Natural vs. Artificial Flavors - Is There a Difference?

Someone asked me the other day what the term “natural flavors” means. I realized that this is something that needs to be cleared up as it appears to influence consumers. Artificial flavors must be bad, and natural flavors must be good, right? Simple answer is no.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means " any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof."

The FDA does not have a definition for "natural" as it appears on food labels. The FDA has considered the term "natural" to mean " that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food." However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The term natural does not describe any nutritional or health benefit to a food or product.

Foods that are “natural” can be made with artificial colors and sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, chemical preservatives, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). So don’t make a decision to buy a product solely based on the fact that it claims to be natural. When choosing to make a food purchase, here are the things you should look for:

  1. Get the biggest bang for your buck. Especially when looking at packaged foods/snacks/bars, add the protein and fiber and make sure that number is greater than the sugar intake (protein + fiber = > sugar).

  2. Check the serving size. Make yourself aware of the amount of servings PER CONTAINER. A can of soup typically contains 2 servings – that means double the sodium!

  3. The first ingredient on the label is important. For example, if the ingredients list is “sugar, oatmeal, and cinnamon”, the predominant ingredient is sugar.

  4. Familiarize yourself with what is in the food. Here are a few ingredients to stay away from:

    1. Palm oil

    2. Shortening

    3. High fructose corn syrup

    4. Artificial sweeteners

    5. Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate

    6. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)

    7. Sodium Nitrates and Sodium Nitrites

    8. Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow artificial coloring

    9. MSG

  5. Check the % daily value. As a general rule of thumb, 5% is low and 20% or more is high. This is most important when looking at things like saturated fat and sugar which you want to keep low, and fiber and protein which you want to be high. If you are looking for a food that has a good source of calcium or iron, check the bottom of the food label and check the percentage to see if it makes the cut.

The more you educate yourself on the products and claims that are out there, the more you can become a true health conscious consumer! 

e6bb3ea2-d228-4206-9cab-9c837b5b5ab1.png
Erin Kenney