You’re trying hard to avoid inflammatory foods that are exacerbating your joint pain, digestive issues and making it challenging to manage weight. So, you make a point of reading what’s on the packages you’re buying. But…
It’s easy to get drawn in by healthy food claims on the front of food packages and forget to actually check the ingredients on the back. And when you do check, you’re often confused by ingredient names as to what is healthy. It’s amazing how many unhealthy foods look deceivingly healthy on the front of the package! (aka “health washing”).
One thing to watch out for are the artificial ingredients in foods. But when reading the list, it can be hard to know what’s natural and what’s artificial. So, I’ll explain about artificial flavour… what it is, why it’s used, and what kind of problems it can exacerbate.
“Artificial flavour” is a group of ingredients that companies don’t have to disclose. They are allowed to keep them secret because they are considered proprietary. And it can be easy to gloss over this ingredient because we don’t know what it is made of, so we ignore it.
Why Do We Need “Flavours”?
Food companies use flavours to replace the real thing because it is cheaper and easier.
When you make an apple muffin at home, what gives it the apple flavour? Apples of course! Real, whole apples, chopped or shredded or made into applesauce.
But when you’re making thousands of apple muffins every day, it can be hard to use the real thing. Real apples have slightly different tastes from each other. And apples are perishable which can be costly. So instead, companies have synthesized in a lab the perfect and identical apple flavour to keep costs down and keep people buying the product over and over.
Are Natural Flavours Better?
In short, not necessarily. Chemically, natural and artificial flavours aren’t that different. The main difference is that the source of natural flavours must be from nature, whereas artificial flavours can be created synthetically in the lab. However, natural flavours can contain synthetic solvents added during the processing.
Doesn’t sound too “natural” does it?
What Problems do They Cause?
When you introduce artificial ingredients into the body, it reacts in different ways. For example, with the flavour MSG (monosodium glutamate), animal studies have shown reactions such as inflammation (think: joint pain), weight gain, diabetes and liver problems.
MSG is a highly processed and synthetic form of free glutamate. If you suffer from any of the issues above, then taking time to avoid this ingredient is worthwhile. Other ingredient names with higher levels of free glutamate to look for and avoid are:
- yeast extract
- hydrolyzed protein
- textured protein
- soy protein isolate and concentrate
- whey protein isolate and concentrate
- “flavours” or “flavouring” (e.g. natural vanilla flavour)
- milk powder
- soy sauce
- corn starch
- corn syrup
- modified food starch
NOTE: Lower levels of glutamate are naturally occurring in many foods These are bound to amino acids and therefore absorbed slowly by the body and are considered healthy for us.
NOTE: Remember that regardless of the source (natural or artificial), flavours are not a part of real, whole food. My personal recommendation is not to buy foods that contain them. Why?
Because big food companies use artificial flavours to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and even enhance flavour way beyond what the natural ingredient would taste like.
They are not added to improve the “healthfulness” or nutrition of the food. And certain flavours can be the trigger for your inflammation.
Artificial flavours in the ingredient list are a good indicator that the food is not going to optimize your health. These processed foods are mostly “junk.” Don’t buy them. Make these Easy Apple Muffins instead.