Natural Is Not the Same as Safe, A Little Fun for Friday

Heather says:

I’ve touched on this before, but I think this is a fun little reminder. Just because something is all natural doesn’t mean it is healthy or even safe. Below is an A – Z listing of perfectly natural things.

  • Arsenic
  • Botulism
  • Crocus (Autumn)
  • Daffodils
  • Elderberry roots
  • Fox Glove
  • Hyacinth
  • Ivy, poison
  • Jimson Weed
  • Kex – A variety of hemlock
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Mistletoe
  • Nightshade, Deadly
  • Oleander
  • Poinsettia
  • Quicksand
  • Rattlesnakes
  • Strychnine
  • Tse tse flies
  • Urchins, sea
  • Venom
  • Water hemlock
  • Xanthium strumarium (cocklebur)
  • Yellow Jessamine
  • Zombies1

What was the point of the exercise? Mostly it amused me, but in part it’s a reminder to use common sense when trying to discuss what is good and healthy, especially when it comes to food and medicine. There are probably as many good chemicals out there as there are natural things that aren’t good for us.

I often struggle with how to frame conversations here. It’s so easy to slip into “good” vs. “bad” and “chemical” vs.  “natural.” Nutrition is a topic that crosses a lot of gray area and much like parenting debates it seems to pit people against one another. Have you seen the raw vs pasteurized milk debates? Just that one debate is overwhelming to me. I can see why someone just looking into the idea of eating better could throw their hands in the air and walk away.

I wonder why the debates have to get so nasty.

My goal isn’t to make readers feel ashamed of consuming processed foods, rather I want people to see learning to cook as a skill that anyone can master. Without cooking as a basic skillset, it’s hard for the average person to eat a healthful diet on a reasonable budget. -Now is when someone brings up the raw food movement, right?-

If you’re a new cook, hang in there.

    1What, I can’t have a little fun? I had to see if you were paying attention.


    1. Sarah on September 28, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      Good point…I think those attitudes are symptomatic of a general tendency for people to want to see the world in terms of black and white when of course it’s never quite that simple.

    2. onecrazykat on July 29, 2010 at 2:11 pm

      Well said, Heather! I try to buy everything minimally processed too.I totally agree with you about needing to learn basic cooking skills before worrying about other food issues. And while I'm a fan of raw milk and other raw foods, I try not to intimidate others with my views. I think the biggest problem with the raw milk debate is the push by government to tell us what we can eat. I guess if you look at it from a liberty stand point it is not so overwhelming. If someone wants to drink raw milk and eat raw cheese, let them. But if they don't want to eat that stuff, that's okay too.

    3. Jami on July 28, 2010 at 3:42 am

      This is pretty funny. Quicksand and tse tse flies gave me a good laugh!

    4. Tinkerschnitzel on July 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      Your mother was an elderberry! Sorry, couldn't help myself. 🙂

      Caryn, my biology professor told me that about margarine, and we've eaten butter ever since as well. I do my best to stick with foods that have no MSG or other preservatives in them. I get lucky if I can find stuff with no sugar or added salt. I figure if I can buy stuff that's as close to the way I would make it from scratch, then it's good.

    5. Malia on July 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm

      "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!"

      Heh. That's what I think of every time I hear/see the word, elderberry.

      • HeatherSolos on July 27, 2010 at 12:26 pm

        That's exactly what I was thinking of when I posted.

    6. caryn verell on July 24, 2010 at 4:38 pm

      i read somewhere that margarine is only one molecule away from being plastic…since then we only use real butter. my problem with “processed” foods is the stuff that is added or taken out of it…for instance..fat free or low fat mayo-what is that stuff that replaces the fats. or low carb bread – what did they take out of regular bread and what stuff did they add to make it “low-carb”. personally, i always look to the ingredients listed and reject the item if i don’t know what it is or how to pronounce it. on fresh produce i am also very cautious and check the label to see where it came from…yesterday i had sliced tomato that came from arkansas..delicious!

    7. Dr Alice on July 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      As one of my med school professors was fond of saying, "Poison ivy's natural, but that doesn't mean it's good for you."

    8. Zombie Marianne on July 24, 2010 at 5:57 pm

      I love zombies. I love Nuff said.

    9. ThatBobbieGirl on July 24, 2010 at 1:38 am

      Hey now! What's a little arsenic among friends? And my son was pleased that you managed to mention zombies, yet again, on a home ec website. After all, zombies are people, too. Uh…were…people…um…

      Rather than natural vs. chemical, I prefer to look at processed vs whole foods. I like to buy foods that are minimally processed, by which I mean that they are as close to God made 'em as I can get 'em. I'm not going to buy a whole cow, but once we bought 1/2 a side of beef, and had it cut as we wanted, wrapped & frozen. Not "enhanced with a solution" or irradiated. Just minimally processed into pieces we could use. I can't do that right now, so I look for meat in the grocery store that does not have anything added to it, and as far as I can tell, has not been irradiated.

      For packaged products that I do buy, the first thing I look for is an extremely SHORT ingredients list with only things I can pronounce and preferably with only ingredients I could buy at a grocery store.

      • HeatherSolos on July 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm

        That's an excellent and succinct way of phrasing it. Remember the Breyer's Ice Cream commercials where they had kids trying to read labels?
        Does having recognizable ingredients make Breyer's a health food? Of course not, but I believe it makes it a better choice for a treat than some others out there.

      • Keter on July 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm

        That's exactly what I do, Bobbie. One thing interesting that I have learned is that when looking at labels, the short, pronounceable ingredient lists are usually on the products on the lower shelves…yes, the cheap stuff. This is particularly true of canned goods, where cheap = more water but less junk.

        I also have found that products imported from India, Mexico, and Canada may be both better quality and simpler in ingredients than their American counterparts, and they also may be cheaper. If you have ethnic grocery stores in your area, I recommend checking them out…I've had great luck with these.

        • HeatherSolos on July 27, 2010 at 12:25 pm

          That is definitely a good rule of thumb. With seasoned tomatoes, be careful, they really like to sneak HFCS into that, especially the off brands.

    10. Miko's Girl on July 23, 2010 at 10:52 pm

      I love this – I often think of this when people are being too narrow-minded. Chlorine is an element on the periodic table – does this mean, it's an element found in nature? If so, I would add chlorine (bleach) to your list.

    11. Natural Is Not The Same As Safe on July 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm

      […] via Natural Is Not the Same as Safe, A Little Fun for Friday. […]

    12. Tammy on July 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm

      Very true Heather. Your readers should also be aware that just because a particular brand conveys the idea that they are natural (or organic, botanical, etc), you need to do your homework & check the labels. Cosmetic/skin care companies are notorious for this.

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