Ever wondered what the difference between “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” is? In food labeling, the term “natural flavors” refers to anything created of edible products (such as plants or animals) – even if they have been processed and manipulated in a lab. “Artificial flavors,” on the other hand, come from inedible sources (like petroleum) that are processed to make chemical flavoring for food and other products.
Yes, you heard that right. Meat products, insects, animal secretions, aspartame and MSG are all considered “natural flavors” – even in vegan/vegetarian products. Labels on commercially manufactured foods can be extraordinarily misleading.
For example, many products list hydrolyzed soy protein and autolyzed yeast extract in their ingredient lists. Turns out, these are both just other names for monosodium glutamate: MSG. In fact, there are a whopping 25 different names for MSG, including maltodextrin, hydrolyzed pea protein and sodium caseinate. And if you aren’t aware of why so many restaurants and products now list “no MSG” as a selling point, consider this: MSG can cause brain lesions, neuro-endocrine disorders and neurogenerative disease. Not to mention that scientists believe it to cause obesity (definitely in mice and likely also in humans), since it triples the amount of insulin created by the pancreas. MSG is also addictive, which makes it no surprise that it has become a staple in fast food and processed meals since its inception 50 years ago.
Also disturbing is the fact that manufacturers often hide animal products in their food under the label of natural flavors. The shellac used to make the coating of your favorite candy shine is actually made from the resinous secretion of female bugs. Some vanilla, strawberry and raspberry natural flavors (used in ice cream, soda and yogurt) contain castoreum, secretions from the anal glands of beavers. The cystine used in the dough of your preferred commercially manufactured bread is actually derived from duck feathers and human hair.
Many people don’t have any clue that the vegan and vegetarian foods they are consuming actually contain animal products. Besides making you sick to your stomach, this is also blatant and undeniable trickery on the part of manufacturers. And this trickery is legal and permitted by the FDA.
Supposedly “natural” sweeteners also fall under the label of natural flavors. Studies show that these sweeteners (such as aspartame and xylitol) may be the cause of headaches, migraines, stomach aches, irritable bowels and even fibromyalgia. And yet, they are considered “natural flavors” and come with no warning labels.
What can we do about all of this? Since manufacturers are legally allowed to hide MSG and animal ingredients in their products under the label of “natural flavoring,” it sometimes seems impossible to avoid. But that’s not the case. All we have to do to avoid MSG and other “natural flavors” is to cut processed foods out of our diets. By eating a clean, raw diet of locally produced and harvested foods – or by growing your own food – we can avoid these nasty chemicals in our lives.
If you aren’t ready to go completely raw, try eating whole foods, direct from the source. Pick products that don’t hide their true ingredients behind misleading labels like “natural flavors” or “other ingredients.” Or, just eat whole foods that don’t need ingredient lists to start with (like tomatoes, apples, walnuts and brown rice). No need for so-called “natural flavors” in these foods – they are already wholesome and delicious all on their own!