Category Archives: nutrition

Is Stevia Natural? Here’s the Bitter Truth

A few years ago, I discovered a seemingly miraculous “all-natural” sweetener called Truvia. It seemed too good to be “true” (pun intended): mild taste, didn’t cause cancer, derived from plants, and none of the fat-promoting calories of regular sugar. I wanted to know: what the heck is stevia? Is stevia natural and safe? And what are the best and worst types of stevia?

Turns out powder from the real stevia plant is a far cry from the “stevia” found in nearly every food product on store shelves.

If you eat food that contains stevia on-the-regular, you’re going to want to pay close attention as we cover a very brief history of stevia along with its health benefits and the best and worst types of stevia.

What is Stevia?

The Stevia rebaudiana plant hails from South America (Paraguay), where its leaves have been used for centuries to sweeten beverages and make tea.

is stevia natural

Is Stevia Safe?

There are over 400 studies that showcase stevia’s ability to lower blood sugar, promote weight loss, prevent cavities, and maybe even help prevent certain types of cancer.

But there aren’t a whole lot of studies on its long-term health effects. One study showed when rats were fed high dosages of stevia, it reduced their sperm production. This led the FDA to reject the stevia plant for use as a food ingredient in the 1990s.

However, several highly-processed, chemically-extracted compounds from the stevia plant were approved and granted FDA “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) status: rebaudioside A in 2008, stevioside and rebiana extracts in 2009, and purified stevioside in 2011.

It’s yet another puzzling example of the U.S. food system at work.

What Types of Stevia Are Healthy and Natural and Which Aren’t?

If you prefer to eat real food instead of chemically-altered versions of real food, it’s probably a good idea NOT to listen to government agencies influenced by “Big Food” lobbying groups. Use this simple list (ranked from best to worst) when buying products with stevia instead.

BEST

Organic Whole Leaf Stevia (or “Green Leaf Stevia” or “Ground Stevia Leaf Powder”) – Whole leaf stevia powder is simply dried, ground leaves from the actual stevia plant … and that’s it. This is the least processed of all types of stevia and the type that has been used for centuries as a natural sweetener and health remedy. It definitely has an earthier, slightly bitter taste because it’s in its natural state, but you only need a tiny little pinch to sweeten your favorite recipes.

MEDIOCRE

Stevia Extract (or “Stevia,” “Stevia Leaf Extract” or “Organic Stevia”) – Many brands (particularly those marketed as “healthy” and “natural”) use stevia extract. Don’t fall prey to the hype though—this type of stevia still goes through rigorous processing (and often bleaching) to extract certain compounds from the stevia plant. Plus, most food processors add an excipient (filler) that’s usually derived from a genetically modified product (i.e., maltodextrin, a processed starch made from GMO corn).

WORST

Truvia, PureVia, Stevia in the Raw – These are the types of stevia to avoid because of the extensive processing and added GMO ingredients.

Truvia, for example, goes through a patented 42-step processing method.

All commercial brands of “stevia” use chemical solvents, GMO derivatives, and/or other processed sweeteners. I wouldn’t touch the stuff. Eat Local Grown has a nice breakdown of several chemically-derived forms of stevia to watch out for.

Avoid these types of processed, GMO-laden "stevia"
Avoid these types of processed, GMO-laden “stevia”

The Bottom Line: Is Stevia Natural?

organic whole leaf stevia powder
This is what real, all natural stevia powder is supposed to look like!

Organic, whole stevia leaf powder in its natural state is a healthy, green, all-natural sweetener.

But the stevia most food companies use is a chemically-altered, bleached, stripped down version that’s likely to contain GMO fillers. Any time you see “stevia”, “stevia extract”, or even “organic stevia” on a food’s ingredients list, you’re getting a processed, inferior sweetener that’s NOT real food.

Dr. Josh Axe has a nice breakdown of the best and worst types of stevia for your health.

My advice:

Stick with organic whole leaf stevia leaf powder in moderation.

That is the only type of stevia that is 100% natural, safe, and healthy! And you only need a teeny tiny bit of it.

P.S. We only use organic, green, real food stevia powder in Pure Food Protein. Learn more about why each of our ingredients are safe, clean, and healthier than any other protein powder on the market and grab a sample bag for just $5 (including shipping) for a limited time.

