Episode 25: The Truth About Natural Flavors

In Episode 25, we’re exposing natural flavors! What they are, what’s in them, and if they’re safe to eat! Also featuring a Recipe of the Week (Nutter Butter Bars) and a “Word to the Wise”.

Episode Timestamps

  • Welcome to Episode 25! The Truth About Natural Flavors (0:30)
  • Natural flavors are the 4th most frequently used ingredient in our food supply (0:50)
  • What are natural flavors? The science behind natural flavoring (1:25)
  • What is in natural flavoring? (2:15)
  • FDA regulation of natural flavors (2:30)
  • 2 big problems with natural flavors: Additional and hidden ingredients (3:00)
  • Natural vs artificial flavors (3:30)
  • What about organic natural flavors? (4:15)
  • Risks of consuming natural flavors (4:45)
  • The list of products in my kitchen containing natural flavors! (5:25)
  • Eat whole, natural foods instead of processed foods (6:55)
  • Recipe of the Week: Wise Eats Nutter Butter Bars (7:50)
  • Healthy protein bar recipe! Wise-Eats.com/NutterButter (7:50)
  • Natural Flavor Case Study: Legion Athletics Whey+ Protein Isolate (9:20)
  • Contacting Legion’s owner, Mike Matthews (9:45)
  • Why I can no longer completely trust Legion Athletics’ products (10:40)
  • Switching to a new protein powder! (11:15)
  • Take control of the things you’re putting in your body (11:45)
  • The Wise Choice: Consume natural flavors only in moderation (12:00)
  • 5 key takeaways from this episode (12:50)
  • Word to the Wise: 5-Star iTunes review from Adam (13:30)
  • Wise-Eats.com/Episode25 for the show notes, Youtube video, and more! (15:00)
  • Blooper Reel (16:00)

Recipes Mentioned in This Episode:

Articles/Brands/Products Mentioned in This Episode:

  • Naked Casein Protein Powder
  • Legion Athletics Whey+
  • Anthony’s Pea Protein
  • Amazing Grass Greens Powder
  • Extra Gum
  • Kirkland Dog Food
  • Kodiak Pancake Mix
  • LaCroix
  • Pulse Pre-Workout
  • Stevia/Monkfruit Packets
  • Zevia
  • Rx Bars
  • Bigger Leaner Stronger by Mike Matthews

Movie Clips

Website Design Thank You: DoeringDesign.com

Logo Design Thank You’s: @this_show, MGSignsDesign.com

Editing Animations Thank You: Darin Roberts aka Misteredit1 on YouTube

The Wise Eats Podcast is written, filmed, edited, and produced by Wesley Wise, and shared by YOU. Your support is greatly appreciated!

Submit questions, comments, feedback to WiseEatsPodcast@gmail.com or to @weswisefitness on Instagram. Thanks for watching, listening, reviewing, liking, subscribing, and sharing. Be good to yourself, be good to others, and make wise choices!

Episode 25 Intro

What’s up wise guys and gals? Welcome to Episode 25 of the Wise Eats Podcast. Today, I want to talk to you all about natural flavors. Take a look at the ingredient lists of some food items in your kitchen. Chances are you’re going to see “natural flavors” listed somewhere. And it’s no surprise – I was shocked to learn that natural flavors are the 4th most frequently used ingredient in our food supply next to water, salt, and sugar. But are they really “natural” and good for you? I wanted to find out for myself and will share my findings in this episode.

I’m going to talk about what natural flavors are, what’s in them, are they really “natural”, are they good for you, the risks they carry, some key takeaways, and more. So, let’s get down to business, it’s time to wise up.

What Are Natural Flavors?

Natural flavors are complex mixtures made from plant or animal sources that are created by specially trained food chemists. They’re used to enhance taste, maintain consistency, and make products more addictive. While they come primarily from plant or animal sources, these mixtures can contain more than 100 different chemicals, including preservatives, solvents and other substances. These chemicals are known as “incidental additives”, food manufacturers are not required to disclose whether these extra ingredients are natural or synthetic. As long as the original flavor source comes from plant or animal material, it is classified as natural flavor.

What’s in Natural Flavoring?

Natural flavors can be a combination of dozens of different plants or animal-based ingredients:

  • Spices
  • Fruit or fruit juice
  • Vegetables or vegetable juice
  • Edible yeast, herbs, bark, buds, root leaves or plant material
  • Dairy products, including fermented products
  • Meat, poultry or seafood
  • Eggs (Spritzler, 2016).

