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The Secret Ingredient Hiding In Your Natural Food: What Is Natural Flavor?

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It’s not always easy or cheap to lead a natural lifestyle. Sometimes we still reach for convenience foods…but of higher quality. But just what is natural flavor in your “natural” foods?

It's not always easy or cheap to lead a natural lifestyle. Sometimes we still reach for convenience foods...but of higher quality. But just what is the natural flavor in your "natural" foods?

It’s been over six years now since we cut out food coloring/food dyes from our kids’ diet. As in absolutely none. No exceptions. Artificial flavor is limited to a few times a year in a treat of vanilla ice cream.

Food dyes are connected to behavior – and not in a good way! Eliminating them has made a big difference in how my children feel and behave. It is literally like a drug for my oldest. Sometimes it makes her insane. Sometimes it makes her super mellow. Either way, it’s impacting her brain and is not good.

Of course cutting out artificial ingredients naturally lends itself to a healthier, more natural lifestyle. Who doesn’t love that?!

Instead of artificially-flavored fruit snacks you buy organic gummies or even make your own homemade fruit snacks! Instead of Trix yogurt with food dyes you get organic yogurt. Instead of traditional candy you buy organic suckers made with fruit. Sounds great!

Why Eliminating Food Dyes is Not Enough

That was us…for a while. Until I noticed my daughter was exhibiting the same behavior as when she ate the foods with artificial colors and flavors.

Being the investigator that I am, I read labels, I observed her, I kept a food journal. She had already been gluten-free for a long time. And no other food seemed to be causing the problems.

The one thing that I came up with was the ingredient common to all of these “natural” foods…natural flavor.

What is Natural Flavor?

Since then I’ve been doing more research. Both experimenting with diet and reading any information I can find. I really want to know…what is natural flavor??

Not surprisingly I came across article after article that said natural flavor is basically the same thing as artificial flavor. The only real difference is the ingredient(s) it starts with. Natural flavor starts with real food. But it still undergoes various chemical processes which result in a product not much different than its artificial counterpart.

How is Natural Flavor Defined?

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means 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. Natural flavors, include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants.”

Per dictionary.com enzymolysis is: “Chemical change or cleavage of a substance by enzymatic action.

So, natural flavor can come from a chemical change of bark and it’s still within the guidelines. Interesting.

It's not always easy or cheap to lead a natural lifestyle. Sometimes we still reach for convenience foods...but of higher quality. But just what is the natural flavor in your "natural" foods?

Is Natural Flavor Harmful?

According to dailyburn.com:

“Natural flavors are coming from natural sources — the original ingredient is found in nature and then purified and extracted and added back into the food.

But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the “natural flavors” in your blueberry granola bar are simply…crushed-up blueberries. Rather, they probably consist of a chemical originally found in blueberries, enhanced and added into your food in a lab.”

“Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients. And all of the extra ingredients in flavors often aren’t as innocent as you’d hope they would be. The mixture will often have some solvent and preservatives — and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume [of the flavoring]. In the end product, it’s a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients.”

NaturalNews.com states:

“Regulations for the word “natural” only apply to flavors; anywhere else you find it on food packaging means absolutely nothing regarding quality. Secondly, the FDA definition of “natural flavors” and “natural flavoring” allows for the substance to be extracted from plant or animal “matter.” So when you buy something that’s organic, vegetarian, or vegan, and it has “natural flavoring,” you could be eating a pig, cow, turkey, chicken, or lamb which was shot up with growth hormones, fed GMO pesticide-laden corn and grain – probably mixed with other animals of it’s same breed, then shot up with antibiotics due to infections and diseases from living in confined quarters on slats covered in feces.

Monosodium Glutamate is a neurotoxin that can be legally hidden from you and/or be labeled “natural flavors” in the ingredients list. MSG is not a natural flavor – in fact, it can cause brain lesions, neuro-endocrine disorders, and neurodegenerative disease in humans, but you won’t hear any doctors of Western Medicine mentioning that at your next extreme migraine emergency visit. There are more than 25 names for MSG, so sometimes you find it spread out a little, just in case the manufacturer gets “checked out” by anyone other than the FDA.”

Foodbabe.com says:

“With the words “natural flavor” food chemists and companies can put whatever they want in your food that is “generally regarded as safe” including excitotoxins. Natural flavor can legally contain natural occurring “glutamate” bi-products like MSG – which are known excitotoxins. These excitotoxins are some of the chemicals that cause your taste buds to experience irresistibility when it comes to food. Excitotoxins overexcite your cells literally until they die or are damaged causing “injury” and “incapacitating” you with disease. When consumed over time, excitotoxins can cause nerve disorders resulting a myriad of diseases from stroke to Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s. And lots of other side effects too – like obesity, migraines, fatigue and depression.”

