“Natural flavors” sure sound like an improvement from artificial sweeteners, artificial ingredients, and so forth. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most misleading and egregious BS terms of the modern industrialized food complex. When you see the term, “natural flavors” on a product label, it’s time to take a deep breath and learn more about the deceptiveness of this very common terminology.
The issue came to light for me during the arduous process of creating my B.rad Whey + Creatine Superfuel. In researching protein supplements on the market and the services offered by supplement manufacturers, I started to notice that many of the most expensive and purportedly most ‘clean’ and ‘natural’ protein supplements have “natural flavors” listed on the label. Some marketing messaging even proudly touts this as a product attribute – superior to artificial flavoring and sweetening. Here’s where the BS alarm starts to sound off: So-called natural flavors can contain over 100 chemicals, including things like solvents, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and preservatives that can make up 80% to 90% of the content of the “natural flavor.” While the concoction known as the natural flavor will surely contain some natural extracts from a plant or animal source, the various additives make this pretty far from natural by any reasonable definition.
It’s hard to imagine anything more misleading than a term like natural flavors, but this term is in widespread use on all kinds of food and supplement products (similarly, the term ‘natural fragrance’ appears on all manner of personal care and household cleaning items, so you get dosed with chemicals on your antiperspirant/deodorant, laundry detergent and so forth—this is why I made a big effort to go through all of my personal and home care products after talking to Melanie Avalon last year to see how clean they really were. Now, the only products I use on my skin are completely and truly natural. Check out CharaOmni stem cell rejuvenating skin cream, the many cosmetic and skin care products from BeautyCounter.com/bradkearns, and my long-time favorite Dr. Bronner’s soap).
I did a lot of research in an effort to find the cleanest and pure ingredients on the planet to formulate my Superfuel, which is flavored and sweetened only with organic cane sugar and organic Madagascar vanilla extract. In contrast, you will not believe what’s out there in the marketplace under the umbrella of natural flavoring. As I’m prone to using the term natural for its literal meaning, I was flabbergasted when potential manufacturers presented me with natural flavor options like: “kid’s cereal”, “passion fruit”, and “watermelon.” Seriously, kid’s cereal is presented to the world, with full approval from the powers that be, as a “natural” flavor? Holy crap!!
The FDA defines a natural flavor as one that has been derived from a “spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, seafood, poultry, eggs or dairy products.” Well, keep in mind of course all that aforementioned shit goes in there too, to the tune of 80-90%! In addition, the natural flavor process relies on heat and/or enzymes in order to obtain the flavor from these natural sources. So even when you eat something that is flavored with something that comes from a natural source, it still contains the artificial and synthetic chemicals that were added during the manufacturing process. Research done by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) found that these flavor mixtures can be made up of over 100 chemicals, and worse, the solvents, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and preservatives used can actually make up 80% to 90% of natural flavors.
Not only is the term natural flavoring extremely misleading, but it can also become downright deceptive in the hands of certain companies—recently, a class action lawsuit was filed against immunity supplement giant Emergen-C, based on the fact that the company falsely advertises their products are naturally flavored, despite the fact that their supplements are made with a synthetic flavoring chemical. But, what is even more troubling is when you realize how many brands are selling a purportedly clean, high-quality, healthy product that still includes natural flavors on the label. Brands go out of their way to highlight the quality of their products, so when I see natural flavors on a label for something that is supposed to be the highest quality of its category, that instantly destroys the credibility of the product. One of the most widely available grass-fed protein powders is a pre-eminent natural grocery chain branded protein with “natural flavors” listed as the second ingredient on the jar. Then there’s a major supplement brand that proclaims to source only the “purest forms” of ingredients. But sunflower lecithin and natural flavors are listed second on their ingredients list, so how can that be true? Sadly, this issue extends beyond big corporate companies trying to capitalize on the latest health food trends—even an extremely premium brand backed by a leading health authority has “natural flavor” on the label, despite extensive promo/podcast/written content touting their product to be the absolute cleanest/highest standard available (and accordingly, the most expensive).
If you want links to the products I’m criticizing to search for yourself on Amazon and scrutinize labels, send me a DM or email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll let you know. We want to always strive for the cleanest and most sustainable sources of whole foods (grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic, local, etc.) and this is especially important with supplements because supplements give you a concentrated dose of nutrition—and this can also mean a concentrated dose of chemical additives, fillers, and impurities. For example, heavy metal contaminants are a common problem with protein supplements, because feedlot cattle consume cheap corn and soy feed that often contain traces of heavy metals passed onto the cattle.
B.rad Grassfed Whey Protein Isolate + Creatine Superfuel has only four ingredients for this reason: Whey, creatine, organic sugar cane, and organic Madagascar vanilla extract. We have received a couple of emails from health-conscious consumers asking why we add the dreaded sugar to the product—well, would you rather have a few grams of a sugar/vanilla mixture or chemicals? That’s our position and we’re sticking to it. We will introduce an unflavored version of the product in the future, but when you taste the vanilla, you will see how mild and pleasant the flavor is, and awaken to what a truly natural protein supplement should taste like. No natural flavors, no toxic chemical processes involved—just as it should always be.