What Are Natural Flavors and Are They Bad for You?

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what is natural flavor and is it bad for you

One of the most common questions I get from readers is:

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

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, we’ll answer these two big questions:

  • What Is Natural Flavor? 
  • Are Natural Flavors Bad for You? 

Let’s jump right in …

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.

Are Natural Flavors Bad for You?

The long term effects of ingesting natural flavors on a regular basis have not been studied.

They don’t appear to be unsafe in the amounts used in most foods.

But … here are the top four reasons I still try and avoid natural flavors whenever possible:

Reason #1: natural flavors are 90 percent chemicals

As you learned above, 80 to 90 percent of the ingredients that make up natural flavors contain chemical solvents and preservatives. These may include the cancer-causing chemical BHA, propylene glycol (found in antifreeze), and fillers comprised of some of the most common allergens (corn, soy, and dairy).

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 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.

Wrap Up: Should You Avoid Natural Flavors?

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. This involves scrutinizing foods labels a bit more.

And 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.


32 thoughts on “What Are Natural Flavors and Are They Bad for You?

  1. Deirdre Grennan says:

    I knew there was something not right with my Oykos yoghurt but without magnifyer cannot read the contents. There was a strange aftertaste. What is natural flavour, pig fat??I had a Nature Valley sweet and salty nut roasted peanut bar. It was sickly sweet with the taste of chewing gum. Why are we eating palm ? We have to get rid of this junk stuff and eat real clean food.

  2. Anni says:

    I notice a family that visits avoids natural flavors. This is not on purpose, he just doesn’t like many foods that are processed. I wonder if he is a little healthier .

  3. Diane Findley says:

    Pepsi, Aquafina, MUG root beer, Lifesavers, Nestle, and Starbucks are just some of the products that contain ‘natural flavoring’ derived from aborted fetus cells. Obama okayed this when he was president. Research! Know what you are buying. Organic products are the safer way to go. These companies don’t care about you. They care about money!

    • Yvonne George says:

      All the soda’s have High fructose corn syrup, it is the second ingredient on the label. What is worst is we give to our children. It is a cheap substitute for sugar. Again the Big Companies making more Money, this stuff will eat at your brain and make you have cognitive problem as you get older and those with diabetes should stay away from all the soda in the USA. Thanks again to the FDA! This stuff will give you cancer, heart problems, asthma, There is a long list of problem that come with consuming HFC, an it is like natural favors it is in everything. READ YOUR LABELS when you shop!

    • Brandi says:

      Diane, I have been reading labels more closely the last few years after having lymphedema. Aspartame aggravates the symptoms and they put it in many things, not just sugar free foods. I started noticing “natural flavor” and wondered if it’s natural, why not list it exactly. A friend told me about the use of aborted fetal tissue. I called the company of the creamer we were using, the representative lied 3 times about what the ingredient was, then stated she could not indulge that information. This is ungodly!!

        • Jim says:

          I don’t know if one can trust Wikipedia but I found this:
          Senomyx was an American biotechnology company that developed food additives. The company claimed to have “reverse engineered” human taste and aroma receptors. Around the year 2001, Senomyx patented several flavor enhancers by using “proprietary taste receptor-based assay systems”, which have been previously expressed in human cell culture, in HEK293 cells.[2] HEK293 cells are a cell line widely used in biological and medical research, immortalized through a genetic modification removed from the original human embryonic kidney cells taken from a healthy, aborted human fetus in the early 1970s.
          Notice the “have been previously…….” -so- are they still doing it?

          • Missy says:

            I have also heard about the aborted human fetus, being used to enhance flavoring. It is so sad what our world has become. People do your research, you will be rocked to your core. Its unbelievable what you will find.

    • NORMAN SAUL says:

      Diane Findley – Please enumerate your citations. I may choose to avoid chemically enhanced foods. However, I can’t find any scientific sources on line for your assertions. On the basis of a perfunctory look at the data, I’d suggest you are deluded.

