Natural Flavors are NOT Natural
“Made with natural flavor” is slapped on countless cereal boxes, bottled beverages and even candy wrappers. Jelly Belly jelly beans: made with natural flavors. La Croix sparkling water: made with natural flavors. Even Girl Scout Cookies make the vague claim. But for all its ubiquitousness, what exactly is natural flavor?
Although the term is meant to imply health and nutrition, the inclusion of natural flavor doesn’t in any way mean that a product is actually good for you. Products that boast natural flavor on their packaging can still be chock full of artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and genetically-modified proteins. Natural flavor is another name for a chemical as long as it was originally found in a naturally occurring source.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines natural flavor as:
“…The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents 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.”If that definition sounds like it covers anything and everything you are not alone. Food manufacturers take full advantage of the generous FDA natural flavor guidelines at every conceivable opportunity when it comes to marketing products.
Many of the "chemicals" that make up natural flavors fall under a category called “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. An estimated 3,000 chemical food additives are in this category, yet this does not mean that these chemicals have been widely studied and approved by the FDA. Food companies do not need to disclose the ingredients of a natural flavor if all of the ingredients, which can be up to 100 in one flavor, fall into the GRAS category. Can you imagine up to 100 chemicals in one flavor? Read food labels and you will see 'natural flavors' (it’s actually the fourth most common ingredient found in all food) is conveniently nestled at the very end of the list so people think it's harmless but you now know 'natural flavors' is another name for 'up to 100 chemicals' so do your best to avoid it.