Is Natural Food Healthy?



Is food’s naturalness conceptually connected to its healthiness? Answering the question requires spelling out the following: (1) What is meant by the healthiness of food? (2) What different conceptual meanings the term natural has in the context of food? (3) Are some of those meanings connected to the healthiness of food? In this paper the healthiness of food is understood narrowly as food’s accordance with nutritional needs of its eater. The connection of healthiness to the following five food-related senses of the term “natural’’ is analyzed: naturalness as nutritive suitability, naturalness as moderate need satisfaction, naturalness as lack of human influence, naturalness as authenticity, and naturalness as familiarity. It is concluded that some very common current uses of the term “natural,” such as naturalness as lack of human influence, are not conceptually connected to the healthiness of food. Nevertheless, the first two senses of naturalness are strongly conceptually connected to healthiness in the food context and the last one may be indirectly related to it. Thus, desire for natural food is not necessarily mistaken and misguided.


Food Natural Healthy Conceptual analysis 



I want to thank Peter Sandøe and anonymous referees for their useful comments on the earlier versions of this paper, Susanne Uusitalo for correcting my English, and Academy of Finland for the financial support.


  1. Angermeier, P. (2000). Natural imperative for biological conservation. Conservation Biology, 14(2), 373–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bergin, L. A. (2009). Latina feminist metaphysics and genetically engineered foods. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 22(3), 257–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boorse, C. (1977). Health as a theoretical concept. Philosophy of Science, 44(4), 542–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brennan, A. (1988). Thinking about nature: An investigation on nature, value and ecology. Chatham: Mackays of Chatman PLC.Google Scholar
  5. Budiansky, S. (1992). The covenant of the wild: Why animals chose domestication. London: Phoenix.Google Scholar
  6. Burghess, J. A., & Walsh, A. J. (1998). Is genetic engineering wrong, Per Se? Journal of Value Inquiry, 32(3), 393–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Callicott, J. B. (1995). Animal liberation: A triangular affair. In C. Pierce & D. Van De Veer (Eds.), People, penguins, and plastic trees (pp. 237–254). Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  8. Chadwick, R. (2000). Novel, natural, nutritious: Towards a philosophy of food. Proceeding of the Aristotelian Society, 100, 193–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cooley, D. R., & Goreham, G. A. (2004). Are transgenic organisms unnatural. Ethics and the Environment, 9(1), 46–55.Google Scholar
  10. D’Silva, J. (1995). A critical view of the genetic engineering of farm animals. In P. Wheale & R. McNally (Eds.), Animal genetic engineering: Of pigs, oncomice and men. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  11. Döring, T. F., Pautasso, M., Finckh, M. R., & Wolfe, M. S. (2012). Concepts of plant health—Reviewing and challenging the foundations of plant protection. Plant Pathology, 61(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Frazier, K. (2010). Natural low carb diet. Retrieved 15 May.
  13. Freston, K. (2009). Shattering the meat myth: Humans are natural vegetarians. Huffpost healthy living. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
  14. Gregory, N., & Gregory, R. (2010). A values-based framework for community food choices. Environmental Values, 19(1), 99–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Häyry, M. (1994). Categorical objections to genetic engineering—A critique. In A. Dyson & J. Harris (Eds.), Ethics and biotechnology (pp. 202–215). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Häyry, M., & Häyry, H. (1989). Ihmisoikeudet, moraali ja lisääntymisen vapaus. In H. Häyry & M. Häyry (Eds.), Luonnotonta lastensaantia (pp. 174–195). Helsinki: Gaudeamus.Google Scholar
  17. Huber, M., Rembiałkowska, E., Średnicka, D., Bügel, S., & van de Vijver, L. P. L. (2011). Organic food and impact on human health: Assessing the status quo and prospects of research. NJAS—Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 58(1), 103–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hunter, M. (1996). Benchmarks for managing ecosystems: Are human activities natural? Conservation Biology, 10(3), 695–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Johnson, L. (2011). How to avoid processed foods in a healthy diet. Retrieved 15 May.
  20. Kaplan, D. M. (2012). Introduction: The philosophy of food. In D. M. Kaplan (Ed.), The philosophy of food (pp. 1–23). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kingma, E. (2007). What it is to be healthy. Analysis, 67(294), 128–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Korzen, S., Sandøe, P., & Larsen, J. (2011). Pure meat—Public perceptions of risk reduction strategies in meat production. Food Policy, 36(2), 158–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. L’Abbe, M. R., Stender, S., Skeaff, C. M., Ghafoorunissa, & Tavella, M. (2009). Approaches to removing trans fats from the food supply in industrialized and developing countries. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(1), 50–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lemoine, M. (2009). The meaning and opposition between healthy and pathological. Medicine, Healthcare and Philosophy, 12(3), 335–362.Google Scholar
  25. Levy, D. (1980). Perversion and unnaturalness as moral categories. Ethics, 90(2), 191–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Loren, K. (2012). Natural milk vs. processed milk. Retrieved 16 May.
  27. Madsen, K. H., Holm, P. B., Larsen, J., & Sandøe, P. (2003). Ranking genetically modified plants according to familiarity. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 15(3), 267–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Margetts, B. M., Martinez, J. A., Saba, A., Holm, L., & Kearney, M. (1997). Definitions of “healthy” eating: A pan-EU survey of consumer attitudes to food, nutrition and health. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51, 23–29.Google Scholar
  29. Mathews, E. (1988). AIDS and sexual morality. Bioethics, 2(2), 119–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Matt, D., Rembialkowska, E., Luik, A., Peetsman, E., & Pehme, S. (2011). Quality of organic vs. conventional food and effects on health. Estonian university of life sciences. Retrieved 10 May 2012.
