What Exactly Is “Natural Flavor”?
Unfortunately, labels like “natural flavor” or “spices” are often used to obscure the ingredients in food. Some of these can be seriously gross (and mess up a vegetarian or vegan diet), but some can be downright dangerous.
Right now, asking the manufacturer or avoiding any products listing “natural flavor” as an ingredient are the only solutions for those with allergies or food sensitivities other than the “big 8.” If you have a very mild reaction or it takes a significant quantity to set you off, it might be safe to take a chance and see. But if you have a serious food allergy, you may have to avoid anything with this “ingredient” entirely just to be safe.
Improvements In Food Safety
It’s not enough for the FDA to merely suggest that possible sources of contamination be acknowledged. And it’s not enough for only 8 major allergens to be acknowledged in plain English on food labels.
Rather, food labels need to be required to openly disclose all possible sources of contamination, and the sources of all ingredients need to be easily identifiable. Ingredients like “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” can be made from corn, wheat, soy, or just about anything – the source should be present on the label. And “natural flavors” should have to be disclosed in easy-to-understand language. For some of us, it’s a simple matter of quality of life – but for others, the potential consequences are much more serious.
Until stricter food labeling laws are passed, I encourage people with food sensitivities to cook from scratch as much as possible. I know it’s not always possible, especially if you have a busy schedule. But when eating the wrong thing can land you in the hospital or force you to miss days of work, the extra effort is worth it. For once, you’ll be able to know exactly what’s in your food.
Photo credit: cogito ergo imago via Flickr
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