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The Truth About Artificial and Natural Flavors

Let me ask you this: Have you looked at the ingredients on a food label lately? How about a “processed” food label; like famous brands of soups, sauces, cookies, cereals, or junky snack foods?


Do you have those ingredients in your house? Do you even know what all those ingredients are?


There are a ton of artificial, chemical, ingredients in prepared and convenience foods.  If you see an ingredient called “artificial flavor,” what exactly is it?


For the most part, it’s a secret. Seriously. Big food companies don’t want their proprietary flavors to be known, so they’re allowed to say, “artificial flavor” and leave the details out.


That alone gets me upset.


But what makes me more upset is what artificial flavors represent when they’re in your food.


I’m going to give you the real deal.


Why Use “Artificial Flavors’ in a Product?


When you make an apple muffin at home, what gives it the apple flavor?


Apples of course! Like real, whole, chopped or shredded apples or applesauce.


But, let’s say you’re a big food company and you’re making thousands of apple muffins every day. In a factory. On an assembly line.


How would you process the huge number of apples that are to be chopped, grated or made into applesauce? Would you have a separate “Apple Room” where all the apple processing happens? What if one batch is slightly riper, or tastes slightly different from the rest? Will your customers notice a different taste?

Apples are perishable – they go bad.  So how would you guarantee the apples won’t go bad? (Remember the saying “it only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole bunch?”).


And what if you can have an apple flavor that tastes better than using real apples? Something that makes people want to keep buying them every week.  It’s true – some of the artificial flavors are engineered to give an even better taste than the real food. And are also formulated to have addictive properties.


Companies will often opt for the easier and more profitable option like artificial flavors.


Artificial flavors last longer and will be virtually identical batch after batch.  In our apple muffin example, artificial flavors used to make an apple muffin are ready to go, so you don’t need to peel, cut, or worry about apples going brown, or that they’re not tasting “appley” enough.


Oh, and it’s way cheaper than using real, whole apples.



Tip: If the package says “flavored” in the description, then the flavor is artificial. For example, “apple muffin” contains at least some apple. But, “apple flavored muffin” contains artificial flavor and no apple.


Safety of Artificial Flavors


While there are some flavors banned for use in many countries, other countries allow them. That makes no sense to me.  So in Europe for example, Artificial flavor named XYZ is deemed unsafe for human consumption.  But in Canada he same ingredient, XYZ is safe?  We are all humans consuming the same ingredient.  Shouldn’t the regulations be the same worldwide?


There is an approved list of flavors that are accepted to be safe and are used by the food industry. They are considered GRAS, or “Generally Recognized as Safe.” Can we just talk about that term itself for a moment?  “Generally, Recognized as Safe”.  I don’t know about you, but I want something that Specifically Proven to be Safe before I put it into my body.


Even if they are 100% safe to ingest, the mere fact that an artificial flavor is in food makes it an artificial food.  It’s not a real, whole food. Having an artificial flavor as an ingredient defines that food to be a processed, “food-like product.” In my opinion, Junk food.


Artificial flavors in food indicate that the food, regardless of the marketing, or health claims, is not a healthy choice.


What About Natural Flavors?


This is where it gets interesting.  The term Natural flavors is being throw around loosely these days with no real understanding of what it is, or how it affects our health. Through my research it became every difficult to uncover a clear understanding of what natural flavors are.  Which makes me question if that is deliberate.  Knowing what I know about food manufactures whose primary focus is profit, pardon me for being a skeptic.


What we do know is that Natural Flavors are derived from plant or animal products. Which is good right? However, natural flavors are still comprised in a lab just like artificial flavors.  Flavorists use a combination of ingredients to create a flavor profile.  The process of making the flavor may contain solvents or other chemical ingredients making it considerably altered from its natural state. So, is it really natural?


So again, with the apple muffin example, maybe some apple was used in the flavor creation process.  But it may have been washed in chemicals and/or enhanced with chemicals but because the flavor ingredients originated from an apple, the term natural can still be used. Manufacturers do not have to list exactly what is in the natural flavors or how it was derived.  So, in reality, an ingredient has to originate from a plant or animal to be deemed a natural ingredient, right?  But they don’t have to tell us what or where that was from.  Technically they could be selling an apple muffin with natural ingredients even if those ingredients may come from a sheep’s butthole.  I know, its graphic but I’m trying to make a point here. It’s still natural according to the definition. We assume that it is coming from an apple, but they are under no obligation to tell us the specifics.  This secrecy equals risk of taking in unwanted chemicals or ingredients.


This also does not protect those who are vegan.  Unless a product is labeled vegan, one cannot assume that it does not contain animal products even if it says natural ingredients.


In some foods, it may say “Contains natural flavors and ingredients” But the food itself cannot be labeled a natural food because of the manufacturing process.  See how it gets tricky?  Manufactures know this and marketers use this to their advantage to sell their products.  We see the term “Natural Flavors” and think it’s a healthy choice.  That’s exactly what they want.  There is no regulation that requires the ingredients of these natural flavors to be listed on labels, so we really have no way of truly understanding what we are consuming.  For that reason, it’s hard to determine if it will impair our health.



Big food companies use artificial flavors to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and even enhance flavor way beyond what the natural ingredient would taste like.


They are not added to improve the “healthfulness” or nutrition of the food.


Artificial flavors in the ingredient list indicate that the food is not going to optimize your health. These processed foods are most certainly “junk.”


Natural flavors originate from plants and animals but still may have chemical components in their creation. There is no regulating body that requires manufacture to list the ingredients of these flavors.


Both are made in a lab.  Flavorists use natural chemicals to make natural flavors and synthetic flavors to make artificial ones.


So how do we avoid it?


Eat real food.  I know I know, if you’ve been following me along for a while, I’m starting to sound like a broken record.  But my message is the same.  Eating food in its natural state, is the best defense to avoid chemical components that have the potential to harm our health.
Experiment with spices and fresh herbs, try different whole grains, what about that weird looking fruit you’ve always been curious to try?  Combine textures and color to create your own flavor profile.  Food should be created in a kitchen not a lab.  Natural or not, these flavored food in my opinion are not supportive to our health.



With all that talk of Apple Muffins, CLICK HERE to get an easy to prepare, whole foods version that is Gluten Free and contains protein to help fill you up.  No artificial or natural flavors added in.  Just real food!

Want to learn more? Click here to book a time to chat.  Let me help you sort through all the confusion surrounding healthy eating and create a meal plan that is as easy to make as it is delicious and healthy.

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