  31. McKibben, B. (1989). The end of nature. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  32. Meijboom, F. L. B. (2007). Trust, food, and health. Questions of trust at the interface between food and health. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 20(3), 231–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Midgley, M. (1995). Sidelight: Do what’s natural, you say? In C. Pierce & D. Van De Veer (Eds.), People, penguins and plastic trees (pp. 103–105). Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  34. Mill, J. S. (1969). Essays on ethics, religion and society. Toronto: Toronto University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Mullin, G. E. (2010). Popular diets prescribed by alternative practitioners—Part 2. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25(3), 308–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nordenfelt, L. (2002). On health and natural functions. In A. Gimmler, C. Lenk, & G. Aumüller (Eds.), Health and quality of life (pp. 19–26). Münster: Lit Verlag.Google Scholar
  37. Nordenfelt, L. (2006). Animal and human health and welfare: A comparative philosophical analysis. Wallingford: CAB International.Google Scholar
  38. Nordenfelt, L. (2007). The concepts of health and illness revisited. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 10(1), 5–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Önning, G., Åkesson, B., Öste, R., & Lundquist, I. (1998). Effects of consumption of oat milk, soya milk, or cow’s milk on plasma lipids and antioxidative capacity in healthy subjects. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 42(4), 211–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Östlund, L., Ahlberg, L., Zackrisson, O., Bergman, I., & Arno, S. (2009). Bark-peeling, food stress and tree spirits—The use of pine inner bark for food in scandinavia and North America. Journal of Ethnobiology, 29(1), 94–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pouteau, S. (2002). The food debate: Ethical versus substantial equivalence. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 15(3), 291–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Räikkä, J., & Rossi, K. (2002). Geenit ja etiikka: Kysymyksiä uuden geeniteknologian arvoista. Helsinki: WSOY.Google Scholar
  43. Richards, J. R. (1984). The sceptical feminist: A philosophical enquiry. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  44. Rolston, H., I. I. I. (1979). Can and ought we to follow nature. Environmental Ethics, 1(1), 7–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rozin, P. (2005). Meaning of ‘natural’: Process more important than content. Psychological Science, 16, 652–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rozin, P., Spranca, M., Krieger, Z., Nauhaus, R., Surillo, D., Swerdlin, A., et al. (2004). Preference for natural: Instrumental and ideational/moral motivations, and the contrast between foods and medicine. Appetite, 43(2), 147–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sacks, F. M., Lichtenstein, A., Van Horn, L., Harris, W., Kris-Etherton, P., & Winson, M. (2006). Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health. Circulation, 113, 1033–1044.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sagoff, M. (2001). Genetic engineering and the concept of the natural. Philosophy and the Policy Quarterly, 21(1), 2–10.Google Scholar
  49. Saher, M. (2006). Everyday beliefs about food and health. Helsinki: Yliopistopaino.Google Scholar
  50. Schramme, T. (2007). Lennart Nordenfelt’s theory of health: Introduction to the theme. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 10(1), 3–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Scott-Thomas, C. (2009). US consumers think that natural is greener than organic, says survey. Food Navigator-USA, 6 July 2009. Retrieved April 24 2011.
  52. Scrinis, G. (2008). On the ideology of nutritionism. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 8(1), 39–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Scrinis, G. (2012). Nutritionism and functional foods. In D. Kaplan (Ed.), The philosophy of food. California: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  54. Siipi, H. (2003). Artefacts and living artefacts. Environmental Values, 12(4), 413–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Siipi, H. (2008). Dimensions of naturalness. Ethics and the Environment, 1(1), 71–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Smith, R. (2002). In search of a “non-disease”. BMJ, 324(883), 1.Google Scholar
  57. Stitt, S. (1996). An international perspective on food and cooking skills in education. British Food Journal, 98(10), 27–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Stone, C. D. (1972). Should trees have standing?—Towards legal rights for natural objects. Southern California Law Review, 45, 450–501.Google Scholar
  59. Tenbült, P., de Vries, N. K., Dreezens, E., & Martijn, C. (2005). Perceived naturalness and acceptance of genetically modified food. Appetite, 45(1), 47–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Thompson, D. B., & McDonald, B. (forthcoming). What food is “Good’’ for you? Toward a pragmatic consideration of multiple values domains. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. Online first.Google Scholar
  61. Townsend, A. R., Howarth, R. W., Bazzaz, F. A., Booth, M. S., Cleveland, C. C., Collinge, S. K., et al. (2003). Human health effects of a changing global nitrogen cycle. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 1(5), 240–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tulloch, A. (2005). What do we mean by health? British Journal of General Practice, April 2005, 320–323.Google Scholar
  63. Verhoog, H., Matze, M., van Beuren, E. L., & Baars, T. (2003). The role of the concept of natural (naturalness) in organic farming. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 16(1), 29–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Verhoog, H., Van Beuren, E. T. L., Matze, M., & Baars, T. (2007). The Value of `naturalness’ in organic agriculture. NJAS—Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 54(4), 333–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. WHO (1948). Preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 states (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. Retrieved 10 May.
  66. Wong, C. (2011). Raw food diet. Retrieved 15 May 2012.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioural Sciences and PhilosophyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

Personalised recommendations