The ‘all-natural’ label on your LaCroix is meaningless, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad for you

Reading the nutrition label on the back of a can of LaCroix sparkling water, you’ll notice only two ingredients: “carbonated water,” and “natural flavors.” The company’s rapid success, culminating in $827 million in sales last year, is due in part to its popularity as an all-natural beverage. Those claims are now coming under fire: a Chicago-based law firm has just filed a class action lawsuit against LaCroix, accusing the company of falsely branding its ingredients as “natural,” when they are, in fact, identified by the FDA as “synthetic.”

At least, that’s how the argument goes. The truth is, this lawsuit seems to be a stretch, working on the ambiguous nature of how the FDA distinguishes natural chemicals from synthetic ones, and a product of alarmist, chemophobic ideas about what we put in our foods.

Beaumont Costales, the law firm that filed the suit against Natural Beverage Corporation (LaCroix’s parent company), released a statement on Monday that said, “testing reveals that LaCroix contains a number of artificial ingredients… LaCroix in fact contains ingredients that have been identified by the Food and Drug Administration as synthetic. These chemicals include limonene, which can cause kidney toxicity and tumors; linalool propionate, which is used to treat cancer; and linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide.”

RELATED: These foods and drinks are banned in the United States 

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10 Foods And Drinks Banned In America

Are you eager to know more foods and drinks that are banned in America? Read on!

Unpasteurized Milk

Unpasteurized milk, or raw milk, is widely consumed throughout the world, but it's banned in several American states as it has been linked to the spread of the E. coli bacteria. At the moment, 17 states have a total ban on raw milk for human consumption, while others have partial bans on sales.

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Haggis

The traditional Scottish staple Haggis has been banned in America since 1971, as the USDA put a restriction on eating one of its main ingredients, sheep’s lung. The dish, a savory "pudding," also includes ingredients such as sheep's heart and liver, and is cooked in a sheep's stomach.

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Casu Marzu

The Sardinian specialty Casu Marzu, or "Maggot Cheese," is prepared by letting a type of cheese fly lay eggs in pecorino cheese, promoting advanced fermentation. As the larvae hatch and eat through the cheese, it softens, and is ready to be eaten. The possible health risks of eating larvae, as well as the fact that the cheese is unpasteurized, makes it illegal in the U.S. In Italy, it remains legal due to its status established by the European Union as a "traditional food."

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Sassafras Oil

Sassafras oil, an oil taken from the bark of the sassafras tree, used to be an ingredient in root beer. But after research showed that the ingredient could cause cancer, a ban on sassafras oil was set in effect in the 1960s.

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Pig's Blood Cake

The Taiwanese food-specialty of pig's blood and rice mixed together and put on a stick is banned by the USDA, as the preparation method is considered "unsanitary." Still, tourists and locals seems to enjoy this dish, but for now — not in the U.S.

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Shark Fin

Shark fins are a Chinese delicacy, but the often cruel fishing methods — slicing, or "finning," the shark’s fin and letting the shark back in the water to die — has raised opposition for the sales of the food item. In America, finning is illegal, but imported shark fins are still allowed except in California, where a total ban on both sales and distribution is in place.

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Fugu (Japanese Blowfish)

The Japanese blowfish, fugu, is highly toxic, and can easily be fatal if prepared wrong. Despite this (or perhaps because of it?) it’s considered a delicacy in Japan. If you dare, a few places in America do serve blowfish, but it is illegal to sell, harvest, or serve fugu without a license. In Europe, the fish is totally banned.

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Absinthe

Absinthe was long banned in the U.S because of a compound called thujone, which is toxic in excessive amounts. The elixir is also believed to be hallucinogenic. Though absinthe is technically legal in the country today, there is a rule stating that it must be thujone-free — something that might be hard to control.

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Horse Meat

Until recently, the U.S government held a ban on "slaughtering horses for human consumption," but has now given permission for one slaughterhouse in New Mexico to reopen. Several more slaughterhouses have filed requests with USDA for similar permits, but for now, strict inspections must be passed for those wanting legal authority to sell horse meat. In parts of Asia, Latin America, and Europe, horse meat is not an uncommon ingredient in the kitchen.

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Foie Gras

Foie gras, often considered a luxurious delicacy, has recently been surrounded by controversy, as California has upheld its law banning the sales of foie gras made from force-fed geese. Animal rights groups are now working on getting a ban in effect in the rest of the country, starting with New York. But for now, the rest of the country, and most of the world, can still enjoy foie gras without breaking the law.

