We all know that natural is good and artificial is bad.
With this in mind, natural food must be the best choice for our body, and artificial food needs to be avoided. You should also preach this to all of your friends. You get bonus points if you explain all this to strangers eating a candy bar on a bus station.
Regardless of dietary moralization being extremely annoying, let's stop for a second and ask ourselves what's natural and what's unnatural.
Ant is natural. Anthill that it builds is...? Natural.
Man is natural. City that he builds is...? Artifi...natural.
Sugar beet is natural. Sugar is...? Arti...natural.
Fish is natural. Fish oil in a capsule is...? Art...natural.
The fact that man built or refined something does not mean it's unnatural/artificial. Man, like ant, is part of nature, and regardless of materials at hand, even if he created them, everything he builds must necessarily be natural.
When talking about diet, processing does not make it artificial. It usually makes it of less nutritive value. But not always.
But let's say we accepted the distinction of natural and unnatural.
Strychnine, botulinum, ricin, anthrax. All of these compounds are extremely potent poisons, and completely natural. So what does the notion of something being natural or unnatural tell us about their benefits, or risks?
Does natural equal better? No.
Natural or unnatural?
Glorifying „natural“ and consequentially demonizing „artificial“, which is often equated with modern, is a common logical falacy. Especially with followers of alternative medicine and nutrition. One of the most prominent of these are members of Paleo movement, who state that our ancestors during Paleolithic times didn't have cardiovascular diseases or carcinoma, and in order to have the same benefit, we must follow their dietary principles. Regardless of the fact that Paleo diet is interpreted in a wrong way, because our ancestors did eat grains (they actually ate anything. You would too if you were on the verge of dying of hunger every day), take into account that the average lifespan just over a century ago was still around 30 years. Bear in mind that chronic diseases occur later in life. So we cannot conclude that eating the way our ancestors did is a good choice for lowering the risk of chronic disease. And even then, we have strong proof that they did get atherosclerosis.
Now that we know that the distinction of natural and artificial is pointless – but even if it wasn't, it wouldn't tell us anything about utilizing a certain habit or food item – we must ask the real question: What's good, what's neutral, and what's bad? What does our body need, what doesn't, and what's harmful to it? What has a positive effect on our health, what has a negative effect, and what has no effect?
This usually has no simple answer; more specifically, the answer is usually something that people hate to hear: „it depends“.
So next time you pick out a food item, don't try to figure out in if it's natural or not. Instead, consider if it has nutritive value or not. The fact remains that minimally processed foods are generally most nutritious, and should be the basis of every diet. However, don't exclude without a valid reason foods that are somewhat more processed, since it hampers variability and practicality of your diet.