Do you think natural flavors are “natural”?
Have you ever felt good about buying products with natural flavors? Yup, that’s me. It sounds natural, right?
Here is my story that sparked my further research.
I have been buying flavored sparkling water beverages to replace other “unhealthier” or super sugary varieties. I was feeling good about them because the ingredients are carbonated water and natural flavors.
Then I found a brand that besides the carbonated water, it contained blackberry puree and lemon juice. Now, I recognize that!
It got me wondering what I am drinking in naturally flavored beverages? I assumed an orange-flavored drink would have something to do with orange, right?
Well, … the answer is maybe or maybe not.
What are natural flavors?
According to the FDA natural flavors are: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
Natural flavors are complex mixtures created by specially trained food chemists known as flavorists.
What is wrong with natural flavors?
Natural flavors can also have additional additives like preservatives and stabilizers that do not have to be disclosed on the label because they are called “incidental additives”, according to the FDA.
The 8 main food allergens must be clearly labeled (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish), however, because natural flavors may also contain a number of chemicals as part of the mixture, some people may experience adverse reactions..
Natural flavors do not have to be derived from organic plant or animal resources. So you might be consuming products that were treated with glyphosate, grown with, or fed by other chemicals that are known that might be cancer-causing agents.
Look for organic products as they are produced without synthetic solvents, carrier systems, or preservatives.
Are you vegetarian or vegan? It might be a good idea to avoid products with natural flavors because it’s not disclosed what source the natural flavor is derived from.
Unfortunately, with the vague umbrella term of “natural flavor”, we are left with a lot of questions.
The Environmental Working Group did extensive research on Synthetic ingredients in Natural Flavors and Natural Flavors in Artificial flavors.
So should I avoid foods with natural flavors?
It would be better for all of us to know what’s in our food so we can make the right decisions for ourselves. Until the labeling laws change, here are my recommendations:
Choose more unprocessed foods or food that you recognize all the ingredients on its label.
Select organic if possible. Note: just because it’s organic, it does not mean it’s healthy!
Contact the company to inquire exactly what’s in the natural flavor listed on their food label.
Make your own flavored water: add cucumber, or strawberry or lemon into your seltzer water.
Are you confused about how to read the labels on your food items? Have you ever looked at the food labels in your pantry? Do you know how these ingredients might affect your or your loved one’s health?
Schedule a Healthy Pantry Makeover with me where we will go over food labels, what to look out for and how to swap for more nutritious versions.