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Those allegations sound nasty, suggesting the company is pulling a fast one on consumers and dumping some hazardous substances into those colorfully-decorated aluminum cans.

Neither Beaumont Costales nor LaCroix responded to inquiries when contacted, so it’s unclear exactly how many ingredients the plaintiffs are claiming are falsely billed as natural. But even the three chemicals listed—limonene, linalool, and linalool propionate (better known as linalyl propionate)—don’t exactly qualify as synthetic, and they’re also not nearly as dangerous to consumers as Beaumont Costales’ statement suggests.

Let’s start with limonene. PubChem, the National Institute of Health’s open database for chemical compounds, explicitly calls limonene a “naturally occurring chemical,” and “a major component of oil extracted from citrus peels.” Sounds pretty natural, right? As its name suggests, limonene is commonly used to give foods or other products a lemony flavor and fragrance.

RELATED: Best and worst fruits for you 

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The 10 Best and 10 Worst Fruits for You
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Read on to find out which fruits are best, and which ones you may want to eat less frequently.

The Best

Enjoy these fruits as much as you want. They're lower in sugar content and they're filled with antioxidants, cancer-fighting properties and loads of benefits to keep you healthy.

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Blueberries

Blueberries are one of the most antioxidant-filled fruits you can eat! Blueberries have a pretty low glycemic index, and they have been found to benefit people with diabetes.

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Watermelon

Made up of nearly 82 percent water, watermelon is a delicious summer staple. While watermelon does contain sugar, it's more probable that you'll enjoy a few slices of the fruit rather than an entire watermelon. Even with the sugar, watermelon has been shown to lower levels of blood sugar and blood pressure.

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Raspberries

Half a cup of raspberries contains only 2.7 grams of sugar. Most of the carbohydrates found in raspberries come from their fiber content, which helps keep you feeling full.

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Lemons

Lemons are very low in sugar, high in vitamin C and have been found to protect against rheumatoid arthritis. The flavor of lemons can be enjoyed with just a zest or a squeeze. Add lemons to your tea, roast chicken or even pasta.

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Guavas

Three ounces of a guava fruit contains only 4.7 grams of sugar. That's great news because guavas have been found to help eyesight, prevent cancer and even promote weight loss.

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Grapefruits

According to the USDA, half of a grapefruit has only 8 grams of sugar. Grapefruits are also filled with vitamin C.

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Strawberries

The beautiful red color in strawberries makes them a powerhouse of nutritional value. The phenolic acid that gives strawberries their signature color helps to regulate blood sugar. With only 7 grams of sugar per cup, strawberries are a great option for a healthy dessert.

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Boysenberries

According to the USDA, boysenberries contain an impressive 9 grams of sugar for an entire cup. The tart berry is filled with fiber, folate, vitamin C and potassium.

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Blackberries

Blackberries contain 4.8 grams of sugar per cup, which makes them a great treat. (Not mention they're great for your heart.)

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Cranberries

Cranberries have an impressive array of phytonutrients in addition to vitamin C. They can taste pretty bitter to some, but that's just due to their limited sugar content.

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The Worst

Don't worry, these fruits aren't so bad for you that you should never have them, but they do contain significantly more sugar and calories than the aforementioned fruits. Just don't overdo it with these.

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Figs

Fresh figs are filled with fiber and can help to lower blood pressure, but the fruit does contain a good amount of sugar too—100 grams of raw figs (or roughly one cup) contains around 16 grams of sugar.

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Bananas

Bananas are a great substitute for an energy bar before the gym. Filled with potassium and easily digested, they're the perfect pre-workout snack. Still, with 14 grams of sugar in a medium banana, it's important to eat them mindfully.

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Mangos

Mangos are filled with soluble fiber in addition vitamins C, A and B6, however, the tasty fruit is pretty high in sugar, even by fruit standards. One mango contains 31 grams of sugar, so be sure to slice and share the sweet fruit.

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Grapes

According to the USDA, one cup of grapes contains 15 grams of sugar. Still, grapes can help to lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

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Pomegranates

Pomegranate seeds are delicious and beautiful winter fruit, but one entire pomegranate contains about 39 grams of sugar, which is why you should try sprinkling the seeds on yogurt instead of eating an entire bowl. Despite its sugar content though, the pomegranate has been shown to benefit the heart and even slow the process of aging.

