(UN) Natural Flavors

Something to consider: are food products made with real food?  For example, does the cherry taste in Cherry Jell-o come from real cherries?  Does someone pick cherries from the bush, wash them, dry them, and then grind them up into a powder to be included in that little packet of Jell-o mix?  Same question for popsicles, coffee flavoring, ice cream, chips, crackers, cookies, bread, etc.

Take a look at the Ingredients Label of a food product and you might see the ingredient “natural flavors”?  It sounds OK, right?  I mean, if it’s “natural” than it’s probably OK (if not at least good) for you, right?  Right???

Well, unfortunately the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the term “natural”.  So an ingredient of “natural flavors” is actually a catch-all for other things.  Unfortunately, this loop-hole allows food manufacturers to put synthetic ingredients (otherwise known as chemicals) into the product without consumers knowing.

Even worse, manufacturers pray on the ignorance of the consumer and actually label things “made with natural flavors” on the front in order to mis-lead the consumer into thinking they are buying something healthy.

Take, for example, a Watermelon Whiteclaw.  The front says “spiked sparkling water with a hint of watermelon”.  Well, that is accurate.  There is a tiny amount of watermelon in the product.  But there are more…a lot more… “natural flavors”.

The FDA protocol for the Ingredients List is calls for the ingredients to be listed in decreasing order of quantity, but the amount if each ingredient (or ratio between them) isn’t required.  But one can infer from the order of the ingredients which one’s are the major components.  And with “watermelon” second to last, with citric acid and cane sugar between it and “natural flavors” this means there is very little watermelon. So the watermelon taste probably comes from the natural flavors – not the token amount of watermelon they included in order to say made with “a hint of watermelon”.

Another take-away from this Ingredients List is that there is more sugar than watermelon juice.  With 2g of sugar, that means there’s at least less than 2g of watermelon juice.

Watermelon Whiteclaws are tasty – but it’s because of the chemicals in the natural flavors not the watermelon juice.  Just like anything else, know what you are getting, choose moderation and variety.  And remember these two rules of thumb when choosing products based upon reading Ingredients list:

1) Avoid items with ingredients you can’t pronounce or are trying to avoid
2) The fewer ingredients the better.  Be leary of products with greater than 6 or so ingredients.


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