But that’s not all. There are over 2,500 chemically defined flavor substances used in the United States and Europe. The FDA allows most flavorings to be designated as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), but these GRAS are not closely regulated. Some experts estimate that the FDA may be unaware of around 1,000 chemicals currently being used in the food system (Robbins, 2019).

Hidden Ingredients

There are two big problems with natural flavors. First, they often have additional ingredients in them like preservatives and stabilizers to make the flavors work better in the food, but those don’t have to come from natural sources. Second, companies are not required to disclose the specific ingredients contained in the natural flavoring, so it makes it impossible to avoid certain food groups, such as a vegan trying to avoid animal products. Natural flavors may also contain MSG, gluten, or GMO’s (Kuzemchak, 2019).

Natural vs Artificial Flavors

The original source of natural flavoring must be plant or animal material, whereas artificial flavors are man-made, but both are very similar. Each are highly processed and contain chemical additives, making them very similar in terms of composition and health effects (Spritzler, 2016). Many products use a combination of both natural and artificial flavor, with as much as 80 to 90 percent of the ingredients coming from chemical solvents and preservatives (Christ, 2020).

Are Organic Natural Flavors Better?

“Natural” is a very loose, poorly defined term and does not indicate that the ingredient is organic or healthy. So, what about organic natural flavors? In order to be certified organic, the natural flavor has to contain at least 95% organically grown base ingredients. It cannot be made using synthetic extraction solvents and can’t contain any synthetic carriers, artificial preservatives, or GMO’s (Robbins, 2019). Organic doesn’t guarantee the product is free of toxic substances, but if you’re going to consume natural flavors, it’s better to go with organic.

The Risks

The biggest risk with natural flavoring is allergic reactions. Although natural flavorings must meet safety criteria, individual can happen. Since ingredients are not disclosed, people with allergies or those on special diets should be very cautious about consuming them (Spritzler, 2016). This is a major challenge because of the abundance of natural flavors in our food supply. Many people are unknowingly poisoning themselves with natural flavors, having no knowledge of what they’re putting in their bodies. Until companies are forced to reveal what is contained in their “natural” secret formulas, the long-term health ramifications will be unknown.

Natural Flavors in My Diet

You may be asking yourself, Wes do YOU eat natural flavors? Writing this article inspired me to look around my kitchen and identify all the products that contain natural flavoring. Here’s the list:

  • Amazing Grass Greens Powder
  • Chewing Gum
  • Dog Food
  • Dog Treats
  • Kodiak Cake Mix
  • LaCroix
  • Pickles
  • Pulse Pre-Workout
  • Rx Bar
  • Sriracha Sauce
  • Stevia Sweetener
  • Whey Protein Isolate
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Zevia

Did I immediately throw each and every one of these items right into the trash? No, I didn’t, but I kinda wanted to! If nothing else, seeing natural flavors listed as an ingredient should be a signal that reminds you this product is man-made and that you should lean toward, whole, natural foods whenever possible.

There are many other products aside from this list that commonly contain natural flavoring, like breakfast cereal, canned goods, flavored yogurt, and pretty much anything that is processed. Take a look for yourself and consider making some changes, see all of the natural flavors in your life!

A Case Study: Legion Athletics Whey Protein

Since food manufacturers are not required to disclose the specific ingredients that make up their natural flavors, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s in them. One thing you can do is contact the company directly, and that’s just what I did for one of my favorite products: Legion Athletics Whey Protein Isolate. I contacted the owner, Mike Matthews, with a question about the natural flavoring included in his products, and here was his response:

“Hey Wes, Thanks for getting in touch! All flavoring is actually handled by our manufacturer, and that information is proprietary. They don’t give us the exact breakdown (to protect their recipe), but it is entirely natural flavoring, which means its original source is from a plant or animal, whereas artificial flavors can be created in a lab. Flavorings that are harmful wouldn’t be approved by the FDA so you can rest assured it’s not toxins or unknown chemicals. 🙂 I hope this helps!”

Mike Matthews

I appreciate Mike’s response, but did it give me any warm, fuzzy feelings about the safety of his natural flavoring? Not at all.

Without knowing the exact ingredients of the natural flavoring, it’s all speculation. As much as I love Legion Athletics products, I’m skeptical of any company that cannot or will not fully disclose their ingredient list, regardless of the reasoning. Also, as a supplement producer, transferring responsibility and putting full trust into the FDA is irresponsible in my opinion.