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Cherries

Cherries are filled with vitamin C, which helps fight off disease, but eating a 100-gram serving of the sweet fruit contains 13 grams of sugar.

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Apples

The saying, "An apple a day, keeps the doctor away," holds up because apples have been found to help regulate blood sugar and are a great source of dietary fiber. However, according to the USDA, one medium apple has a surprising 19 grams of sugar.

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Dried Fruit

Dried fruit is super tasty because it generally contains more sugar than raw fruit. One cup of raisins contains over 434 calories. Enjoy dried fruit as a treat or sprinkle sparingly it on dishes for an extra burst of sweetness.

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Pineapple

Pineapples are a great way to get a delicious load of vitamin C, and eating them can have a positive effect on digestion. But remember that one cup of pineapple chunks contains 16 grams of sugar, so enjoy the tangy fruit in moderation.

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And how about those claims that it’s a harbinger of kidney toxicity and cancer? PubChem also states, “there is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of d-limonene.” There is some evidence of male rats experiencing renal problems, including tumors, as a consequence of limonene exposure, but none of those findings (the vast majority of which were published in the early 1990s) have been properly reproduced in humans. Meanwhile, more recent studies suggest limonene is actually antagonistic to cancer.

Linalool is another additive used as a flavoring agent. It’s “naturally occurring,” found within many different types of flowers and spice plants, including mints, scented herbs, laurels, and cinnamon. It is most definitely used in insecticides as well—that part is true. But that doesn’t mean it’s poisonous to humans. After all, we don’t ban chocolate just because dogs can’t eat it. According to PubChem, the only real toxic effects linalool has been documented to inflict on humans are mild skin and eye irritation, namely from aerosolized forms of the chemical. That’s a pretty normal effect for a spicy substance. And, coincidentally, it may also be another anticancer ingredient!

That leaves linalyl propionate, derived from plants like ginger and lavender, and another common flavoring and fragrance additive. It’s been shown to help inhibit the proliferation of prostate cancer, at least in the form of Nagami kumquats. I’m honestly having a hard time trying to understand why the law firm decided “might actually be bad for cancer cells” would be an effective argument against LaCroix’s ingredients.

RELATED: Toxic items to avoid 

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Never buy these toxic items from the Dollar Store
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Never buy these toxic items from the Dollar Store

Plastic food containers

Although they’re considered a bargain at dollar stores, and they’re super convenient in terms of organizing your kitchen, plastic food containers may contain pthalates. which cause reproductive problems in lab animals and are found in high levels, especially in women, in the U.S. population. Over 30 percent of some dollar store products tested had higher levels than are recommended in products used for children. They may also contain bisphenol-S (BPS)—which you’ll find in many BPA-freeproducts and which might be just as dangerous as BPA—the chemical just hasn’t been researched as much.

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Plastic wrap and packaged foods

Like plastic food containers, wraps and the plastic commercial packaging on food products from candies to meats may contain pthalates and BPS. With that in mind, you may want to rethink your use of plastic wrapping. Here’s how Saran Wrap has tried to detox their plastic wrap.

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Toys made before 2008

Just because an item doesn’t have an expiration date doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy it. Sometimes dollar stores sell factory closeouts, which means some of their stock may be old, and sometimes that means that as far as the consumer is concerned, they’re past their expiration date. For example, plastic toys made before 2008 are more likely to contain pthalates than toys made since 2008, the year that pthalates were banned from being included in children’s toys.

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Anything vinyl

Pthalates are also used in just about everything made out of vinyl—they keep the vinyl flexible. Here’s a list of items made with vinyl. At the dollar store, you are very likely to see vinyl placemats, shower curtains, bibs, backpacks, novelty watchbands, mattress covers and pool toys.

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Power cords and other electronic accessories

When Healthy Stuff, a project of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tested a variety of dollar store items for toxic chemicals, they gave Dollar General an F on their report card. Among other things, they found that many electronic accessories such as USB cords, cell phone chargers and extension cords tested high in chlorine, a toxic chemical of concern and also a sign that the items are made from vinyl. You might want to stick to electronics stores for these accessories.

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Certain cleaning products

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen found in a variety of cleaning products, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To avoid toxic chemicals altogether, pick up some baking soda at the dollar store and use it for these 50 clever ways you can clean with it.

