Natural Flavors…ahhhh, that sounds so, um, natural, doesn’t it? As you scroll down your list of ingredients, your eyes fall to this one little word pairing that makes you know that the manufacturer has your best interests at heart and has thrown you a bone in your quest for better health.
But the truth is, these words cover hundreds of substances and companies have become much more crafty at appealing to the consumer without disclosing the actual ingredients.
Natural Flavors are derived from animals or plants. So per the FDA standards, as long as the function of the ingredients present are for taste and not nutritional value, they can be added to your foods.
Natural Flavors can mean anything from celery powder to MSG (monosodium glutamate). From an essential oil derived from fruit to…wait for it (are you sitting down?), castoreum which is an imitation vanilla flavor made from the anal gland secretions of beavers. Wait, what????!!!!
So what does this mean for you? Those with food sensitivities and allergies need to be extra savvy when it comes to understanding just EXACTLY what is in their food, but even those without sensitivities should be aware.
The good news is that there are many products out there with the label “natural flavors” that are just fine, and because of labeling guidelines, have some good ingredients included under those words. My very favorite protein powder (get 20% off with code LISALOU20) has “natural flavors” on the ingredient label but I know, and am comfortable with, the animal source that it comes from (I personally know the owner of the company).
So the bottom line is that you need to be aware and do some research when you spot “natural flavors”. Best case scenario, you are consuming very few ingredients that even have a label (because whole foods as close to nature as possible is always better than highly processed foods that require a science degree in order to decipher ingredients).
But when you do find that little gem in your ingredient label, just be sure to do a little digging to find out if those “natural flavors” are derived from an innocuous fruit, or something that, if given the full picture, you’d really rather pass on.