Artificial flavors bad for your health…
Many processed foods contain ingredients listed as “natural flavors” or “artificial flavors”. Most people think that natural flavors are better than artificial, but they are not.
Both are produced in a laboratory using synthetic chemicals.
The only difference is that “natural flavors” are similar to those found in real food, while artificial flavors are chemicals that do not exist in nature. Both natural and artificial flavors are usually made from petroleum, not the healthiest food choice. There are literally hundreds of these chemicals that can be legally added to food. The bad news is that food manufacturer does not have to list them individually.
So when you see “flavoring” mentioned on the label, the product may contain one chemical or a few dozen of them.
Food in its natural state contains natural substances that give it a unique smell and taste. Think of an orange or a banana. Modern chemical engineers found a way to combine unnatural substances to mimic the natural taste of foods. For example, octyl acetate is used to create an orange flavor, and isoamyl acetate has banana flavor.
There are hundreds of such chemicals that can be used to create virtually any taste, such as grape, cherry, orange, banana, apple, and so on.
Both “natural” and artificial flavors are considered “safe” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is why they are allowed to be added to food. But most of them have not been studied for safety or toxicity, especially when combined together.
The fact is that they can be dangerous to our health.
They may cause allergies, have negative effect on the thyroid gland, chromosomes, and enzymes. They have been linked to indigestion, headaches, chest pain, fatigue, irritation of gastrointestinal tract, and other health problems.
Some (borneol) may cause seizures, confusion and dizziness. Carvacrol (oregano flavor) has been linked to problems with breathing and circulation and even heart failure. Cinnamyl formate (cinnamon flavor) can irritate skin, gastrointestinal tract, affect the kidneys and caused cancer in mice.
Since there are literally hundreds of different chemicals used as flavorings, the list of potential side effects is a long one. The best thing you can do is avoid any food that has flavoring as one of the ingredients, even if it says “natural.”
If you see the word “flavor” on the label, put it back. Eat real food instead.
Want strawberry flavor? Eat a strawberry. What banana flavor? Eat a banana. You get the idea.
Thanks Dr. Michael!
- Scroll down through a few posts with more about artificial flavors and colors and how it affects kids’ attention span and behavior: FOODLESS FOODS.
- Scary: “The Dark Disgusting Secrets of the Flavor Makers“
- Have you seen these items I recommend? (Thank you for helping support this site by buying through those links.)
See, now I’m confused. My understanding was that natural flavors were somehow derived from food (however distantly, and not necessarily the food they’re trying to mimic), while artificial flavors were completely lab-synthesized. The aforementioned almond flavoring, for example – traces of cyanide because it’s derived from fruit pits. They don’t mean to include cyanide but have a hard time completely getting rid of it because it’s just naturally in the pit.
An extract is a (weak) tincture. Vanilla extract is, as mentioned, made by soaking vanilla in alcohol. Vanilla flavoring is vanillin, an artificial flavor (or is it natural? I’m not sure on the distinction now) that is not derived from the vanilla bean.
Michael Teplitsky, MD says
Your mistake is to assume that
mary johnson says
Carvacrol is not a flavoring. It is a natural substance from the oregano plant.
Michael Teplitsky, MD says
Carvacrol is an example of the “natural” flavoring. As I have pointed out in the article, “natural” flavors are man-made substances that have the same chemical structure as those that occur in nature. There is a small amount of carvacrol in oregano, as well as in thyme and some other plants. But carvacrol in processed foods is entirely synthetic, made in a laboratory, and is often present in larger amounts than in foods. That is why it can cause side effects that I mentioned.
Stanley Fishman says
My basic rule is to buy nothing that does not specifically label every single ingredient, by name. The word “flavors” could include anything made in a laboratory to flavor food. The word “natural” is meaningless, as the FDA interprets that word so loosely that it could include just about anything. The word “spices” could also include any laboratory made artificial flavors.
Even products labeled “organic” can include artificial flavors, as the FDA allows a number of non organic substances to be added to organic foods, as 5% of a product labeled organic can be non organic. Only products labeled 100% organic should be free of these lab made flavors.
The safest way to avoid these artificial concoctions is to make as much as possible from scratch, with real food ingredients.
I’d love to know that, whether or not “extract” and “flavoring” are the same? Because I do use vanilla extract a lot!
Michelle (Health Food Lover) says
I’m pretty sure extract is like an alcoholic extract (or whatever solvent they use) similar to a herbal tincture. And an “essence” or flavouring is artificial and manufactured.
Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship says
You can put vanilla beans in vodka to make extract. Heavenly Homemakers has a great tutorial. Simple, definitely natural (as long as you’re okay with alcohol!). 😉 Katie
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist says
Beware that a number of “low carb” sports drinks have reduced the sugar, added aspartame, and failed to label it specifically as it is hidden using the “natural flavors” label. This trick is probably being used in food products too.
Stanley Fishman says
Thank you, Sarah! I did not know that. Aspartame is one of the substances I want to avoid the most.
Monique- you can make your own vanilla extract with vanilla beans and a high quality booze. I think brandy? Not sure about almond extract, though I think extract is different from “flavoring”.
thanks for this info. do you use vanilla or almond extracts in any baking?
Such common sense, and yet I’m amazed how many people don’t “get it.”
Thanks for sharing!
I just read another article about this about 2 weeks ago. It mentioned that natural almond flavoring actually contains arsenic (or was it cyanide?) due to the methods used for extraction from peach pits. I remember wandering through the food section in one of those discount stores that has totally random things right after reading the article, seeing bottles of almond flavoring and simply backing away…
The 50 Best Health Blogs says
“Want strawberry flavor? Eat a strawberry. What banana flavor? Eat a banana.”
That sounds reasonable.