Be a Label Detective: Natural and Artificial Flavors
To continue my topic of food labels, I want to spend some time on the various ingredients that sneak into some of our foods. Natural and artificial flavors are at the top of my list! You might be surprised at how many foods in your kitchen have these in their ingredients list. Take a minute and check your shelves. Items such as vegetable broth, spice mixes, or your favorite “health” beverages, such as almond milk and kombucha, often contain one or both of these additives. Here are the FDA definitions of artificial and natural flavors: “The term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.” “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means 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.” So what does this mean? Basically, both ingredients are created as flavor enhancers in processed foods. Like its name, artificial flavors are synthetically produced chemicals. It must be “comprised of one of the nearly 700 FDA-allowed flavoring chemicals or food additives categorized as “generally recognized as safe,” or any of 2000 other chemicals not directly regulated by FDA but sanctioned for use by an industry group, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States.” However, natural flavors turn out to be pretty similar as they are also produced in a lab by extracting chemicals. Their only difference from artificial flavoring is that their origin is from a natural ingredient. Natural flavors can actually contain up to 100 other ingredients including chemical additives, solvents, preservatives, and other substances. Be assured, this process of extraction is NOT natural and can easily contain genetically modified ingredients.  The term,“Natural,” is a great marketing ploy because the general public assumes the product must be healthier. However, as discussed, the FDA allows a lot of unnatural processing and additives within this ingredient. Interestingly, artificial flavors may often have LESS chemicals than natural flavors. If you strive to invest in foods that build your body instead of those that add stress through synthetic and chemically altered ingredients, natural and artificial flavors are two additives you want to avoid!