You can find it on millions of food labels. But in this case “natural” comes with a definition that’s hard to believe.
That’s because “natural flavors” can perversely mean any chemical approved for use in food.
The FDA makes manufacturers declare if a flavoring has any of the eight major food allergens — milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish,
tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.
But companies don’t have to tell you the sources of any other chemicals used for flavoring.
The difference is that to preserve the meals for longer shelf life, and to make them look good in the package, the food is heavily processed
with methods like these:
- osmotic inhibition
- extremely high water pressure
- smoking (sometimes using carbon dioxide, vinegar or even alcohol)
- mineral removal through chelation
All of these processing methods leech the taste out of food. So food makers add chemicals back in to make what they’re selling taste like real food.
The flavors are created by chemists called “flavorists.” They distill flavors from foods before they get packaged, and then combine them with chemical compounds. These potent flavor potions are created to taste like the flavors that were processed out.
Any food pre-packaged in a can, foil wrapper, sealed package, plastic container or box has a cocktail of natural flavorings added back in after it’s processed.
And you can’t always avoid flavorings by buying organic — many have “natural flavors” added to them, too.1
Because the law doesn’t require companies to disclose the ingredients in their flavorings, they can maintain their “trade-secret” tastes used for products. They also can conceal the truth about the laundry list of chemicals in foods.
For example, the strawberry flavoring in a Burger King strawberry milk shake has 74 chemicals with names like amyl acetate and benzyl acetate. It’s not just that they clearly have nothing to do with the word natural that should bother you — these chemicals can harm your health.2
Take amyl acetate, for example. It can be claimed as natural on a label. But it’s been linked to nervous-system problems, depression, indigestion, chest pain, headaches, fatigue and irritation of mucous membranes.
And benzyl acetate has been found to cause gastrointestinal, bronchial, eye and ear irritation.
And this is just scratching the surface.
If you don’t want to consume any of these unnatural and toxic chemicals, here are some easy ways to eat natural food with REAL flavor:
1. Go back to the basics. Our native ancestors ate what they could hunt and gather. And that was natural meats and eggs, veggies, unmodified fruits and nuts, and olives. They ate a lot more protein and fats than most modern Americans. And they ate fewer carbs — and no processed foods or food cooked with vegetable oils. As a result, their archaeological records show virtually no heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis or obesity.
2. Eat fresh, locally grown, organic fruits and veggies as much as you can. Food grown from local farms is much fresher than food at the grocery store. That’s because most produce is transported an average of 1,500 miles. And many of the nutrients get depleted during transit. But not only is locally grown food more nutritious, it also tastes great. And if the farmer uses organic methods, you don’t have to worry about consuming harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
3. If you have to shop at grocery stores, stay in the exterior aisles and stick to organic dairy, meats and produce. You can pretty much disregard everything in between. Those aisles are filled with nothing but processed foods loaded with harmful chemicals.
4. Read labels carefully, even for organic food. If you shop in the exterior of the grocery store, you won’t need to take this step. But if you ever need to grab something in the interior, check the labels of anything packaged in a can, box or plastic (even the organic stuff) for “natural and artificial flavors.” If you see these terms on labels, stay away.
1 National Organic Program, Section 7CFR205.605(a)(9), non-agricultural, non-organic substances
2 Schlosser, Eric, “Why McDonald’s Fries Taste So Good,” Fast Food Nation, Houghton-Mifflin 2001