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What Are Natural Flavors?

By Sara Butler

Have you ever looked at the ingredients list on a packaged food and seen the term “natural flavors” but had no idea what that means? Well, you’re not alone! Natural flavors are kind of a mystery simply because food already has natural flavorings. It’s important to understand what the ingredients listed on foods you eat mean, which is why you need to understand a little bit more about natural flavors.


The flavor of a food is incredibly important. It wouldn’t be very fun or interesting to eat bland, tasteless food all day, every day. What makes something flavorful is a combination of the aroma, feel, and taste of the food. Some foods, such as fresh berries and fruits, are good just as they are. But some foods require a little more. All recipes you prepare have flavoring added -- salt, pepper, spices, and herbs are one way you can flavor a food naturally. So, enhancing natural flavors isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Food Additives

The important thing to understand is that in many processed foods that list natural flavors as an ingredient, natural flavors are used to maintain the flavor after the food has been processed or retain the flavor as it sits on a shelf.

With that in mind, natural flavors are safe to consume and sourced from natural ingredients found in nature. But the listing of natural flavors on food packaging doesn’t really tell you what it is or even if it’s healthy. The other things listed on the food ingredients label are often better clues about how healthy a food is. Keep in mind that most packaged, processed foods aren’t that great for your health in the first place.

A Few Questions

To try to ascertain if a food is healthy or not, you may have the following questions about natural flavors:

  • Are they safer than artificial flavors? There’s really no way to know if natural flavors are safer than artificial; the USDA deems them all safe for human consumption
  • Are natural flavors organic? There’s no way to know this for sure unless the food specifically tells you
  • Is MSG considered a natural flavor? Many people avoid the flavor enhancer MSG, so it’s not a natural flavoring; if it’s used in a food, the ingredients section should list it

Natural flavoring isn’t a good or a bad thing, but it is a sign your food has been processed. So, make sure you’re eating as many whole foods as possible in order to make sure you’re eating right. 

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Aurora, Colo.

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