How to Find the Healthiest Plant Protein Powder in 3 Simple Steps

You remember those “Where’s Waldo” books? The ones where you had to find the little guy in the striped shirt in the middle of a colorful, chaotic scene filled with Waldo imposters?

That’s kind of what it’s like trying to figure out if all those protein powders marketed as “healthiest” and “all-natural” are actually good for you.

In other words, if you don’t know what to look for and where to look, chances are your protein powder may not be so healthy after all*.

Here’s why …

Supplement brands and their marketing teams spend LOTS of money on “Waldo imposters” (pretty graphics, clever marketing language, deceptive psychological tricks, etc.).

I know this because I was one of the guys they paid to help them create their marketing campaigns.

Here’s the truth they don’t want you to hear:

Most food supplement marketing is deliberately designed to distract you from scrutinizing the one piece of information that actually matters: the ingredients they put into their products.

In this article I’m going to show you how to see right through their b.s. and find the healthiest protein powder for you.

The Problem With Most Protein Powder Brands Marketed As “Healthy” and “All Natural”

When it comes to protein powder supplements, there’s one objective source of truth you can use to determine if a product is the right fit for your health needs: the ingredients list.

Here are a few ingredients, in particular, I found in some of the so-called healthiest plant protein powders (Vega, Garden of Life, SunWarrior, Orgain, and PlantFusion all have one or more of these):

  1. Natural flavors. Natural flavors are the 4th most common ingredient on food labels. Unfortunately, they’re anything but natural. They can actually contain up to hundreds of chemicals and preservatives. Here are a few of the more common ones:
    • Propylene glycol (found in antifreeze)
    • BHA, a known carcinogen
    • Genetically modified plants (GMOs) like corn and soy
    • Insects and bizarre animal products (such as beaver’s anal secretions)
  2. Sugars. Sugar comes in many forms these days, as you well know. Most proteins have some type of sweetener added–whether it’s artificial or “natural” is open to interpretation. For example, some companies use sugar alcohols like xylitol and market them as natural. Sugar alcohols originate from plants, but they’re chemically altered and may cause major digestive distress. Many protein powders that use more “natural” sugars like agave claim to be the healthiest … but they have half a day’s worth of sugar per serving (Shakeology is one example). Choose a protein powder that has 1 gram of sugar or less per serving from all-natural sources.
  3. Additives and Fillers. Avoid anything that ends with “dextrin” (like maltodextrin, a cheap, highly processed food additive usually made from genetically modified (GMO) corn. Protein companies use it to make their products mix easier. Soy and sunflower lecithin are common additives used to thicken protein powders and other foods. To make soy lecithin, soybean oil (GMO unless it says “organic” or “non-GMO verified”) is extracted from raw soybeans using a chemical solvent (usually hexane), then dried and bleached.
  4. Allergens. Dairy, soy, and gluten are among the most common allergens you’ll find. If you’re chugging down whey protein shakes and it’s causing GI issues, STOP. Whey protein works for some people. But for the majority, the cons outweigh the pros.
  5. Gums. Gums are thickening agents that improve the texture of protein powder blends. Xanthan gum, a common one, is produced by bacterial fermentation of a sugar-containing medium. Unfortunately, that medium is usually a potentially allergenic or GMO-containing substance such as corn, soy, dairy, or wheat. On top of that, xanthan gum has been shown to have a laxative effect … you might wanna wear a diaper if your protein powder has it. Be wary any time you see a “gum” listed on the ingredients list of your favorite protein brand.

3 Simple Steps to Help You Find the Healthiest Plant Protein Powder for You

My rule of thumb: stick with plant based protein powders that have mostly (or all) organic ingredients you recognize as real food.

Conclusion: Most Protein Powder Brands Claiming to Be All Natural Are Anything But

Shopping for the right protein powder brand for you starts with identifying your health goals.

Are you looking for a clean, all-natural ingredients? Then scrutinize that ingredients list and avoid all the stuff I mentioned above.

Do you want to lose weight and/or build some lean muscle? Then choose a powder with 20+ grams of protein per serving and 3+ grams of fiber.

