The supposed superiority of the so-called natural foods has never been scientifically documented and the properties arbitrarily attributed to them are, very frequently, incompatible with the generally accepted knowledge at present.
Paradoxically, the myth of natural food consists, after all, in attributing to the so-called “natural foods” properties that are, in fact, supernatural, without possible rational explanation. The pseudo-label "natural" suggests, in turn, that it is harmless to health and in this sense it is enough to remember that Socrates was killed by the Athenians with the juice of a plant called hemlock and "naturally" that he died.
Concept of the Natural
In a strict sense, the qualifier "natural" is only applicable to that which occurs spontaneously without the intervention of human hands. Since the beginning of agriculture and the domestication of animals, plant and animal species have been subjected to different cultivation and breeding methods in order to increase their productivity and make them more palatable, that is, they have been manipulated.
These events are completely linked to the process of civilization, so it is absolutely unthinkable that humanity should feed itself again at this time with plants that grow spontaneously and wild animals. And it will not be amiss to point out that before the beginning of agriculture, the life span of half of the human species did not exceed 20 years and that 90% of those who passed that age did not reach 40 years . Today the life expectancy for women exceeds 80 years and for men 73 (INE, 1993) which shows, contrary to what we are led to believe, that primitive man was far from living in ideal conditions .
On the other hand, not everything that grows spontaneously without human intervention is suitable for our food; nature itself provides toxic substances, for example some mushrooms that can be poisonous. The cassava, cassava or cassava (Manihot esculenta) used as food in many tropical regions contains a substance that releases hydrocyanic acid, a very toxic substance that can be eliminated by grinding the root of the plant or by keeping it in water and drying it later. The natural casava is toxic and ceases to be when it ceases to be natural. Among many other toxic substances known and present in many foods that we consume regularly are: toxic alkaloids, cyanides, arsenic in potatoes, some of which are especially toxic such as aflatoxins from molds which are attributed to be carcinogens more powerful than we know.
Furthermore, when it comes to food, the adjective “natural” is usually used without taking into account the subject to whom it is intended (Grande Covián, 1988): “Years ago a letter in defense of natural nutrition appeared in the Madrid press signed by an 86-year-old gentleman, who confessed to having excellent health that he attributed to his diet with “natural” foods such as cow's milk or chicken eggs. There is no objection to admitting that cow's milk is the food intended by nature for feeding the calf during the first stage of its life and that the chicken egg is the food intended for feeding the chicken embryo, until it reaches the development necessary to hatch and feed on their own. But it is more difficult to accept that cow's milk or eggs are food intended by nature for the feeding of an octogenarian gentleman who is obviously neither a calf nor a chicken embryo. This does not mean that of course cow's milk and chicken eggs are not excellent foods for man. "
Natural equals Healthy?
There are at least three reasons to doubt that the foods generally consumed by man are "natural" that is, they have been created by nature, with the sole purpose of serving as food to members of our species:
With the exception of breast milk for 4-6 months of life, none of the foods that sustain us have the necessary proportions of the 50 essential nutrients for our nutrition.
Almost all of the food that we usually consume contains numerous substances that are not essential for our nutrition. The potato, for example, contains about 150 chemically identified non-nutritive substances, some of which can even be toxic, such as solanine that appears at the base of the sprouts of old potatoes. Only a third of them play a known role in nutritional processes.
The plant and animal species from which our food comes were in the world millions of years before the first forms of human life appeared in it. For more than 2 million years, our ancestors were forced to repeatedly change their eating habits, which demonstrates the ability of our species to survive by feeding on the most varied mixtures of food available. It is wrong to believe that the diet consumed by primitive man at any given time should be considered the "natural" diet, to the exclusion of all others.
Of course, the above comments are in line with current evolutionary thinking accepted by any researcher regardless of their religious beliefs. Thus, both Christian and Marxist thinkers are in complete agreement in accepting the evolutionary process that satisfactorily explains the appearance between species and the appearance of biological man, as well as the different types of food in which he knew how to find the energy and nutrients that needed to survive.
Are Processed Foods Bad?
Many ideas of "natural food" or naturism, are very close to those of vegetarians, so their defenders advocate the total elimination of cane sugar that they substitute with more nutritious sugars such as fruit syrups, honey, syrup. In addition, they suggest whenever possible the exclusion of animal products, for example, switching from animal fats to vegetable animals.
On the other hand, the word "natural" is applied to describe any unprocessed food. For more than half a million years, the application of fire to cook food allowed man to change his eating habits. The American anthropologist Carlton Coon (1954) has postulated that cooking food may have been a decisive factor in the transition from a primarily animal form of life to another more properly human. But given that human hands are involved in cooking, it can be logically said that a cooked food is no longer a natural food, leading natural food enthusiasts to defend the consumption of raw (raw) food.
According to raw foodists, fire appeared 100,000 years ago to modify the molecular structure of food, denaturing it and destroying a large part of the essential substances of the diet, such as vitamins and enzymes. The defenders of the consumption of raw foods even make the following assertions: "By becoming a cook, man became ill and shortened his existence" (which we know today is completely false). In this sense, it must not be forgotten that the consumption of raw foods can pose a health risk, especially due to the ease of transmission of infections through them.
Cooking also serves to remove other potentially toxic substances from food, such as some raw legumes that contain hemagglutinins, which cause agglutination of red blood cells. To destroy them, a cooking of at least 10 minutes is necessary. Other raw foods contain substances that destroy vitamins, interfere with digestive enzymes. Thus, raw fish contains “antithiaminase” substances that can interfere with vitamin B1 or damage the wall of the intestine; Exceptional cases of biotin deficiencies have even been described due to the consumption of raw eggs that contain avidin, which prevents their digestion.
