Why Natural Flavors Aren’t Better Than Artificial Flavors
Getting Chinese takeout tonight? You might be getting some natural or artificial flavors with that Kung Pao chicken. Think about the soy sauce in packets. Most likely, that ‘soy sauce’ isn’t made with with real ingredients like fermented soy beans, but with hydrolyzed vegetable protein1 with added flavors.
Most food products that come in a package contain added flavors, either ‘natural’, ‘artificial’, or both. They’re in more foods than you think. Head to the ice cream section and pull any package out of the freezer. Most vanilla ice cream will contain added vanilla flavor (not real vanilla extract). Head to the canned food section, or to the jam, cookie, salad dressing, or barbecue sauce aisle – you name it. You’ll likely see added flavors.
What are natural and artificial flavors, anyway?
They’re chemical flavor enhancers added to your food.
Having chemical compounds in our food isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All food is naturally made of things that have chemical names. Apples, for example, naturally have in them phytochemicals (chemicals occurring naturally in plants) called quercetin, catechin, phloridzin and chlorogenic acid. These phytochemicals chemicals are natural and provide some of the benefits we get from eating that food. Adding other types of chemicals to food, however, isn’t a heath benefit and may be harmful when they are in most of the foods you eat.
If your food comes in a plastic package or can, chances are it passed through a food lab. Flavorists combine chemicals to make smells and tastes our brains recognize as food. For example, add grape flavor to water and sugar and it could pass as grape juice. Adding cheese powder to corn puffs makes an addictive snack. You could even add the chemical vanillin to a cheeseburger and have a cheeseburger that smells like vanilla. And did you hear that Mcdonalds was working to make a Bubble-gum flavored broccoli? Odd, but possible.
Natural flavors aren’t better than artificial flavors
‘Natural’ may sounds healthier than ‘artificial’, but don’t fall for that labeling trick.
Both natural and artificial flavors add taste to food products without adding nutrients. Cookies with natural flavors aren’t better than those with artificial flavors.
The difference between natural and artificial flavors is how the chemicals were made. Apple flavor, for example, can be either a natural or artificial flavor depending on how the chemical was distilled. Don’t be fooled, though – either way, you don’t get the nutrients you would if the food manufacturer used a real apple.
What’s the problem with added flavors?
Artificial and natural flavors aren’t known to be toxins. If you eat some food with added flavors in it – and we all have – you’ll likely be fine. That doesn’t mean they’re entirely safe. Most added flavors aren’t tested extensively. You and I won’t know for sure what added flavors do to our body.
Food products with added flavors also don’t give you all the nutrients you would expect. If your cookie has chocolate flavors added to it, you’re not getting the phytochemicals, calcium, magnesium, and potassium you would if the flavor came from chocolate2. All you would get is the chemical that sends the ‘chocolate’ signal from your taste buds to your brain.
Also, added flavors may make your taste buds less receptive to food without added chemicals. Mark Schatzker, the author of the Dorito Effect3, suggests added flavors change what you expect from food. Your brain starts thinking the intense bursts of flavor from chemical enhancers is natural. Regular food that doesn’t have that ‘kick’ becomes less enjoyable. You start craving the fake stuff. So you can see that this strategy creates return customers.
Chew on this
The best way to avoid added flavors? Cook your own food. The more you cook for yourself, the healthier you’ll be4. Check out these easy recipes.
You don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time. It’s okay. Sometimes we want something easy and convenient. Maybe we even crave some fast food. Let yourself cheat now and then. Do it consciously, savor it and then get back to your healthier diet.
Which are your favorite food products without added flavors? Share them with us in the comments!