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Some personal care products

Speaking of formaldehyde, this list also contains personal care products you are likely to find in dollar stores that may contain formaldehyde, especially if they are factory closeouts. Some of the more recognizable brands include Irish Spring, SoftSoap, and even Gerber.

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Fruit juices

We all know that arsenic is acutely poisonous, but inorganic arsenic is also a suspected carcinogen, even in smaller doses found in certain fruit juices.

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Styrofoam cups and plates

Styrene is a known carcinogen. It’s widely used in the manufacturing of styrofoam cups, plates and packing peanuts—and a lot more. Here’s a list of some styrene-containing products.

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Black plastic kitchen utensils

Bromine, which is linked to cancer and birth defects, is a component in some flame retardants. It’s been banned, but it may have made its way into cheaper, older versions of the ubiquitous black plastic kitchen utensils. It’s best to avoid buying these in the dollar store: stick with stainless steel utensils instead.

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Bug spray

No one likes a pantry pest, but if you try to eliminate them using chemical pesticides, you may be increasing your risk of cancer. Chemical pesticides are also found in flea collars and tick-repellents. Some natural oils seem to repel ticks and are also safe for people and pets. Peppermint, thyme, eucalyptus and cedar oil are a few. But you probably won’t find those at the dollar store!

Want to know more? Another helpful dollar store report lists, in detail, specific dollar-store products that may be hazardous to your health. If you’re left feeling a little flustered by all the chemicals on store shelves, turn to these great ways to detox your kitchen.

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Unless LaCroix is secretly 50 percent linalool (don’t be too worried about that hypothetical; it would taste pretty gnarly) LaCroix drinkers have little to fear. According to Roger Clemens, an expert in food and regulatory science at the University of Southern California, it’s worth remembering these three compounds are found in low levels in a long list of different types of foods and drinks in the U.S. “It is very unlikely these naturally-occurring substances pose a health risk when consumed at levels usually found in foods,” he says. “If there were a health risk, then citrus juices and spices, such as curry, would not be consumed or be part of the commodity market.”

Moreover, food ingredients aren’t all of a sudden dangerous just because they have other, non-dietary uses. Casein, a primary protein in cow’s milk, isn’t making people sick just because it’s also an adhesive ingredient in glues. If someone is arguing that a substance is bad by telling you that it’s used in some poisonous product—as opposed to telling you how the exact substance in question is causing you harm—it’s a good indication they’re grasping at straws. Everything is made of chemicals; chemicals appear as ingredients in many things.

So if all of these substances are found naturally, why is Beaumont Costales claiming they’re synthetic? That might have to do with the FDA’s own documents. The agency’s Title 21 lists both limonene and linalool under “synthetic flavoring substances” that are “generally recognized as safe for their intended use,” and lists linalyl proprionate under “synthetic flavoring substances and adjuvants” safe according to certain conditions. This is most likely the crux of the plaintiff’s case.

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With so many choices, how do you know which milk is best to buy? This guide will help you cut through the confusion.

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Whole milk, reduced-fat milk, low-fat milk or nonfat milk?

Consider whole milk a once-in-a-while treat. Nutrition experts recommend drinking low-fat (1%) milk or nonfat milk to limit intake of the saturated fats that boost risk of heart disease. And don’t be fooled: reduced-fat (2%) milk is not a low-fat food. One cup has 5 grams fat, 3 of them the saturated kind.

Organic or not?

People associate organic milk with superior nutrition, better treatment of animals and a healthier planet. But there’s no evidence that organic milk is more nutritious. Preliminary research has suggested that grass-fed cows produce more vitamin E and heart-healthy omega-3 fats, but organic standards don't require cows be solely grass-fed.

rBST-free or not?

The claim “rBST-free” indicates milk produced without using the artificial growth hormone recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST. Giving this hormone to a cow boosts its milk production by about five quarts per day. Note: All organic milks are rBST-free, but not all rBST-free milks are organic (i.e., farmers may use pesticides, fertilizers, etc.).

Lactose-free?

This type of milk is basically regular cow’s milk minus lactose, the natural sugar in milk. It provides all the same healthful nutrients (e.g., protein and calcium), just not the sugar that stokes digestive problems for up to 50 million Americans.

Raw vs. pasteurized?

During pasteurization, milk is heated to high temperatures then rapidly cooled to kill harmful bacteria, including salmonella, E.coli 0157:H7 and listeria. While raw-milk enthusiasts claim heating milk destroys its natural enzymes and beneficial bacteria, studies show that the nutritional differences between pasteurized and raw milk are slight.

