Ever looked at the back of some smoothie and see the words “natural flavoring?” Unhesitant, you put it in your cart thinking, hey, it’s natural! But as some foods labeled organic are no better than ordinary foods, natural flavoring shouldn’t be thought of so lightly. In fact, natural flavoring is everything other than natural.

Why is natural flavoring called natural flavoring?

That orange shake might have a tiny bit of actual oranges in it, but the majority of the components could be anything the manufacturers want to add to enhance the flavor: poo, hair, whatever their hearts desire.

And the unfair part is they have 100 percent authority to do so. They are required to list their ingredients, but not the constituents of these ingredients, which is why there are no parentheses following “natural flavors.”

Why is natural flavoring used?

As the name suggests, it’s used to flavor food, specifically ones that claim to be healthy and need an extra flavoring kick. Healthy foods sell nowadays, but “healthy” and tasty? Yeah, that’s the winning combination, the golden ticket.  We consumers will buy food if it’s tasty, so manufacturers will do anything to add flavor—even if it means adding a whole bunch of chemicals and probably a squeeze of a blueberry and calling it natural.

What is Monosodium Glutamate?

MSG is a type of natural flavor. Although by the FDA, it hasn’t been characterized as a threat, but several people who have eaten foods with MSG have experienced headaches, migraines, nausea,numbness, and dizziness, among other symptoms according to  Mayo Clinic.

Manufacturers have the freedom to say, “hey, this chicken stock has no MSG!” and still use MSG as part of the “natural flavoring.” It’s deceitful, but it’s smart. Because really, would you eat something that explicitly says it has MSG? Or would you eat something that’s marketed as not having it, even if it may be hiding in the ingredients that create it?

How do manufacturers get away with it?

Well, in most cases, these natural flavors are incorporated in tiny doses. They’re normally present near the end of the ingredient list, meaning there wasn’t much added into it. However, according to the Environmental Working Group, at high doses, these chemical ingredients can pose a threat to our health.

Is MSG bad for me?

The FDA had received so many complaints on MSG, that they took it into consideration and asked the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology to conduct a study on the effects of it. The same symptoms of nausea and headaches occurred, but only for a short while. From the results of the study, the FDA approved MSG as safe.

Are natural flavors in general bad for you?

Natural flavors in the short run may not cause too many drastic side effects if you’re not sensitive to MSG. Or if you have absolutely no allergies that you know of (because these natural flavors may also include allergens.)

However, in the long run, it’s a different story. According to the EWG, a few flavor scientists from a flavor house named Givaudan admitted that the goal of these flavors was to get people to eat more of it. And since natural flavors are often found in processed, unnatural foods, well, let’s just say it’s no wonder obesity is becoming such an epidemic.