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The Truth About Natural Flavors In Your Favorite Foods

The Truth About Natural Flavors In Your Favorite Foods

Should You Be Worried About This Popular Ingredient? The Truth About Natural Flavors

The term “natural flavors” can be spotted in the ingredients for pretty much any packaged food nowadays, but what does this vague term really mean? Well, the truth about natural flavors is a little more complicated than they (the FDA, your favorite food brands) will have you believe. According to the FDA, a natural flavor is anything that is extracted, distilled or derived from plant or animal matter, and is then cooked, roasted, or fermented for its use as a flavor. Let’s break that down:

  • “Natural” means anything derived from plant or animal matter.
  • Natural flavors are used for the sole function of flavor, not nutrition.
  • "Natural flavors" is plural because there's way, way more than one ingredient included.

You can scan any aisle in the grocery store and spot "natural flavors” on the front of hundreds if not thousands of packages. In the Environmental Working Group’s food scores database, which documents about 80,000 foods, “natural flavors” is the fourth most common ingredient. That’s after sugar, salt and water. The troubling difference between these and number four is that a single natural flavor could include up to 100 different ingredients. Many of these ingredients are preservatives and small amounts of artificial ingredients.

Foods with natural flavors are not healthier for you. In fact for junk foods, using phrases like “100% all natural flavors” frames foods to appear healthier than they really are. In some cases, you could unknowingly be sabotaging your health goals by consuming natural flavors. Foods that are meant to be vegetarian, for example, can and often do contain natural flavors that are derived from animal matter. Some natural flavors come from sources like eggs or fish and are used to flavor surprising foods, like orange juice or snack bars.


Are Natural Flavors Dangerous?

Natural flavors haven’t been around very long -- many of them aren't even FDA approved yet -- so we won’t know just how bad these ingredients are for our health until they’ve been on the market for long enough. There's only a small amount of natural flavoring in your foods, but it is concerning that nearly 1,000 of them haven’t been thoroughly tested yet. Most of these ingredients are categorized as “generally recognized as safe”, or GRAS, but the Government Accountability Office (a non-partisan investigation group in Congress) has outright stated, “FDA is not systematically ensuring the continued safety of current GRAS substances.” Yikes.

While we can’t quite prove natural flavors are directly bad for your health, these flavors are used in sneaky ways to keep you buying more, causing you to sabotage your own health goals. Remember, they are meant for flavor, not for your health! Even foods that we assumed would be naturally flavorful on their own have added natural flavors in them. So why add more? There’s a few reasons:

  • The processing and pasteurization of certain foods removes certain flavors, which are then replaced with “natural flavors”.  
  • Natural flavors produce an intense burst of flavor that quickly goes away, which causes you to eat more.
  • Natural flavors amplify the smell of certain foods so you can associate the snack with the smell. (Think Doritos or similar packaged chips).
  • Natural flavors help make foods taste fresh, even if they’re not.

Here at Rowdy Prebiotics, we aim to make foods that are honestly simple and good for you. Our bars are sweetened with yacon syrup and tapioca syrup. They do not contain any added flavor, because we choose ingredients that pack powerful flavor on their own. Join the Rowdy Bunch and save up to 15% off your order!

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