Don't like milk?

Don’t have a cow: milk can come from many sources. Though you may drink these plant-based milks in place of what Elsie produces, “Technically, these drinks aren’t really milk,” says Catherine W. Donnelly, Ph.D., of the University of Vermont. Regardless, here’s a milk/“milk” comparison* per cup.

Cow's milk

80-150 calories (nonfat to whole), 0.5-8 g fat, 0-5 g saturated fat, 8-9 g protein, 12-13 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 30% DV calcium, 25% DV vitamin D. Nutrition notes: One cup provides a third of the recommended daily dose for calcium and 16% of the daily value for protein. It’s a good source of vitamin D and phosphorus, which build strong bones, as well as the B vitamin riboflavin.

Goat's milk

90-150 calories (nonfat to whole), 2.5-8 g fat, 1.5-5 g saturated fat, 7-8 g protein, 9-12 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 30% DV calcium, up to 30% DV vitamin D. Nutrition notes: Goat’s milk contains lactose. Many suggest that people who are allergic to cow’s milk can tolerate goat’s milk, but immunologists often advise those allergic to cow’s milk to avoid goat’s milk too.

Soy milk

60-130 calories, 2-6 g fat, 0-0.5 g saturated fat, 4-12 g protein, 5-15 g carbohdyrates, 0-4 g fiber, 4-30% DV calcium, up to 30% DV vitamin D. Nutrition notes: Studies link soy’s protein and phytoestrogens with a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Choose a soymilk fortified with calcium and vitamin D—and shake before you pour, as added nutrients can settle to the bottom of the carton.

Rice milk

110-120 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 1 g protein, 20-24 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 2-25% DV calcium, up to 25% DV vitamin D. Nutrition notes: Rice milk is lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates than cow’s milk and soymilk. It’s also a poor natural source of calcium so choose one that’s fortified with the mineral.

Almond milk

60-80 calories, 2.5-4.5 g fat, 0-0.5 g saturated fat, 2-9 g protein, 5-11 g carbohydrate, 0-4 g fiber, 20-30% DV calcium, up to 25% DV vitamin D. Nutrition notes: Almond milk is naturally high in calcium. Buy one that’s fortified with vitamin D, too, for a nutrition profile similar to cow’s milk.

Hemp milk

110-130 calories, 3-7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 4-5 g protein, 6-20 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 2-46% DV calcium. Nutrition notes: Hemp milk supplies high-quality protein (i.e., a good mix of amino acids) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid.

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That doesn’t mean it’s a good argument. According to the FDA, a “natural” ingredient that adds flavor to a food or drink must be from an animal or plant source. But those natural flavors could still contain ingredients that are artificial, such as preservatives. Even the agency’s definitions of “natural” and “synthetic” are far from clear. The three chemicals discussed here can be derived naturally, but even if they are not (and we likely won’t know until the case goes to court), they might simply be used as additives that are supposed to modify the natural flavor compound in some way.

Lastly, Clemens emphasizes, “the term ‘100 percent natural’ does not have a statutory status within the U.S.” It’s a nebulous phrase that can mean whatever you want it to mean. LaCroix has its own interpretation, and just because that doesn’t jive with what you initially thought doesn’t necessarily mean it was fraudulent to consumers. “All-natural” labels exist solely to tempt you into buying stuff. They’re all meaningless, so LaCroix is not unique in this regard. If you want all-natural water, you should stick with the tap (though your results may vary).

If you want to keep drinking LaCroix, ironically or otherwise, you should feel free to keep doing so, and resist getting caught up in alarmist, litigious scares. “Whether a substance is ‘natural’ or ‘synthetic’ should not be a health issue,” says Clemens. “It’s all about safety as assessed by experts in nutrition, food science, food toxicology, and medicine.”

RELATED: Foods to buy organic 

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Read on to discover 14 foods you should consider buying organic.

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1. Apples

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2. Strawberries

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3. Peaches

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4. Nectarines

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5. Celery

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6. Imported Snap Peas

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7. Sweet Bell Peppers

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8. Spinach

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9. Cucumbers

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10. Cherry Tomatoes

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11. Potatoes

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12. Grapes

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13. Hot Peppers

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14. Leafy Greens -- Kale and Collard Greens

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