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What Are Natural Flavors?
The FDA defines natural flavors as “those that derive their aroma or flavor chemicals from plant or animal sources, which includes fruit, meat, fish, spices, herbs, roots, leaves, buds, or bark that are distilled, fermented, or otherwise manipulated in a lab,” but there’s no regulation or oversight other than how the natural flavor is first derived.
The only difference between natural and artificial flavors is the source. Artificial flavors are derived from artificial chemicals. But BOTH can include synthetic solvents, preservatives, emulsifiers, carriers, and other additives to a flavor.
What’s more, flavor manufacturers don’t have to disclose the ingredients they use.
And even more than that, a government agency doesn’t approve or even oversee the safety of the flavors. Rather an association, called FEMA, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, has their own panel of scientists who approve these flavors as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). And in fact, on their own website, FEMA states that they are a founding member of the International Organization of the Flavor Industry. Seems like a conflict of interest!
How Are They Harmful?
Natural flavors sound so innocent right? Well, think again! Natural flavors can and likely do contain synthetic chemicals such as polysorbate 80, a chemical additive that has been shown to compromise GI function and alter nutrient absorption among other harmful things, propylene glycol, another chemical that has been tied to a range of health issues including skin reactions, increased risk of cancer, and neurodevelopmental issues, as well as the cancer-causing chemical BHA. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), natural flavors will often have some solvents and preservatives—and that makes up 80% to 90% of the volume.
Natural flavors are designed to manipulate your tastebuds. They have been shown to make food addictive, leading to unhealthy food cravings.
When you dig a little deeper, you see that 4 huge corporations control the $24 billion market for flavors (and fragrances): Givaudan, Firmenich, IFF, and Symrise. Of course their goal is to sell more products, and a surefire way to do that is to get you addicted.These natural flavors seem harmless but the reality is that they are changing our children’s taste buds to prefer naturally flavored fruit gummies instead of the fruits themselves!
Another real concern with natural flavors is the fact that they may contain something you are allergic to but because food companies don’t have to disclose it, you will never know.
Finally, and perhaps the biggest question we need to be asking ourselves is: Why does a food need natural flavors??? The likely answer: the food itself is so processed that it needs a manufactured flavor to make it taste palatable. And while food companies are at it, they make it so “palatable” that your taste buds become manipulated and you overeat that product. I’d rather stick to real food and real flavors all day long!
Potential Health Impacts and Studies
The term “natural flavors” is a catch-all for ingredients that may or may not be natural, and likely contain additives that may be harmful to health. Some of these additives include: MSG, GMO products, BHA, polysorbate 80, propylene glycol, and other synthetic chemicals. Since this information is not disclosed, it is hard to distinguish what natural flavors are safe and which ones contain toxic chemicals.
Diacetyl (natural butter flavoring): According to the CDC, studies have found an association between exposure to diacetyl vapor in microwave popcorn facilities and abnormal lung function and shortness of breath among workers. Diacetyl caused cancer in the factory workers that inhaled this chemical.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Probably best known for being added to many Chinese foods, MSG is generally used as a flavor enhancer. MSG consumption has been linked with obesity, metabolic disorders, Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, neurotoxic effects, and reproductive organ damage.
Citral: Used as a natural lemon flavoring, citral is a skin and mucous membrane irritant. The EWG also notes some concerns regarding citral and reproductive toxicity.
Methyl N-Acetyl Anthranilate: A common natural berry flavoring, this one has been shown to cause skin irritation that looks like a sunburn.
Castoreum: A “natural raspberry flavor” that comes from secretions from a beavers anal glands. Yikes!
Methyleugenol: This flavoring agent is mutagenic in animals and is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in animals.
20% of the natural flavor cocktail doesn’t have to be natural. In fact much of the remainder is artificial. And while the artificial ingredients are on the GRAS list, remember that the FDA doesn’t determine GRAS proactively, it only reviews products when the flavor companies send them in for review. A major concern is that the flavor companies themselves actually determine what is GRAS. And furthermore, if regulatory agencies did investigate whether a flavor is safe or not, they don’t release that safety information to the public.
Products With Natural Flavors
Natural flavors are the fourth most popular ingredient in our foods today behind salt, water, and sugar. Food manufacturers use them to manipulate our nose and tongue to get consumers both addicted and to overeat. There isn’t anything natural about these flavors after they are constructed in a laboratory and then overly processed in the food they end up in. The products that contain natural flavors are too long to list. Even organic products contain natural flavors. Your best bet is to always read labels and avoid natural flavors as much as you possibly can!
Food revolution network
National Library of Medicine