I am a bit of an obsessive ingredient label reader. I want to know what is in the food I eat. If the label is full of ingredients that are not actual food, words I can't pronounce, or just a long slew of words, I tend to avoid it. But, reading and deciphering labels is a little more complicated than that. Companies throw in words like "natural" and "whole grain" to make people think that their products are healthy. These terms are not regulated, and therefore, don't always mean what they should. There are many other terms and ingredients I would like to go into further in later posts: "free-range", "organic", "high oleic", interesterified oils" etc. But, for now, I'd like to focus on one term that has recently been popping up everywhere: "Natural Flavorings"
There is nothing much "natural" in natural flavorings. The difference between a natural and artificial flavoring is "the method by which is was derived, but ultimately the chemical composition can be nearly identical."
Natural Flavorings are highly processed extracts added to foods to make them taste more intense. It has been common for decades to see packages that say "made with artifical flavorings" on things like fruit punch or ranch flavored chips, and "made with natural flavorings" might have shown up on the front of a juice blend. However, in the past few years, natural flavorings have been popping up in the fine print on ingredient labels everywhere. Here are some of the shocking places I have seen them:
raw turkey meat
celestial seasonings teas
organic yogurts (almost every single brand)
100% apple juice
100% grape juice
This is crazy right? Doesn't butter taste enough like butter, not to need flavoring added to it?! and juice? why would 100% juice need flavor added to it to make it taste more juice-like? I think the answer is 2 fold:
1. people are used to buying more processed foods these days because they are cheap, and so companies feel like they have to make products that actually are made with natural whole ingredients, taste more intense or have a bigger "flavor profile" like their more processed counterparts. All of this goes back to the farm bill and how it subsidizes certain crops and not others, which has resulted in cheap packaged food that is mostly bad for our health.
2. because the flavorings come from "natural sources" they are still allowed to be called "natural" making them sound like they are good for our health, so people don't worry about eatting them. Just because something is "natural" does not mean it is good for you.
My sister inlaw has some pretty severe health problems and is on a very restricted diet that was really helping her colitis. One thing she has to avoid completely is chemicals. It was cooking for her that made me start to realize just how many things have natural flavoring in them, i mean raw turkey breast, seriously!!!
Click here for more info on natural vs. artificial flavorings
Click here for a definition of natural flavorings
While i was in the grocery store sneaking photographs of food labels, I walked past this wonderful example of everything that is wrong with our food system right now:
Let's just say that there is absolutely nothing "healthy" about this Healthy Bunch pack of popsicles. There is almost nothing that is actually natural in this box. It is much healthier, cheaper and tastier to make your own fruit juice popsicles or sorbet, and it takes hardly any work. Check back to this blog through the summer and you will find lots of great recipes and ideas for healthy, homemade frozen treats.