Are Natural Flavors and Stevia Bad?
Take a look at a handful of processed food and drink items in the grocery store and you’re sure to see “natural flavors” and high-potency sweeteners like stevia, sucralose, and erythritol listed in the ingredients. These are flavoring and sweetening agents that food manufacturers add to their products to enhance the taste. No harm in that, right? Sadly, that’s not always the case. In this article, we’re going to discuss why it’s in your best interest to avoid products that contain natural flavors and high-potency sweeteners—and what you should look for instead!
What exactly are natural flavors?
A “natural flavor” is any type of flavor additive derived or altered from a natural plant or animal substance. While this might sound safe, the reality is that “natural flavors” aren’t really natural at all. They’re made in a lab and often contain artificial ingredients. In fact, as long as at least 80 percent of the flavor comes from a “naturally occurring” source, companies can list it as “natural.” The remaining 20 percent can be whatever the company wants to add in, artificial or otherwise.
Even worse, the 80 percent of “naturally occurring” ingredients may not even include the natural source it’s meant to resemble. Take castoreum, for example. This food additive has a strawberry-vanilla taste and has been used for at least 80 years to flavor ice cream, pudding, gum, sodas, and other desserts. So, it’s derived from strawberries, right? We wish! Castoreum is actually an excretion that comes from the castor sac of a beaver—a pouch on a beaver’s backside that stores the spray they use to mark their territory. As such, castoreum is usually mixed with anal gland secretions and urine. Anyone else just lose their appetite?
What are high-potency sweeteners?
High-potency sweeteners, such as stevia, erythritol, aspartame, and sucralose, are other types of ingredients you should avoid. These sweeteners offer intense sweetness without providing substantial (or any) calories and are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Research shows that consuming these sweeteners, which are about 200 times sweeter than normal sugar, can actually change your taste buds so you find naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable. Research also suggests that high-potency sweeteners may also contribute to weight gain over time.
As if that wasn’t enough, there has been a lot of debate over the safety of these sweeteners, especially aspartame and sucralose. In one study, daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36 percent greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
What you should eat instead?
So, if natural flavors and high-potency sweeteners are out, are there any sweeteners you can eat? Thankfully, yes! Real-food sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, and unrefined coconut sugar, can add the perfect touch of sweetness without any negative effects. Unlike “natural flavors,” real-food sweeteners truly are natural and what you see is what you get. There are no hidden, artificial ingredients or beaver secretions camouflaged as strawberry flavor—just pure ingredients from Mother Nature.
As a bonus, some real-food sweeteners actually have health benefits. For example, honey is a good source of antioxidants and has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
At Lovebird, our organic, grain-free cereal is sweetened with nature, not science. Our products don’t contain any refined sugar—just organic honey and a touch of organic coconut sugar for a slightly sweet taste. Delicious and healthy? Talk about a win-win!