The name “natural flavors” sound pretty healthy, right? When you hear that anything is natural, you automatically make the healthy connection. Well I am here to clear that up for you. Unfortunately, the marketing strategies our food companies use can be pretty misleading. Read on for the down and dirty on what natural flavors really entail.

When you walk through the grocery store and work the inner aisles, you will find all the processed foods. If you start reading the labels, you will commonly see “natural flavors” listed. You would think it’s safe to assume that natural flavors would in fact come from nature but sadly this is not the case. Most of the natural flavors out there are chemically derived.

The thing is this, natural flavors can encompass over 100 actual ingredients. Yet two words, “natural flavors” can cover a vast amount of chemically, man-made additives. And if you assume that all natural flavors are plant based, you will not like what I am about to tell you.

Here is the first example of a commonly used natural flavor. It’s called Castoreum. This natural flavor is commonly used in vanilla ice cream, flavored oatmeal, and many raspberry flavored foods. Go ahead and google Castoreum and you will quickly find that it is derived from a beaver’s anal glands. I kid you not. Licking a vanilla ice cream cone will never be the same again.

The purpose of natural flavors is not to add nutritional value to food. It is created to help enhance the flavors of our food. They are actually man-made and chemically derived in a lab. The FDA deems natural flavors as “safe” for human consumption. Interesting! They are actually super similar to artificial flavors – another commonly seen ingredient in processed foods. There is not much of a difference between the two.

So, what are the 100+ components that qualify as a natural flavor? They are a variable mix between preservatives, solvents, and other substances. They are derived either from plants or animal sources, but food manufactures are not required to disclose if they come from natural or synthetic sources. There is also a fairly good chance that they are genetically modified.

While I have known this information about natural flavors for quite some time, I am aware this is not common knowledge for most people. What sparked my interest in sharing today?

Many of my clients have been asking about Hint water. There are no calories, but it does have natural flavors. The bottle states they add a “hint” of essence – for that partial flavor. Hence, this is where the natural flavor comes into play. My curiosity was really peaked when I found a case of them in our refrigerator. My hubby picked them up and I wanted to be sure these were “mom/health coach” friendly. 😊

Here is the good news! – After delving a bit further into Hint water, they truly use ONLY fruit essence. Here is a statement from their website: “Everything we use in Hint Water comes from plants. We don’t use artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, gluten, animal products or MSG”. They also provided an example of their Pomegranate flavored water where they use citrus essence from oranges in addition to pomegranate essence.

Wouldn’t it be so much clearer if they just detailed that on their products? Would be great to hold the FDA accountable for painting a more vivid picture of what’s really in our food. Don’t we deserve that? So, if you are gluten free, have any type of food sensitivity, vegan, etc. do read your labels and research further when necessary. Your best bet is to look for the correct verified labels for these categories to give you that guarantee.

My final suggestion – start eating more whole foods. You will not run into this issue with the real food in its whole form. And definitely read those labels when buying anything with an ingredient list.

Hari, Vani, The Food Babe Way. Artificial and Natural Flavors, 2015, 50-51

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Coach Christi

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