Ever turned over a package to see “Natural Flavors” as an ingredient? Although it may be more widespread knowledge that artificial flavors are harmful, what about natural ones? If they’re natural they must be healthy…right?
Both natural and artificial flavorings are added to foods to mimic real food flavors and enhance the taste of the food. To put it simply, natural flavors are flavors that must be originally derived from plants or animals, while artificial flavors are man-made in labs. But natural flavors actually aren’t much different in chemical composition and health effects than artificial flavors.
In addition to their original flavor source, natural flavors can include hundreds of added chemicals, and manufacturers are not required to disclose what those chemicals are, or whether they are natural or synthetic. This can make it really hard to know which natural flavors will cause allergic reactions in certain people, or how the consumption of them may have negative effects on our health in the long term.
Something else to consider — both natural and artificial flavors are added to make foods more palatable, causing cravings and addictions to those foods that make you want more. This can make it hard to stop eating them or switch to less-processed options because our taste buds become accustomed to such intense, bold tastes.
The bottom line? Though natural flavors may sound safer than artificial, they are highly processed and can contain many chemical additives, so we recommend avoiding them when possible.
Looking for an easy way to identify natural or artificial flavors on food labels? There’s an app for that!