If you’re looking to compare 20+ different protein powders, check out this post.

*Disclaimer: I sell an all-natural, plant-based protein powder called Pure Food.  

Is Bone Broth Good for You? Here’s What Science Says

Bone broth is all the rage right now. This New York Times article praised bone broths’ “demonstrable nutrition benefits.” Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., N.D. wrote an article on MindBodyGreen called The ONE Trick I Use To Stay Slim: A Nutritionist Explains. Her “one trick” is drinking bone broth. The list goes on.

I wanted to know if bone broth is actually good for you. It seems as if every blogger out there sings the praises of bone broth as a miracle cure for everything from digestive disorders to weight loss … but none of them ever seem to back it up with actual science.

That’s what we’ll do in this article: quickly sum up what actual research says about the pros and cons of bone broth.

Get your spoon ready, because we’re about to dig in …

The (Alleged) Health Benefits of Bone Broth

Here are some of the many health claims I found about the health benefits of bone broth:

is bone broth good for you

  • Heal leaky gut
  • Overcome foods intolerances and allergies
  • Improve joint health
  • Reduce cellulite
  • Boost immune system
  • Make your skin supple
  • Reduce cellulite

Unfortunately, there’s zero evidence to back up any of these claims. David Katz, M.D. Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, had this to say:

I recently published the third edition of my nutrition textbook for health care professionals. The book ran to over 750 pages, and roughly 10,000 references (and yes, it was every bit as painful as it sounds; writing textbooks is not for the faint of heart). Nowhere in the mix did I or my coauthors find, or cite, an article about the “demonstrable nutrition benefits” of bone broth.

One of the biggest benefits of bone broth that advocates tout is collagen, a protein found in the connective tissue of animals. Collagen, they say, can help strengthen your bones, protect your digestive tract, and improve your skin.

Again, there’s no clinical data to support any of these claims though. Most scientists will tell you it’s way overblown.

William Percy, an associate professor at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, said in this NPR article that:

Since we don’t absorb collagen whole, the idea that eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking.

In the same article, food scientist Kantha Shelke says if you want to build collagen, you need more than bone broth:

Eating a diet rich in leafy green vegetables is ideal. Plants offer richer sources in collagen building blocks and, in addition, provide nutrients not found in sufficient quantities in meats or broth.

The Actual Health Benefits of Bone Broth

There are two health claims about bone broth that do seem to hold up to scientific scrutiny.

One small study from the year 2000 found that chicken broth may help reduce inflammation and cold symptoms when you’re sick (personal anecdote: I always drink hot tea and broth when I’m sick, and it always helps).

Another small study found that bone broth or soups made with bone broth may help replace electrolytes after intense exercise and aid in post-workout recovery.

Other than that, there’s not much credible evidence that bone broth is actually good for you.

The Bottom Line

Like most health fads, take bone broth’s supposed magical elixir qualities with a grain of salt. Drinking salty animal broth may taste good, but it’s not a magic potion. I love making soups and stocks (here are some healthy soup recipes from my other website) but the evidence simply doesn’t justify all the hype they’re getting.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Dr. David Katz:

The most remarkable thing about the dietary component of lifestyle as stunningly effective medicine is how simple it is. Real food, not too much, mostly plants, to quote Michael Pollan.

How Organic Coconut Milk Powder Can Help You Burn More Belly Fat

In 2015, when I was in the process of creating Pure Food, I knew I wanted to include a whole food ingredient with medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) because of this special type of fat’s ability to help people burn belly fat.

I decided to use organic coconut milk powder.

This ingredient, which you can find in Pure Food Cacao Protein, has some pretty special health benefits.

Here’s why …

The Science of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

You’re probably well aware of the heart healthy benefits of monounsaturated fats found in foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil. I highly recommend eating more of each of those.

But there’s a “new kid on the block” type of healthy fat not everyone knows about called Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). Scientists have discovered MCTs may help you:

That’s why I decided to put MCTs in Pure Food Protein

But the problem was, all of the “MCT powders” on the market are highly processed and loaded with GMO fillers and additives.

Not how we roll around these parts.

I found the best whole food source of MCTs on the planet: organic coconut milk powder.

Most coconut powders use soy or animal product fillers. Not ours.

