How Natural are “Natural Flavors” ?

applesIt may be a silly thing to ask, if natural flavors are really natural. But with all the trickery when it comes to food labeling out there you can’t be too careful. If you’re buying something pre-packaged or processed you need to know what’s in it, in order to protect your health. So, what is natural flavoring and is it really natural?

Natural vs. Artificial Flavoring

It turns out that natural flavorings aren’t really all that different than artificial flavors. As the fourth most common ingredient on food labels, it is only outranked by salt, water, and sugar. If only natural flavoring was as simple as its three predecessors. Natural flavors are made in a lab, just like artificial flavors. Food scientists research what chemicals nature uses to create flavors and then tries to mimic them. Natural flavors are essentially derived from nature, but aren’t in their natural form. Artificial flavors are entirely man made.

Where the difference gets really fuzzy, though, is that both kinds of flavorings can contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients. And the extra ingredients added to flavorings aren’t always as innocuous as they should be.

Why are they added?

Natural and artificial flavors are added to food to make it more appealing, mostly because something is lost in the food during processing, storage or even when it’s pasteurized. A really common ingredient in things like orange juice, natural flavoring is added to make sure that the taste is uniform. Basically, companies want uniformity in their products so that the juice someone drinks in Texas tastes the same as it does in Maine.

Is Natural Flavor Harmful?

The extra ingredients added to natural flavorings have not been linked to ill health effects, but the biggest danger is in misleading you as the consumer. Saying something is natural is often misleading. The natural blueberry in your energy bar probably isn’t just crushed up blueberries, so you have to do your research to make sure you’re an informed consumer.

Flavorings also makes unhealthy food more appealing than they may be otherwise, so it may inspire you to consume more of something that isn’t good for you.

The Verdict

You don’t have to swear off natural or artificial flavorings, but it is best to have a diet rich in whole foods if you are able. The general rule of thumb is that if you can’t see where the flavor is coming from (like an actual piece of fruit), then you probably don’t want to eat too much of it. Read your labels and know what it is you’re putting into your body.


Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Tami Seymour

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This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Corp (or its franchisees and affiliates). You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.