I am on a mission to help families and kids around the world get healthy. Most of us are educating ourselves daily and getting a grasp on this idea of healthy wholefood nutrition. But let's face it sometimes it can be a bit daunting and we don't always have time to prepare all of our food from scratch. With healthier brands coming out with more natural packaged foods it is even more critical to scrutinise labels.
I recently bought a certified organic herbal tea for my daughter. Looked good on the shelf; USDA organic certified, nice packaging, good price, but once I got home and really looked at the ingredients I realized it had 'natural lavender flavour! at 4%!!! I study labelling and nutrition for a living and I got fooled, so how many other over busy and exhausted parents are falling for the misleading 'healthy' products out there?
So you may ask why I would be concerned about natural flavours? Aren't they better than artificial ingredients? Yes, but to be honest they aren't much better. Let's break it down.
This is where people get frustrated. We have been told to avoid artificial ingredients but when we see natural flavour shouldn't it be natural. To better understand what natural flavours are I will give you the definition of 'organic natural flavours':
"Certified organic flavours won’t contain synthetic solvents or preservatives, and no GMOs. Some of the “incidental additives” banned from organic flavours include propylene glycol, mono and diglycerides, BHT, BHA, and polysorbate 80."
You may notice your natural soaps will boast 'No Propylene Glycol.' Although no large bodies of research exist about the safety of propylene glycol for humans, it is used in antifreeze as a 'safer' alternative. Like salt, propyne glycol raises the freezing point of water. My opinion, it's not worth risking this ingredient on our little ones.
This one is shocking. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has openly explained that Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) have been found to have carcinogenic properties. Often found in processed foods; especially cereals, snack mixes, potato chips, chewing gum and natural flavours. Besides being deemed potentially carcinogenic, BHA, in particular, has been shown to interfere with healthy hormone production. Once again, not going to risk these ingredients with our little people.
An emulsifier created in a lab, Polysorbate 80 has been tied to increased tumour growth in animal colon cancer studies. Emulsifiers are great for adding a nice texture to foods and extending shelf life, but unfortunately, they are also linked to gut inflammation by disrupting the healthy levels of intestinal bacteria in the gut. Other Emulsifiers you may come across are Soy lecithin (in most bread), carrageenan (in baby formulas), and canola oil (most processed foods). Researchers are also starting to make a link between these emulsifiers and obesity. Once again I believe these are best avoided for our little ones.
Another emulsifier commonly added to natural flavours, as well as ice cream, tortilla wraps and bread. They were created in a lab as they basically keep oil and fat from separating. Artificial trans fats have been linked to heart disease as well as obesity. Not suitable for little ones or for adults. Especially adults who are trying to shed fat, these ingredients may be hindering that weight loss.
Okay, I really dug in here, I am passionate about uncovering and understanding ingredients in our 'foods'. When I became aware of the ingredients allowed in natural flavours I was appalled. Have a look at your ingredient labels, and you will start noticing products with added natural flavour. Many superfood brands, protein powders, yoghurts, as well as organic and seemingly healthy packaged foods.
When I started formulating June Superfoods, I was disappointed when I discovered freeze-dried superfoods have little to no flavour. After mixing my blends with a manufacturer, I realised there was no way a kid would enjoy these powdered superfoods in water, yogurt or even a smoothie. Bitter and sour I knew I needed something to make them palatable. I was offered natural flavour by my manufacturer, but from all my research there was no way I would put natural flavour in my product! Remember I made this product with my own little ones in mind.
I ended up contacting the top organic flavour company in Southern California. I explained my concerns and they helped me create certified organic aromatic flavours of berry for Berry Focused, Orange for Tropical Sport and Vanilla for Green Greatness. They are certified organic, vegan certified, aromatics added in at the smallest amount necessary. They are natural and they have a subtle taste that complements the superfood ingredients.
Although natural flavours will usually only be present in small amounts, as a consumer it is good to know what you are buying. It is easy to get misled by false marketing, natural seems harmless but what it should really say is natural flavour with added solvents, emulsifiers, and GMO ingredients. Plus keep an eye out for the ingredients listed above. They will be labelled in the ingredient list of cereals, bread, and packaged foods. Through education on ingredients as a parent and a consumer, you will empower yourself to choose healthy for your family.
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