Have you ever wondered what those mysterious “natural flavors” in your favorite snack really are? If they’re natural why don’t they just tell us what they are?
While advertising “natural flavors” may sound better to consumers than “artificial flavors” they’re actually not that different.
Out of a database of 80,000 foods “natural flavors” was listed as the fourth most common ingredient listed on labels according to the Environmental Working Group. The only ingredients to out rank it were salt, water and sugar.
“Natural and artificial flavors play an interesting role in food. They’re essentially providing the taste and often they’re added to make the food more appealing, or to potentially replace something that’s lost through processing, storage or in some cases even from pasteurizing,” says David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group.
Orange juice is one popular product that uses natural flavors. Manufacturers add fake flavoring to juice after it’s packaged in a plant to ensure uniformity.
“It’s [used] to make sure that you have the exact same tasting food products across the country any time of year,” Andrew says. “It’s become the signature of a lot of these products.”
Natural vs Artificial
What makes a flavor “natural” vs “artificial?” According to Andrews, “The largest difference is that natural flavors are coming from natural sources. The original ingredient is found in nature and then purified and extracted and added back into the food.”
What that doesn’t mean is that the “natural flavors” found in your strawberry oatmeal are simply dried strawberries. On the contrary, it means that it probably consists of a chemical originally found in strawberries, enhanced and added into your food in a lab.
Artificial flavors are usually entirely manufactured or man-made. In other words, they don’t “derive” from a natural source.
“Most often, as far as I could find, the actual chemicals themselves could be identical or extremely close in terms of natural versus artificial,” Andrews says.
Adding flavoring, whether it’s natural or artificial, could mean that your food has an additional 50 to 100 ingredients, that’s a lot more than you see when you look at the nutrition label.
Are Natural Flavors Harmful to Your Health?
Apparently the amount of preservatives and solvents in natural flavors is too small to lead to health issues, Andrews notes. However, they have been known to induce cravings which could lead to weight gain.
Vandana Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Diabetics, believes that artificial and natural flavoring may induce food cravings in some people. “As a consumer, it is important to be savvy about ingredients. Recognize that any food consumed in excess of your needs is going to affect your weight loss journey,” she notes.
Several studies link artificial sweeteners, which share the same optimization effect on flavor, to weight gain and unhealthy dietary habits. The goal is to make foods more appealing than they may actually be, Andrews says. “You can make [foods that aren’t as good for you] more appealing or even taste as if they’re extremely fresh when they may not be.”
While natural flavors haven’t been linked to serious health issues, you may want to consider consuming them in moderation. You can still enjoy your favorite snacks and fruit drinks, just mix up your diet with some foods that haven’t been “flavor optimized.”
How do you feel about artificial and natural flavoring? Let us know in the comment section below. Don’t forget to share this article with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
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David Andrews, The Environmental Working Group
Vandara Sheth, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Wells, S.D. Natural News. (2012, Jun 27). What’s Really Behind the Ingredient ‘Natural Flavors?’”
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