Since the 1960's there was a surge of interest in the relationship of nutrition to health. This concern was accompanied by criticism of the large amounts of highly processed, fabricated, and fortified foods provided by the modern food industry. More people than ever began to shop in health food stores, and food cooperatives sprang up in great numbers.
There are no official definitions accepted by all scientists and consumers for "health", "natural" or "organic" foods. However, among many scientists and consumers there is agreement that a natural food is one that has undergone minimal processing, and contains no artificial ingredients or additives. Thus, whole wheat bread made without preservatives or other additives would be considered natural, while enriched bread, although still a good food, would not.
Organically grown food is considered, by the farmers and gardeners who
produce it, to mean food produced on soils fertilized by compost and
manures, but not chemical fertilizers. Also, the food must not have
been treated with chemical pesticides or herbicides. There is no
convincing evidence that such foods are more nutritious or safer to eat
than nonorganically grown foods. By avoiding the use of pesticides and
herbicides, however, the method of producing them tends to be
Both natural and organic foods may be classified as health foods, but there is no definition agreed upon that encompasses all foods that may be called health foods.
Common misconceptions about certain health foods are that wheat germ is a "wonder" food, that fertile eggs are superior nutritionally to infertile eggs, and that vegetables should be eaten raw to obtain healthful enzymes. None of these claims is true. Wheat germ is highly nutritious, but has no magical properties; fertile and infertile eggs are alike in nutritive value; and the enzymes in vegetables are digested in the intestinal tract, not absorbed as such into the body.
The claim is frequently made that natural vitamins are superior to synthetic, or manufactured, vitamins. Consumers need to understand that synthetic vitamins and those occurring naturally in foods are chemically exactly the same, and are absorbed and used equally well by the body. It is well to note that so-called natural vitamin pills, while more expensive than purely synthetic ones, often contain a high percentage of synthetic vitamins.
Frequently, organically grown foods are more expensive than comparable foods found in the supermarket. On the other hand, many natural foods such as whole wheat flour, grains, peas and beans, and cheeses are less expensive in food cooperatives than in most supermarkets. Health food stores, because they exist for profit, tend to sell at markedly higher prices than food cooperatives.
In an attempt to protect the consumer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prevents manufacturers from making specified claims about foods on food labels. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering whether or not it will set definitions for natural and organic foods to be used by advertisers. Health foods are probably here to stay, as consumers exercise their freedom of choice in foods. However, further federal regulations in labeling and advertising of such foods may be deemed necessary to protect consumers against false and misleading claims.