Advances in technology have allowed us to control our food supply in more ways than ever. It also allowed us to modify and create new food. There was a time when if you tried a food, and something had a cherry flavor, it most likely was a cherry. A time where salmon wasn’t covered in artificial dyes to make it more appealing to consumers. Those times are quickly being forgotten and quality food products are quickly being replaced with cheap imitations. But what exactly does it mean when your food product contains artificial flavors? Is it really that much different than natural flavors?
Natural vs “Natural”
To make it a bit more confusing, before we begin, you need to make an important distinction. The term “natural flavor” is vaguely defined as:
a natural flavor is the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
This means these natural flavors are basically a combination any of the above to trick your body and brain into thinking what you are tasting is actually what you are eating. Using this vague definition and purpose of natural flavoring, food companies use loopholes to deceive consumers into thinking that what they are eating is actually natural. However, more than 2000 chemicals are combined on average to make just 500 natural flavors. It takes about 70-80 tries to perfect the formula and trick the taste buds. They trigger all the pleasure sensors within your body, to keep you craving these foods in the future and feeling satisfied. This is what we mean by “natural”. Yes, it is natural in the sense of the formal definition, however, it is not truly natural.
So what exactly is natural nowadays? Not much. The majority of the food is genetically modified and processed, the flavors that we taste are simply imitations, and the colors that we see are fake. But this does leave the small portion of food that is truly flavored naturally. Everything comes down to reading the ingredients on the label. That is your only true and best friend. For example, these protein bars, have simple to understand ingredients and they use quality ingredients without any additives. They use the actual ingredients in their recipes to flavor their food rather than lab-combined natural flavors. It is still possible to flavor food in a natural way. But until we have strict labeling laws and continue allow companies to take advantage of loopholes, it’s important to only buy products that we know we can trust and to always read the labels. Otherwise, those fruit imitations in your house may be your next meal without you knowing it.
It says it right there on the label “ARTIFICIAL flavors”. Artificial meaning fake, not natural and a cheap human imitation. A
third fourth cousin of something that was actually natural and healthy. So why are people still not put off by this in their food? Have our bodies and our brains grew used to these knockoffs and has this food become the norm for us? I don’t think so. While it is nearly impossible to distinguish certain tastes for our brains from natural and their lab-produced counterparts due to technology, our bodies can tell the difference. Why are health related issues on the rise, such as thyroid problems, if our technologies and medicine have advanced so much? The answer lies in the lack of exercise, introduction of new technologies, air pollution and most importantly – artificial food. Our nature has been polluted with genetically modified plants, chemicals, pesticides and so have our bodies.
Health Risks of Artifical Flavors
We wanted to call these side-effects but they are just effects or risks that you are taking when consuming them. While there are hundreds and hundreds of health risks involved with these chemicals, here are a few to name:
- brain tumors
- mental confusion
- DNA damage
- anxiety attacks
- kidney problems
- high blood pressure
When it comes to food labels, avoid any product that has artificial flavors in it. However, the only real difference between natural and artificial flavorings is the origin of the chemicals. Natural flavors (typically) are created from anything that is edible, while artificial flavors come from ingredients that are not edible (i.e petroleum). Although natural flavors sound better, they can still be processed in labs and other chemicals can be combined to imitate real flavors. Currently, “natural” is too vague of a definition and is not closely monitored in the food industry. Don’t rely on the term natural on your packets, use common sense when buying your food, avoid processed foods, read the label and buy products with ingredients that you recognize. Avoid any kind of flavoring, but if you must choose between the two, choose natural.