It’s 100% organic, plant-based goodness.

How Our Organic Coconut Milk Powder is Made

organic coconut milk powderThe flesh from the coconut is dried and ground into a fine powder and combined with organic ground cassava plant roots to make it mixable (since coconuts are high in good fats, coconut powder on its own is clumpy and impossible to mix).

Nearly all other companies add artificial soy- and GMO corn-based fillers like maltodextrin.

The coconut milk powder adds a subtle, sweet, creamy flavor too that I absolutely love.

You can read more about all our ingredients, including our organic coconut milk powder, here on our Why Pure Food? page.

How to Find the Best Gluten Free Dairy Free Protein Powder

best non dairy protein powderDairy and gluten are two of the most common food allergens. 65% of U.S. adults are lactose intolerant and up to 3% are allergic to dairy … so it comes as no surprise that demand for protein powders that are gluten and dairy free has went up in recent years.

But there are two big challenges if you’re looking to find the best gluten free / non dairy protein powder for you:

1.) The abundance of hidden junk ingredients to be wary of (for example, most of the so-called best dairy free protein powders are loaded with added sugar and mystery chemicals and additives that may be doing your body more harm than good).

2.) Most people are relying on highly biased online reviews, which are cherry-picked by brands. I’ll share my “secret” for making sure you understand the pros and cons of each protein company you consider.

Long story short, just because you buy a protein powder without dairy or gluten, doesn’t mean it’s “healthy.”

In this guide, we’ll share our 5-step checklist you can use to objectively find the healthiest and best gluten free and non-dairy powders for you.

Why 99% of Gluten Free / Dairy Free Protein Powders Are Complete Junk (Even the Organic Ones)

gluten free dairy free protein powder

Most of the time, the best selling protein powder brands are highly processed, pseudo-health foods with very good marketing.

So how do you see through the marketing hype and objectively assess which powders are worthy contenders?

First, you consult the only two pieces of objective information on the food label: the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list.

Most of the time, protein powder manufacturers will add chemical fillers, sugar, thickeners, fillers, and/or other unhealthy ingredients to make the product taste and mix better. 

Here are the “Big Five” questions you should ask to find the healthiest dairy free and gluten free protein powder (or any high protein plant-based foods, for that matter):

5 Steps to Find the Healthiest Protein Powder Without Dairy and Gluten

  1. Check the sugar content. Sugar—no matter if it’s from cane honey, maple syrup, molasses, or coconuts—turns to fat in your body. Eating too much sugar increases your risk of dying from heart disease too. I recommend avoiding all protein powders with added sugar. If your protein is gluten-free and dairy-free yet contains a bunch of sugar, that pretty much defeats the purpose of taking a protein powder. If you like it sweeter, blend your shake with a little fruit instead!
  2. Find out which artificial sweeteners they use. You’ll often discover fake sugars like saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose in non dairy protein powder blends. To see some of the potential health effects of artificial sweeteners, check out this article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. And there’s good reason to be wary of the supposedly “all-natural” sweeteners too. Xylitol and erythritol are highly processed “sugar alcohols” that can cause gas, bloating, and gut imbalances. Xylitol also comes from genetically modified corn. Stevia leaf extract in its natural state is okay, but the stevia most food companies use is a chemically-altered, bleached, stripped down version that’s likely to contain GMO fillers (often with allergens like corn and soy). Monk fruit is another all-natural sweetener that may be a good option for you. Again, just make sure there are no additional dairy-based fillers or additives, which is often the case. When in doubt, ask the company you’re buying from!
  3. What types of protein do they use? Vegan protein powders made from organic pea, rice, hemp, sacha inchi, and pumpkin seed are generally healthier dairy-free sources of protein. Whey and casein proteins are milk-based and have lots of side effects so obviously aren’t good choices for those looking for a dairy free option. Collagen proteins may be another good dairy-free option (unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan). And if your protein powder isn’t organic, you’re probably drinking pesticides with your protein smoothie.
  4. How are their ingredients processed? This is a tricky one because protein manufacturers are hesitant to disclose this information (which is the first sign they’re hiding something). Most vegan protein powders—even the organic ones—are processed using high temperature methods that destroy vital nutrients in the plant and render much of the protein useless. If you have a severe allergy to gluten or dairy, you’ll want to avoid brands that are manufactured in a facility where other gluten- and/or dairy-containing products are produced.
  5. What other ingredients do they add? This is where most protein powders—especially the ones you may have thought are healthy—fail miserably. Here are a few common unhealthy ingredients to look out for:
    • Natural flavors. Up to 90 percent of natural flavors are made of allergens like dairy, soy, corn, and gluten … as well as chemical solvents and preservatives, says David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. If you have a dairy sensitivity, definitely ask the company you’re buying from if they use any allergens in their natural flavors (they may not even know!).
    • Many protein powders that claim to be all-natural have gums like carrageenan, xanthan, locust bean. These cheap, processed fillers often have other additives and can lead to gut imbalances and be problematic for those with any GI issues.
    • Lecithins. To make most lecithins, oil is extracted from soybeans or sunflowers using a toxic chemical called hexane. Most are made from GMO soybeans (unless they’re organic).

