Why Certain Food Labels are Deceiving

By: Lindsay Chandler, Food Advocate

Reading package labels is important not only for women with PCOS and symptoms of hormones imbalance, but for everybody. Knowing what some of those strange words actually are can feel daunting. Even though we strongly urge you to eat whole, real foods to heal from symptoms of PCOS, knowing how to read packaging labels can be incredibly important, and even save you from suffering from some of your worst PCOS symptoms yet.

One of the most deceiving labels on packed foods is “natural flavors”, and it’s the most common food label right after salt, water and sugar. This term seems simple enough, right? You would most likely assume if the product is referring to these ingredients as “natural” they must be safe for us to consume. Wrong!

Many of the chemicals that make up natural flavors fall under a category “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS.As many as 3,000 chemical food additives are listed in this category, but it doesn’t mean they’re safe to eat, and they certainly aren’t whole, real foods.

Though these ingredients come from natural sources, such as plants or animals, they are modified to enhance the flavors of foods, not to add any food or nutrient benefit. Oftentimes the modification of these foods can create chemicals that are almost identical to artificial flavorings.

The definition of “natural flavor” under the Code of Federal Regulations is:

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.

They are not natural at all. In fact, they are made in a lab and may not even be made from the food source flavor they are trying to mimic. For instance, a grape ‘natural flavor’ may be made from sources other than grapes to keep the cost down.

More than 2000 chemicals are combined on average to make just 500 natural flavors. It takes about 70-80 tries to perfect the formula and trick your taste buds. They trigger the pleasure sensors in your brain, to keep you craving these foods.

We all know that adding seasonings like herbs and spices to our fresh veggies and meats makes them so much more delicious, and doing this in your own kitchen helps you know what exactly is going into your food. Seasonings are what enhance the eating experience making it more enjoyable and healthier, so including them in your foods is important. But ingredients found in prepackaged foods contain flavorings that you cannot get in real whole foods. It is also believed that both ‘natural’ and artificial flavorings can cause food cravings which can lead to over-consumption and the potential for increasing PCOS symptoms.

Be smart about the food you buy. Stay away from pre-packaged foods that say “Natural Flavors” on the label and KNOW your ingredients. Shopping the outer perimeter of your grocery store is always best, leaving the inner isles for things like spices, dried beans, and nut butters. Being aware of food labels, ingredients and terms can help you make the smartest choices when shopping. Take your time reading labels during your next shopping trip – you might be surprised how many unfamiliar ingredients you may find. If you don’t know what is is, don’t buy it!

Wondering if the symptoms you are suffering with could be PCOS?
If you’re not sure, click here to take the PCOS test.

Take these simple steps to take control of your PCOS