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  5. Yvonne George says:

    Read the LABEL and see what is in it, and if you can’t pronounces it don’t eat it. and please don’t give it to your kids, and if you are into sports, then you should know what is bad for you, and what is healthy for you.

  6. Kathryn says:

    So disappointing… So desceptive… So like the world we live in today…Thank you for this informitive information… I had a hunch that when a readymade product on the grocer shelf had “natural flavors” on it’s label, that something was being hidden and questionable. Now I know… Knowledge is power… Thank you.

  7. Cedars says:

    http://www.nationalgeographic.com › animals › article Beaver Butts Emit Goo Used for Vanilla Flavoring

    Castoreum is also sometimes listed as “natural flavoring”. Not really something I want to put in my mouth. I basically shop the produce aisle now, rare grains. I didn’t go whole food plant based on a whim. Just sort of evolved. My rule is-if I don’t know where to pick or grow the listed item” I don’t eat it. My adult version of a picky eater.

  8. Christina D says:

    I called GundryMD.com repeatedly asking what is in the “natural flavor” ingredient in their ProPlant Complete Shake, which I bought 16 canisters of on sale. I had already heard to put anything with those two words back on the shelf because it is nothing more than a cocktail of chemicals, oftentimes diacetyl which damages the liver. Sadly, my inquiries to GundryMD.com were met with complete silence, which appears to be the way corporations are addressing customer concerns these days. They hope by not hearing back from them we will forget about our concern. Well, I’m not forgetting, especially after reading the information on this website. So long, Dr. Gundry.

  9. Edna says:

    I was told I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I eliminated all dairy, including natural flavors. Voila. No IBS! Changed my life. I was chained to the bathroom and now I live a normal life, just super careful about what I eat. I wish the gastroenterologists I saw would have recommended changing what I eat. They just wanted to give me drugs.

  10. J says:

    For those who wish to know about the fetal tissues hiding as “natural flavors”…. Here is a great article with most of the brands associated with using Senomyx (and what that company does)

  11. J says:

    Website wont let me post the actual link for some reason, so search for “kingdomclaritylabel.com” and you should find out the twisted connection between many companies and Senomyx

  12. Grid says:

    Propylene glycol is part of “natural flavors.” I know somebody who drink a whole lot of drink boxes with natural flavors in them and ended up in the hospital with serious seizures. Propylene glycol may have been the reason.

  13. Suzanne Griffith says:

    I have just learned about natural flavors being bad for you. I have had IBS for years. I am looking forward to getting rid of my IBS by eliminatiing natural flavors from my diet. I am already on a dairy and gluten free diet. It is terrible what the big companies will do for money and the FDA is not dependable obviously.

  14. Jim says:

    Natural flavors is the most deceptive thing the food companies have ever done to us. I have been suffering serious allergic reactions to something in food for the past 10 years. more frequent every year and overwhelming the past 3 because it is in almost everything I was able to identify some products years ago, like Montreal steak seasoning be McCormic. Most of their packaged products bothered me. Then more products each year. the reaction hits my colon really strong with pain cramps and general feeling of being sick for 3 days, with a real lack of energy and almost no desire to get up off the couch the first couple of days. It also makes my back hurt bad. In June 2022 I was able to conclusively identify what was bothering me thru a process of elimination of only 5 possibilities. I went thru hell trying them individually till the last ingredient stood out. NATURAL FLAVOR. Now I can see it is in all the products I have listed over the years to avoid and there is lots on my list prior to this. This has affected my life seriously by making me to ill to participate in life when I have a reaction and the past 2 years it has easily been 1/3 of the time! I’m happy I found out but they still sneak it in some things I believe because I get that familiar reaction and its not listed. I agree with all who blame the FDA for letting this happen and not looking at. They too are a pay for play organization run by the lobbyists! It is all about profits for the big food mfts. who are big liars! I’m looking forward to feeling better by avoiding it and also spreading the word about it. Its difficult to eat in restaurants I’d like to note.

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