The Bottom Line: How to Find the Best Gluten Free and Non Dairy Protein Powders for You

There are lots of protein powders available these days without gluten and dairy. But a lack of those two allergens doesn’t make a product “healthy” or “clean,” like most of these brands claim to be.

Learn how to read and understand the ingredients list and nutrition facts label and then use the checklist above when evaluating protein brands.

It’s the only way to see through the marketing hype and know if your protein powder is healthy.

Lastly, as we mentioned above, most folks rely on online reviews when choosing what protein to buy. This is a great approach but make sure you understand that most of the reviews you see are cherry-picked by brands.

Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the full picture:

  1. Do a Google search for “INSERT BRAND NAME + reviews”.
  2. Read the top 3 positive and negative reviews on each review you visit (many of the online retail sites and brand sites will not have any negative reviews so Amazon is usually a good source here).

Compare 30+ Dairy Free Proteins with Our Plant Based Protein Powder Comparison Chart

Can Clean Eating Actually Be Bad for You?

A couple days ago I came across an article published on Today called Blogger Jordan Younger reveals how extreme ‘clean eating’ almost killed her.

Before I share my thoughts on the article, please take a moment to read it … it’s a short read, I promise.

If you don’t want to read it, here’s a quick quote that sums it up:

[Jordan Younger] writes about suffering from a controversial disorder called “orthorexia.” What began as an attempt to get healthy, morphed into an unhealthy regimen of food restrictions, 800-calorie-a-day juice cleanses and exercise. After a year, Younger had wasted away to 101 pounds, her hair was falling out and she had stopped menstruation.

Younger has written a memoir called “Breaking Vegan” that chronicles her self-destructive fixation with “clean eating,” an obsessive focus on healthy, unprocessed foods.

K, now that you’ve witnessed this steaming pile of sensationalist, clickbait journalist, allow me to vent a few specific issues I have with this article:

Issue #1: The headline itself is incredibly misleading.

The woman in the article suffered issues because she adopted a vegan diet and didn’t get enough calories … not because she was a “clean eater.” While I fully advocate a plant-focused diet for many reasons and believe people can get more than enough calories eating this way, “clean eating” doesn’t necessarily mean vegan.

Issue #2: Her problems stemmed from an eating and/or compulsive disorder, NOT from eating clean eating.

From the article:

Orthorexia is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, and experts disagree on whether it’s an eating disorder or disordered eating with obsessive-compulsive features.

Ms. Younger even states that she “found the term online” and diagnosed herself. She states:

 

I developed obsessions and anxiety around food. It wasn’t about veganism. I had restrictions on top of veganism.

So here’s the takeaway from this, you guys: don’t believe everything you read. If you have an “obsessive focus on healthy, unprocessed foods” like I do, then you should be damn proud of yourself.

 

Is This “The Secret” to Optimal Health and Happiness?

You are only 10 percent human.

As crazy as it sounds, our bodies have only 10 percent human cells. The other 90 percent are bacterial.

Most of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, part of a stunningly complex network of 100 million neurons known as your “microbiome”.

Your gut—which includes the esophagus, stomach, and intestines—actually has its own nervous system that allows it to operate independently from the brain, which is why it’s often called the “second brain.”