Therefore, and contrary to popular opinion, some processed foods may be safer and are superior in content and minerals to their unprocessed counterparts, especially if the so-called fresh food has been improperly stored.
Natural vs. Artificial
One of the fields in which the most attempts have been made to contrast the term "natural" with "artificial", the latter synonymous with synthetic, is that of vitamins. It is common to believe that a vitamin obtained from a plant is superior to the same vitamin obtained by synthesis in the laboratory, thus forgetting that our body is unable to distinguish one vitamin from the other, since they are two identical molecules, with the same physical, chemical and biological properties. In addition, it cannot be forgotten that all vitamins are chemical compounds nor that man has a digestive system and, thus, neither an orange nor a tablet with vitamin C are absorbed as such, but the only thing that is absorbed is vitamin C, a chemical molecule and once in the blood it is impossible to differentiate its origin (Whelan & Stare, 1977).
Among foods, one of the most frequently accompanied by the adjective "natural" is yogurt and other fermented milks. These are excellent foods rich in calcium, protein and low in fat (Moreiras et al., 1995; Angulo et al., 1995) that do not need to resort to magical properties and that, as part of a varied diet, perfectly comply with its mission. Yogurt consumption in 1964 was almost non-existent, it was only purchased in a pharmacy and its use was limited to people with intestinal disorders, but currently, in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, yogurt consumption is 19.4 g / day (Varela et al., 1995) and thus it can be affirmed that during the last 30 years it is one of the foods that has been introduced with the greatest force in the eating habits of Spaniards as a clear example of the influence of advertising on the choice of food, but which of course must be demystified from statements such as that "yogurt lengthens life" or "that yogurt is the best way to take calcium."
Another common misconception in the field of "naturopaths" is that additives are substances that are harmful to health. It should be clarified that additives are perfectly usable substances that allow a greater variety in our eating habits. According to the Spanish Food Code (Chapter XXXI, Section 1. Art. 4.31.01) we can define additive as: “any substance that is intentionally added to food and beverages, without the purpose of changing its nutritional value, in order to modify its characteristics. , elaboration or conservation techniques to improve their adaptation to the use to which they are destined ”. To be approved for use, the balance of its use must be clearly positive, so that the presence of an additive in a food, in most cases, is not only justified but also convenient.
From the definition of additive itself, therefore, we can draw several conclusions: first, and according to this same definition, additives are intentionally added to food in order to achieve an improvement both in production (by modifying its color, smell , flavor, texture), in the conservation (avoiding biological or chemical alterations) or in the use of food. It should therefore be completely clear that additives do not have to be harmful products, since their use is allowed and controlled by the health authorities, and for a substance to be allowed by law as an additive, among many other conditions , it is established that "its use is free of danger for the consumer". The different countries, taking into account the scientific data available and the recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius, which are in turn collected by FAO / WHO (1990), establish the permitted lists of additives. In turn, Spanish legislation establishes as mandatory the declaration of additives added to a food, indicating their type and their identification number in order to be controlled (Spanish Technical Sanitary Regulation, 1971)
On the other hand, additives should not produce any change in the nutritional value of food and, therefore, the idea that is constantly being sold through the media and advertising of certain products that foods without preservatives or other additives are more nutritious, it is not true. One of the conditions required of food additives is "that they do not cause a decrease in nutritional value and that they do not impede or delay the action of digestive enzymes" and of course, they have been experimentally tested in long and expensive trials in which it is demonstrated its beneficial effect (Villanua, 1985).
Another aspect that is gaining a lot of interest today in relation to "natural food" is that of the so-called "organic or biological" products. For a product to be marketed as organic, it requires a series of requirements, stipulated in accordance with European Regulations: the use of hormones, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides composed of chemical products and, thus, only organic fertilizers, such as humus are used for these crops.
Many proponents of green products assume that additives, environmental contaminants, and even contaminants of microbial origin or the composition itself are not present in these products. It is true that pesticide, herbicide and fungicide residues may be lower in these products but there is no guarantee that they do not contain other potentially toxic substances (microbes, natural toxins) (Jellife and Jellife, 1982). Thus, environmental pollutants such as polybrominated biphenyl, polychlorinated biphenyl and ketones may be present. Microbiological contaminants such as “Clostridium Botulinum” spores have recently been discovered in honey produced by “organic crops” (Andrews, 1979) and some of the toxins, such as mold aflatoxins, which, as already mentioned, can Appearing as toxic constituents of some foods "per se", they are as likely to appear in an organic food as in a traditional one. Processed fertilizers can be of such high quality and correct nutritional deficiencies in the same way as those that come from the soil when used correctly.
It can be stated with certainty that up to now it has not been possible to demonstrate any difference in the nutrient content of these products in relation to traditional crops. An apple will always be an apple and it is not possible to change its nutrient content simply by varying its growth mode. Nor has it been possible to demonstrate any effect on health and some may even present an increased risk of parasitosis.
It is necessary to know and clarify that they do not suppose any advantage from the nutritional point of view nor are they healthier. In addition, it must be taken into account that some products fraudulently carry the label of organic products when in fact they are not. As a result of these possible frauds and the great expansion that the market for "ecological" products is experiencing fraud and the great expansion that the market for "ecological" products is having nowadays, it has become necessary to carry out a document normative at community level: EEC Regulation No. 2092/91 of the Council June 24, 1991 (Carrera, 1995).