If you regularly check the labels of what’s in your packaged food then you’ve probably come across “natural flavor” as a common ingredient even among the healthiest brands. But what is it exactly? And does natural mean it’s good for you?
Natural flavors – only distinguishable from artificial flavors in that they are derived from natural as opposed to human-made sources – are often added to make food taste better, or to taste a certain way. It’s also to create flavor consistency, so that when you buy your favorite cashew strawberry breakfast bar or other delicious treat you won’t be disappointed that it tastes a little different than it did last week.
Another reason they’re added is to make a food taste fresher or healthier than it really is, so that it can be marketed in a particular way. Meanwhile, that rosemary thyme cracker is mostly just… flour, without any of the health benefits that genuine herbs provide.
The definition of “natural” is also debatable.
While the original source might be one found in nature, it’s not really as though that whole food is simply ground up and sprinkled in. Chemicals are extracted from natural sources in a lab, purified, enhanced, and then added to the final product in processing. Not so natural!
So, is it… bad?
Health Coach answer: better to eat real food and avoid natural flavors whenever possible.
The FDA doesn’t require food labels to say what’s in their natural flavors unless it’s a common allergen (such as milk, eggs, shellfish, nuts, etc.), so it’s very difficult to know if your unique body reacts to something that is in there.
And while there is no significant research to show harm directly related to natural flavoring, it could have an effect, we just don’t know. Plus, natural flavors can include solvents, fillers, and preservatives, some of which could even come from GMO’s.
So here’s what you can do:
1. Read labels and choose to avoid any mystery ingredients whenever possible.
2. Cook more, and use leftovers or salads for lunches, and fruit or nuts for snacks.
3. Observe your body, and steer away from foods that leave you feeling odd or unwell.
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What's your take on natural flavors? Let us know below!