Are Artificial Flavors Actually Bad For You? We Explain.

Senior Contributor
05.27.15 13 Comments

Yum! Brands

Pizza Hut and Taco Bell are both getting rid of artificial flavors and colors, in the latest splashy PR move by a food company. And just like Panera Bread, this is more for the publicity than the impact on public health. But at least the food’s going to be better.

So, I know artificial colors are bad for me…

Slow your roll, there. First of all, there are only seven artificial colors. While some artificial colors can cause allergic reactions, the claims that they cause cancer or trigger ADHD are at best weak or only the results of rat studies. That said, honestly, the allergy issue, while rare, is reason enough to pull them; they’re especially nasty if you have asthma.

…So is the same true of artificial flavorings?

Artificial colorings are tightly regulated and monitored. To contrast that with the flavors you put in your mouth, here’s the FDA’s definition of an artificial flavoring:

The term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.

Basically, an artificial flavoring is anything designed to taste good that doesn’t come from nature. If that sounds overly broad and vague, why, it is! This is why it’s legal to feed you the secretions from a beaver’s butthole and call it a natural ingredient.

Wait, I thought you said this was good for the food!

It is. Most of the examples offered up are: For example, Taco Bell using actual pepper to season the meat instead of pepper flavoring. Pepper flavoring is probably harmless, but using actual pepper is just better form. I doubt there’s going to be anything quite on the level of beaver secretions put into the food at Yum! Brands.

Also, they’re going to stop using palm oil. That’s a big deal for the environment, and a move to be applauded.

So why didn’t they just say “Hey, we’re using more real ingredients in our food!”?

This is flashier? Either way, expect the food to improve. Or at least have more ingredients you recognize in it.

(Via, Greenpeace and Michigan News)

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