Ever felt butterflies in your stomach before giving a speech? Or had a “gut feeling” about something that turned out to be right?

That’s the second brain at work.

The Health Benefits of Probiotics

probiotics health benefits

So how do you improve your gut health?

The best way to get more good bacteria in your body is to eat whole, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and miso.

The second best way is to take a supplement or eat foods with added “probiotics,” a term used to describe health-promoting bacterial species.

However, 94% of probiotics added to food products are completely ineffective.

That’s because they either:

  1. Have a short shelf life
  2. Get killed by your stomach acid, or
  3. Don’t stay in your digestive tract long enough to provide any health benefit

It doesn’t matter how many “billion CFUs” your probiotic has if none of those good bacteria survive through your digestive system!

How do you find a good probiotic that actually works?

Start by finding out the answers to these questions:

  1. Does your probiotic survive stomach acid? As mentioned, most don’t. Certain strains fare better than others (like Bacillus coagulans). And some manufacturers (like Hyperbiotics) have developed proprietary processes that time-release the delivery of the bacteria until it reaches your intestine.
  2. Is your probiotic lab tested for safety? The FDA doesn’t require probiotic companies to test their bacteria strains. So naturally, they don’t do it. Probiotic contamination is a big deal though. If your probiotic manufacturer doesn’t have strict quality control measures in place, your probiotic may be doing more harm than good. Make sure the company you buy from tests its probiotics and can prove it to you.
  3. Is your probiotic backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies? Don’t trust marketing claims on product labels and websites. Even most clinical data probiotic companies cite is funded by the companies themselves. Your probiotic should be backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies (the gold standard in scientific research) if the company makes any claims about its benefits.
  4. Does your probiotic contain fillers, preservatives, and artificial ingredients? The answer is usually yes, but manufacturers are very good at hiding this information. The only way to know is to ask.
  5. Is your probiotic dairy-free? Many probiotics use a milk-based medium to help the bacteria grow. However, the people who probiotics tend to benefit most are those with digestive or immune problems … and dairy can trigger a whole host of issues.

The bottom line

Like most industries, the market for probiotics is ripe with crappy products. The only way to know if your probiotic is legit is to find out the answers to the five questions above. If a manufacturer is hesitant to provide any information you ask for, that’s a big red flag for an inferior product that could do more harm than good.

10 minutes of research makes a world of difference when it comes to choosing a healthy probiotic supplement.

Don’t roll the dice with your health.

If you want to try a probiotic that actually works, grab a sample bag of Pure Food Probiotic Protein Powder for just 5 bucks (you just pay shipping).

Is Tom Brady the “Food Babe” of Professional Athletes?

tom brady healthy eater
Source: ESPN SportsNation on Twitter

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently responded to a scathing article written about his personal trainer by lashing out at two notorious junk food conglomerates, Kellogg and Coca Cola.

In an interview with Boston radio station WEEI-FM, Brady was asked about a recent Boston Magazine article that portrayed his personal trainer as a fake doctor who sold unproven miracle cures.

He went on the offensive, calling out the “hypocrites” who belittled his trainer while putting junk food into their own bodies.

“I think that’s quackery,” he said, describing the billions of dollars Coca-Cola has spent on marketing. “And the fact that they can sell that to kids? I mean, that’s poison for kids.”

He also took a jab at Tony the Tiger, saying cereals like Kellogg’s sugar-laden Frosted Flakes are why the U.S. has a major childhood obesity problem.

Kellogg had the audacity to respond and say that cereal breakfasts are “tied to lower body mass index readings in both children and adults” (wonder who funded that study?)

Props to Tom Brady for forgoing the opportunity for a large sponsorship deal (Take Part has some astonishing facts about this) to speak his mind and put these companies on the hot seat.

Tom: even though I’m a Michigan State grad and you’re a former Wolverine, you’re all right in my book.

What Are Natural Flavors?

what are natural flavorsOne of the most common questions I get from readers is:

What are natural flavors, and are they bad for me?

Natural flavors are the fourth most common ingredient on food labels today. The only ingredients you’ll see more often: salt, water and sugar.

