Natural Flavors

Natural flavors


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Saying Goodbye to
Natural Flavors

When we see the ingredient “natural flavors,” it’s easy to think that they are found in nature and are safe to eat. It’s also found widely in organic foods which further gives the impression that these ingredients won’t impact our health or well-being. 

The FDA’s main requirement for natural flavors is that they are derived from a “spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” But beyond that, there is no regulation of natural flavors by the FDA. The major difference between artificial and natural flavors is where it was derived, but after that, they are both still a cocktail of up to 100 ingredients. Even worse, Big Food often does not disclose these ingredients because they are “proprietary.” 

Many studies show that natural flavors often include a cocktail of chemicals and additives. Natural flavors in foods are authorized and regulated by a panel that works directly for the commercial flavor industry. 

So for November, our task is to say bye bye to “natural” flavors by reading labels and making easy, healthy swaps.

Why Avoid Natural Flavors in Foods?

Before you go tossing things out of your cabinets, you should be aware of the hidden dangers and effects of natural flavors in food. 

“Ultimately, because of the wide variety of ingredients that typically go into ‘natural’ flavorings, there does not seem to be much of a difference between natural and artificial flavors,” according to David Andrews, a scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization. The FDA has a list of “grandfathered” ingredients, including solvents and other manufactured chemicals used to make these natural flavors. Companies don’t have to disclose these ingredients on their nutrition labels.

Only about 80% of a natural flavor is based on a basic ingredient found in nature, including barks, spices, essential oils, and a handful of other approved ingredients. The other ingredients used to make flavor include preservatives, industrial chemicals, and even secretions from beaver anal glands (often used to make artificial vanilla). 

Because the ingredient label does not have to list ingredients unless they are allergens (like peanuts, wheat, and dairy), you’ll likely never know precisely what is in most processed food products. This makes it difficult for those with allergies or other sensitivities, as their health may be affected by these lab-made natural flavors.

Natural Flavors Affect Our Taste Buds

These lab-made natural flavors are used in practically everything you find in the store. Especially foods that children love. Natural flavors are produced to enhance the flavor in packaged foods, which is often a fake, manufactured taste. Unfortunately, kids and adults prefer these flavors to natural, whole foods.

girl eating apples over processed food to avoid natural flavors in foods

Consistency is one of the biggest reasons children stop eating their vegetables and begin preferring things like frozen nuggets, candy, and other packaged foods. Fruits can be good or bad, depending on the season, where they were grown, etc. 

Every time your child bites into an apple, there’s a slightly different taste. While this is normal and natural, the lackluster quality can, unfortunately, discourage eaters of any age. On the other hand, Doritos always taste the same. 

Foods with natural flavors are always consistent, and the flavor is enhanced to the point where it no longer resembles the product it is meant to imitate. Think about the taste of an actual blueberry and what a blueberry-flavored lollipop tastes like. Even if it is organic and made with these natural flavorings, it’s not even close to what whole food tastes like. 

Children are accustomed to these fake tastes and grow up to become adults who continue to prefer these packaged foods. This is a form of Big Food manipulating our taste buds entirely. These flavors are also considered addictive for these reasons. By cutting these foods out of your family’s diet, you can teach your kids to appreciate the taste of natural, whole foods.

Europe’s Health Organizations are Minimizing Their Usage of Natural Flavors

In the US, this is an ongoing health issue. In many European countries, however, their agencies have begun regulating artificial and natural flavors in foods years ago. In 2021, a national law in the UK stipulated that all “natural flavorings” used in foods must be 95% natural, which left many companies scrambling to find alternatives. Similar laws have passed in Ireland and are currently being considered throughout the EU.

Simple Tips to Avoid Natural Flavors for Busy Families

It can be difficult to avoid something that is in almost all packaged foods, but it is essential to start somewhere! That’s why our SuperHero You task for November is to say goodbye to these natural flavors. Here are our tips for avoiding natural flavors in food.

As you grocery shop, it’s vital to read labels! Not just the signs on the front of the box that says “natural,” but dig into the ingredient label. Anything with artificial or natural flavors should be left on the grocery store shelf. It’s not uncommon for a product to list strawberries on the front of the package, but if you dig further, you won’t find strawberries on the ingredient list at all, only natural flavors. 

Natural flavors are the fourth common ingredient in food. Big Food brands like Welch’s, Naked juices, Kind Bars, Mott’s, Heinz, Breyers, Swiss Miss, Sunny D, Honest, and others are all known for using natural flavors. Make simple swaps with trusted brands or try making more of these things at home.

The bulk of your kid’s diet should be made of real, whole foods. Think of single ingredient foods like fruits and vegetables. Prioritize cooking at home. Relying on packaged and microwaveable foods will warp your children’s taste buds and are one of the main reasons most kids avoid eating their greens.

It takes seven days to rewire our taste buds. It’s okay to remove these products from your repertoire slowly. You and your kids will get used to it and begin to appreciate the taste of actual fruits and vegetables quickly! Remember that those small steps over time add up!

Check out our resource guide on natural flavorings for more information, including health impacts and studies. Happy eating!

Natural Flavors Resource Guide


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