Remember what I said about “natural flavor” acting like a brain-altering drug for my kids? It’s not so far fetched when you really do some searching. My observations were spot on.

Do Manufacturers Lie About Ingredients?

None of it sounds very appealing and certainly doesn’t put my mind at ease.

But I know you can’t trust everything you read. So I set out to do my own investigation.

I called some popular organic food companies and some conventional food companies to ask them about the ingredients in their food (I’ll be kind and won’t name names). Sadly most of them had no answer for me.

I told them I was a mom of kids with tons of allergies. I need to know a full ingredient list or I can’t give it to my kids. Simply avoiding the top eight allergens does not cut it.

These are the responses I got:

“Natural flavor is listed so we can keep the full ingredient list from our competitors. The natural flavor in X product contains apple, corn, black raspberry, cherry, cranberry, lemon, lime and strawberry. I don’t know how it’s processed, but it does contain those ingredients.”

“The natural flavor is outsourced. The ingredients for each flavor can change by the season so we can’t tell you what’s in it. It is made from fruits, vegetables and/or spices. And they can’t be modified. There are no major allergens.”

“The natural flavor comes from a natural source. I don’t have a specific list of ingredients.”

“It is a proprietary formula that I can’t tell you. It is an all natural food or something.”

“The Natural Flavors in our products will follow our same Brand Promise to be Gluten-Free and Free-From the top defined food allergens. We have only aligned ourselves with business partners and ingredient suppliers that can adhere to our strict allergen requirements.”

One website directly stated:

“All our Natural Flavors in our certified organic product are Organic Compliant Natural Flavors and conform to the regulations of both the FDA and the very strict National Organic Plan (NOP) by the USDA.These natural flavors do not contain anything we would not be proud to put in our family’s mouths.

Please note that we consider our Natural Flavors to be secret recipes so we do not reveal the contents of our Natural Flavors. We are aware that some people may not be able to eat some of our flavors because we are unable to reveal the secret recipe and we are truly sorry for this inconvenience.”

Does Anyone Know Where Natural Flavor Comes From?

Since I was getting nowhere with the food manufacturers I tried contacting some natural flavor manufacturers directly.

No surprise…I couldn’t get any response from them!

Why Natural Flavor is Dangerous for Food Allergies

As a mom of kids with allergies it concerns me greatly that I am not allowed to know what is in just about every packaged food. Even simple foods like canned tomatoes and salsa. It also concerns me that these “natural flavors” are so common that nobody questions them.

The word natural has no real standard. It can mean just about anything. Don’t let it fool you too. If you are conscious of avoiding artificial flavors and colors, you might want to add natural flavor your list.

If it is so “natural,” why don’t you just tell us what it is??

How to Avoid Natural Flavor

I’m not just a bearer of bad news. I want you to have hope! Don’t feel discouraged! You can still live a natural lifestyle. And it does NOT have to be complicated or involve convenience foods with suspicious ingredients.

You can learn to replace store-bought products with DIY options that actually work (like homemade fruit snacks and granola bars) and are easy to make. You feel better (and even look better, too). Healthy living becomes less stressful and more enjoyable.

Our family has felt so much better by making changes to the way we eat, the products we use, and how we take care of ourselves. It’s made all the difference in the world and I want the same for you.

The use of natural flavor has been my biggest “natural food” complaint for many years. It really has no place in our food. And food companies that make quality, whole foods should be more than happy to tell consumers exactly what ingredients they use.

Do you avoid natural flavor?

If you are looking for a simple way to keep your family healthy and thinking clearly, avoid natural flavor. This mystery ingredient has no place in real food.

10 comments

  1. Anastacia says:

    Hi Mary,
    I really appreciate your research and input on “natural” flavorings and flavors. I also admire your commitment: “Artificial flavor is limited to a few times a year in a treat of vanilla ice cream.” I already stay clear of any store bought product that contains artificial or natural flavors, however, I can’t figure out how to handle events where food is shared or gifted. I know your children have food allergies so you don’t offend when someone offers food at parties (do you bring your own birthday cake at parties or meal?) What about if your child doesn’t have allergies – I feel so rude turning down invites for dinner with friends (where I know there will be artificial flavors etc), church events, and birthday parties just to avoid the unhealthy food. Do you have any tips on this topic or have you already written an article on this you can direct me to? Thanks!!!

  2. Mark Smith says:

    I have come to realize “Natural Flavor” in an ingredients list always (not sometimes) means a migraine for me. Thanks for pointing out that it can contain a form of MSG, or any of hundreds of other chemical solvents, fragrances, preservatives etc that are considered “incidental” to the naturally derived base substance.

    These are things that no one should be in ingesting, not just migraine sufferers.

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