In this article, I’ll tell you:

  1. What natural flavors are, and
  2. Four science-backed reasons you should avoid foods that have them

Away we go …

What are natural flavors?

The FDA allows food companies to use the term “natural flavors” to describe any food additive that originated in nature.

If they originated in nature, what’s the problem? you may be asking.

According to David Andrews, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), this:

[Natural flavors] will often have some solvent and preservatives—and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume. In the end product, it’s a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients.

[bctt tweet=”Natural flavor is now the fourth most common ingredient listed on food labels! ” username=”nutritionguy”]

This is a major issue for anyone who considers themself a clean, healthy eater.

Here are my top four reasons to avoid natural flavors

Reason #1: natural flavors are 90 percent chemical junk

As you learned above, 80 to 90 percent of the ingredients that make up natural flavors contain chemical solvents and preservatives. These include the cancer-causing chemical BHA, propylene glycol (found in antifreeze), and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Reason #2: natural flavors are basically perfumes for your mouth

Cleaning products, perfumes, and cosmetics contain a combination of chemicals called “fragrances.” In processed food, this chemical mixture is called a “flavor.” Because smell comprises 80 to 90 percent of the sense of taste, fragrances and flavors are often alarmingly similar in chemical composition.

Reason #3: natural flavors are designed by Big Food to be addictive

There are four huge corporations that control the $24 billion market for both flavors and fragrances: Givaudan, Firmenich, IFF and Symrise.

In a fascinating 2011 interview that aired on 60 Minutes, scientists from Givaudan, one of the aforementioned power players in the food flavoring world, admitted their number one goal when creating flavors was to make them addictive!

[bctt tweet=”Scientists have admitted that natural flavors are designed to be addictive.” username=”nutritionguy”]

Reason #4: The FDA lets flavor companies call the shots

Incredibly, the FDA frequently allows food companies to develop their own food additives without providing oversight or safety reviews of their chemical concentrations. These companies are smart: they hire expensive lawyers to ensure they’ve followed the archaic FDA processes when developing their flavors … and generally the FDA leaves them alone.

Scientist David Andrews sums it up once again:

The truth is that when you see the word “flavor” on a food label, you have almost no clue what chemicals may have been added to the food under the umbrella of this vague term. For people who have uncommon food allergies or are on restricted diets, this can be a serious concern.

What you can do about it

Natural flavors are not natural, no matter how much food companies try to convince you otherwise.

But they’re so prevalent in so many foods it’s really hard to avoid them.

The simple solution is to stop buying foods that contain natural flavors. You can also contact the FDA expressing your concern. Or reach out to your elected officials and tell them you think this is unacceptable and you’d like more oversight of these types of ingredients in the foods you eat.

At the end of the day, eating more fresh foods that come from nature and packaged foods with only ingredients you recognize as real food is the easiest way to avoid natural flavors.

Why Fruit Juice Ain’t That Much Different Than Fruit Loops

A recent article published on Today talked about a class action suit that claims the food corporation that owns Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Promotion in Motion, has been deceiving consumers into thinking their fruit snack products are healthy (shocker, right? J)

This lawsuit may have larger implications here though. Think about how many processed junk food snacks show bright, colorful fruits on their package and say things like “made with real fruit!”—even though that “real fruit” only makes up a fraction of what’s in it.

sugar in orange juiceSo while we’re on the topic of fruit, I’ll go out on a limb and say there’s really not a whole lot of difference between fruit snacks, Fruit Loops, and fruit juice.

Yes, I said fruit juice—the same stuff the USDA claims counts for a serving of your daily fruit and vegetable intake.

Here’s my beef: fruit juice just isn’t the same as eating a whole piece of fruit.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found drinking fruit juice was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Susan Jebb, a government advisor and head of the diet and obesity research group at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit at Cambridge University, said, “Fruit juice isn’t the same as intact fruit and it has as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks.”

While I have no problem with people who make their own fruit and vegetable juices at home with their juicers, the bottom line is the small amounts of vitamins and antioxidants in most juices don’t make up for the large amount of sugar in them.

Your best bet if you’re craving something fruity is to eat a whole piece of fruit or toss a whole piece of fruit in your blender with a smoothie. But as the old saying goes, common sense ain’t always so common.