Does this mean I’m abandoning Legion’s products altogether? Not yet. I still love the taste and texture of their protein and will use it in moderation. I plan to limit my use of the vanilla whey, switch to an unflavored option, and start researching some alternative, limited ingredient protein options (so far, the “Naked” brand appears to be a likely candidate). We also recently started using Anthony’s Pea Protein Isolate, which contains only one ingredient: PEA PROTEIN.

The important thing is to become more aware of what you’re taking in daily and understanding where it comes from. Ask yourself do you trust the company, do you trust the product, and how do you feel when you consume that product?

The Wise Choice

While it’s possible that some natural flavors are perfectly safe and good for you, there’s no way to know for sure. There could be as many as 100 barely-regulated, “generally safe”, hidden ingredients in a single natural flavor. The only way to protect yourself completely is to stay away from natural flavors and choose organic whenever possible. In general, avoid processed foods and stick with fresh, whole, real foods. Only buy products from companies you trust and with ingredient lists you understand. For many of the items in your kitchen, there are flavor-free alternatives you can buy, such as plain oatmeal, then you can add your own sweeteners and spices. With the lack of transparency in our food supply, maintaining control of the things you put in your body is always a wise choice.

Key Takeaways

  1. Natural flavors are the 4th most frequently used ingredient in our food supply next to water, salt, and sugar
  2. Although natural flavors come from plant or animal sources, they may also contain as many as 100 additional chemicals
  3. Most ingredients in natural flavoring are not closely regulated
  4. The only way to protect yourself completely is to stay away from natural flavors as much as possible
  5. Choose real food over synthetic, man-made products and consume natural flavors in moderation

Recipe of the Week: Wise Eats Nutter Butter

My goal for this recipe was to create a healthy, homemade protein bar. I found a recipe on Ambitious Kitchen and put my own spin on it. Conventional protein bars are loaded with artificial sweeteners, NATURAL FLAVORS, added sugars, and other chemicals that make them not only delicious and addictive, but also toxic to your body. Treat yourself with real food only and change your life!

My wife absolutely loves this recipe and thinks they taste just like a nutter butter, hence the name. Regardless if you agree with the comparison, they are delicious and good for you! Featuring healthy, whole food ingredients like oat bran, peanut butter, chia seeds, almonds, and coconut oil, this is the perfect high-protein snack when you’re ready to make a wise choice.

For a quick, delicious, peanut butter protein fix when you’re on the go, get in the kitchen and make a wise decision.

For the complete recipe, go to Wise-Eats.com/NutterButter

Word to the Wise

In this episode’s Word to the Wise, I received a terrific message from Adam who left a 5-star iTunes review which I appreciate very much.

Adam says, “I found your site by searching for some BBLS info in Google.  I have also been a fan of Mike Matthews work.  While Mike’s work is great and really cuts through the BS of the industry, I was psyched to see that your background lends itself a little more to a guy like me.  I was a fat kid growing up so fitness and nutrition have been a huge part of my adult life.  Also, like you, I was a big smoker from 19-35, and still enjoy having a few pops on the weekend.  I do not believe Matthews ever drank or smoked so while I love his material, it is awesome for me to see a success story like yours that more aligns with my life. I have roller coastered between fit and out of shape ever since my daughter was born 7 years ago. I am now back on track and trying to lose 30 lbs.  I have really enjoyed your story, podcast and website.  Just wanted to say thank you for all your efforts and congrats on your amazing journey!  You look amazing! Peace, Adam”

It’s messages like this that inspired me to start Wise Eats in the first place. I was 90lbs overweight with zero athletic background, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and abusing alcohol. I turned that frown upside down by getting in incredible shape, feeling great, and being perfectly healthy at 37 years old (as of this episode). I know anyone can make that same change, just like Adam and I did, if they just make the commitment to focus on their health. Keep on crushing it Adam and continue to be that shining light for your young daughter. I greatly appreciate the message and the support. Keep on making wise choices!!!


That’s gonna do it for this episode. I hope you got some value out of it. I know I learned a lot putting this thing together. Thanks to everyone for listening and watching. Remember to stay away from natural flavorings – they are in everything! Be good to yourself, be good to others, be a role model to those around you, and of course, MAKE WISE CHOICES.

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