So, this morning I am shopping through my kitchen cabinet on the hunt for cereal. I come across Vanilla Chex and think, “hm, that sounds good right now.” Brandished right on the front of the box are some company claims attempting to convince the consumer, me, their product is the healthier and tastier choice. “Natural flavors”. “Gluten free”. “No artificial colors”. Companies like to make “healthy” claims on their products to pull the consumer in. These claims sometimes sound intriguing, but be warned – it is fancy jargon the corporate world likes to play with. If you do not understand what the claims mean, you can easily be led astray. Let us look into this box of Chex and figure out what its claims mean for us.
What do you first think of when “natural flavors” is written on your food product? I do not know about you, but I certainly think of the flavor in its simple and natural form. For example, in this vanilla Chex my first thought goes to a long and fresh vanilla bean crushed up and whisked in with the rice and other ingredients. Just to make sure I am right, I check the ingredient list. Whole grain rice (well, that is good at least), rice, sugar, fructose, rice bran and/or canola oil, salt, molasses, natural flavor…
Natural flavor? Well, that does not answer my question, but there is certainly a lot of other sugars added to sweeten this up. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, defines natural flavors as:
the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional (Food Labeling, 2013).
Wow. Okay, so there is barely any of that natural ingredient in the flavor at all. That is why they add so much extra sugar, to make up for it. Also, catch the last part of the definition – “whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (Food Labeling, 2013). Really try to find foods that concentrate on nutritional ingredients. Nutrient dense foods are much better for your body.
No Artificial Colors
According to the FDA, artificial colors are:
a dye, pigment, or other substance made by a process of synthesis or similar artifice, or extracted, isolated, or otherwise derived, with or without intermediate or final change of identity, from a vegetable, animal, mineral, or other source and that, when added or applied to a food, drug, or cosmetic or to the human body or any part thereof, is capable (alone or through reaction with another substance) of imparting a color thereto (Color Additives, 2013).