When you look on the back of a packaged product, you’ll notice a list of ingredients. Some are pretty straightforward, others not so much. My philosophy has always been that if you can’t read it, don’t eat it! So, naturally I always stay away from a product when it has artificial flavors in it, but what is the true difference behind the wording natural flavor? I don’t remember being introduced to a plant called natural flavor? So what do these words mean and how are they different from artificial flavor? Well, I decided to find out …
The FDA’s definition of artificial flavoring:
“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.”
Basically, an artificial flavor can be classified as anything not coming from something that was once alive or found in nature. Scary; so what are we consuming if we are not consuming something that was once alive? Artifical ingredients are ingredients made from chemicals that have been manufactured. They can be a combination of over 1,300 different FDA-approved ingredients. The law does not require companies to disclose what these ingredients are, so many companies simply label them as “artificial ingredients.” The reason most companies don’t disclose their flavor list is because they want to avoid competition with other vendors. So, instead of a food company making a product with real flavors that come from natural sources, they opt for add-in the chemicals.
These chemicals are added to our food products to give processed food flavor. The downside to all of this flavor, besides the added chemicals to our food, is that those foods are putting your health at risk. Artificial ingredients can lead to all kinds of problems; such as allergies, fatigue, seizures, nausea, dizziness, decreased immune function, headaches, chest pain, brain damage, and even damage to your DNA! So, because companies don’t disclose the specific compounds that make up the artificial ingredients on their product, it’s almost impossible to figure out what chemical(s) is giving you problems.
Another downside is the more of these processed foods you eat, the weaker your taste buds become. Artificial flavors are packed with so many different chemicals that are designed to give food a lot of flavor. Eventually, your senses will become weakened to the taste of natural, unprocessed foods. You crave more processed foods and foods with more fats, sugars, and salts. Consuming those types of foods can also lead to other health problems. But, the point of this article is to define what the difference is between artificial flavors and natural flavors.
I have bad news for you; natural flavors are not much better than artificial flavors. Natural flavors are chemicals that were derived from a natural source. These flavors are, too, not monitored very closely by the food industry and again companies are not required to list from what sources these flavors came. Or, what has been done to them to make them qualify as “natural flavor.” The FDA has no strict definition of the word “natural.” So, essentially these flavors are processed, not monitored or disclosed to the consumer.
When you look at a food label of a packaged cranberry granola bar and you notice the term “natural flavors,” you might think, “huh, there must be cranberry [insert your chosen form of cranberry here].” In reality, it’s just a chemical compound that at one point came from a cranberry. Except this “cranberry” chemical is probably way cheaper and has a longer shelf life than the real stuff. The company might not be able to call it cranberry compound but they can still call it “natural flavors.”
So now the question remains; what is the difference between artificial flavor and natural flavor? The answer: not a whole lot. Natural flavors are chemicals like artificial flavors of which the only big difference is natural flavors were at one point natural foods. Both are heavily processed, unregulated (if they appear on the FDA’s list of approved ingredients), and undisclosed to you, the consumer. The only thing you get to know is that they are in your food. My advice would be to look out for both of these “ingredients” and avoid, avoid, avoid … even if you see them on products that are considered “health foods” or “all natural.” Because, at the end of the day, the food industry is just trying to pull a fast one on you. You never know the side effects of these flavors.