Im sure you’re familiar with the term, “Never judge a book by its color”, but when it comes to food-like products, looks can be deceiving! In fact, not only can looks be deceiving, but ingredients can be too! We know when we purchase brightly-colored candies that what we are eating is artificial, but the foods on our grocery shelves aren’t always so obvious.Have you ever wondered what words like, natural flavors really mean and why it’s not really “natural”?
When was the last time you read a food label?
Have you ever stopped to consider what a “Honey Nut Cheerio” is and why it takes three different types of sugars to make it taste great?
Do you think twice when you pick up Aunt Jemima Syrup and put it in your cart? I mean, why is SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE in it and do you really want to be pouring it on your pancakes?
Why does Minute Maid use filtered water for their Lemonade but then add High Fructose Corn Syrup?
What makes an “Oreo” taste like an Oreo and what’s that creme-y white stuff is made of? (Oreo has to call the white center “creme” instead of “cream” because the FDA does not allow manufacturers to use the word “cream” to describe a food that contains no cream at all).
Chances are a quick look inside your pantry or a glance inside your fridge will confirm that many of the ingredients of foods in your house have names you do not recognize, but what about when those same labels describe ingredients as having “natural flavors”? Do you even know what “natural flavors” are?
I don’t, because, for the most part, it’s a secret!
Big food companies don’t want their “proprietary flavors” to be known (imagine if we knew the Colonel’s Secret Ingredient), so they’re allowed to put “natural flavor”, on their ingredients list and conveniently leave the finer details out.
I’ll be honest, until I had my mini-strokes…..you can read more about that—> here I didn’t really think about (or care much about) words like that. I’m in no way suggesting that ingredients like that contributed to them. I know for a fact that my TIA’s were caused by iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, but during my recovery, when the foods I ate became as important as the medications I took, I came to understand exactly WHY eating more non-processed foods was better for my health and the health of my family.
So why is “natural flavored” anything in our food anyway?
Quite simply, we live in an industrialized Nation where few people produce their own foods for consumption. We rely on growers in other states and countries, we defer to mass agricultural and farming practices with only a basic understanding of how the food gets to our grocery stores and restaurants and we are a society who is reliant on those practices to feed ourselves and our families.
It may seem that we don’t have a choice, when in fact we do! The choices we make in the Grocery Store dictates the products the store purchases, as well as the choices we make at home (what you put in your mouth).
Let’s use the term “natural flavors” again as an example of what I mean.
When you make Apple Muffins at home, what gives them the apple flavor? Apples of course! Real, whole, fresh apples! (Looking for a delicious all natural homemade Apple Muffin Recipe? Click HERE)!
If, however, you’re a Big Food company, making thousands of Apple Muffins every day to be packaged and shipped all over the U.S., how would you process the huge amount of apples that needed to be chopped or grated and made into muffins? Would you have a separate “Apple Room” where all the apple processing happens? What if one batch was slightly riper, or tasted different from the rest? Would customers notice the difference? Apples are perishable – they go bad. How could a big company guarantee the apples won’t go bad? The thing is, they couldn’t, which where “Food Scientists” come into play.
Engineer a way to chemically produce that sweet, delicious apple flavor that tastes even better than using real apples and your problems are solved! Add in some artificial colors and preservatives (I mean how else can they maintain their color and flavor without molding for weeks and weeks on end?) and before you know it, that item in your pantry or on your grocery store shelf, doesn’t even remotely resemble something you’d bake in your own home! When it comes to processed foods, just because it looks or tastes like something familiar, doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you.
Big Food Companies aren’t in the business of managing your health, they’re in the business of making money! If their practices affect your life, who are you to complain? They’re offering you convenience!
“Natural flavors” not only last longer, they’re virtually identical batch after batch. In our Apple Muffin example, artificial flavors used to make an apple muffin are ready-to-go, so you don’t need to peel, cut, or worry about apples going brown, or tasting “appley” enough. In fact, you can forget about real apples altogether!
Fitness MOMents Tip of The Day: If the package you’re reading has the word “flavor” in the description, whether it’s “natural” or “artificial”, then the flavoring itself is man made.
- “Apple muffin” contains at least some apple.
- “Apple flavored muffin” contains natural and artificial flavor and no apple.
Safety of Natural and Artificial Flavors
While there are some flavors banned for use in many countries, there are other countries (like the U.S.) who still allow them. In the U.S., the FDA publishes an approved list of flavors that are accepted to be safe, and are used by the food industry. They are chemicals or additives are deemed “generally recognized as safe(GRAS).” Although they are “recognized as safe” to ingest, the mere fact that a “man made” flavor is in your food in the first place, makes that food you’re eating an artificial food or “food like product”. What’s more, some people are actually sensitive or allergic to these additives. Is it any wonder that food sensitivities and food allergies are on the rise?
Big food companies use artificial and natural flavors to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and even enhance flavor way beyond what the natural ingredient would taste like. They are not added to improve the “healthfulness” or nutrition of the food, despite claims to the contrary. Think of this another way (boxed cereals are a perfect example): If a cereal is “fortified with vitamin and minerals” it means the grains themselves were stripped of all naturally-occurring health benefits and had to be mechanically and artificially ADDED BACK IN.
Remember, “Natural” and “Artificial” flavors in the ingredients’ list are a reminder that the food you may choose to ingest, is not going to optimize your health. When you can, choose wisely by selecting foods that are whole, fresh and minimally processed. For more information on Healthy Eating, read this post!
If you’re looking to transition your family to healthier eating and don’t know where to start, take a look at my Ditch The Junk Done-For-You Guide and discover the exact process I use to help my Clients make the change to healthier habits in just 10 days!