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Do you know the Muffin, Man?

Have you looked at the ingredients on a food label lately? Yes, I am talking about the ones that go on and on, with often unpronounceable words and are usually found on major brands of cookies, cereals, or snack foods?

Do you keep those ingredients in your house? Do you even know what all of those ingredients are? I didn't think so.

If you see an ingredient called "artificial flavor," what exactly is it?

For the most part, it’s a secret! Seriously!

Big food companies don’t want their proprietary flavors to be known, so they’re allowed to say “artificial flavor” and leave the details out.

Why use "artificial flavors’ in a product?

When you make an apple muffin at home, what gives it the apple flavor? Apples of course! Like real, whole, chopped or shredded apples or applesauce.

But, let’s say you’re a big food company and you’re making thousands of apple muffins every day. In a factory. On an assembly line.

How could you process the huge amount of apples that are to be chopped, grated or made into applesauce? Would you have a separate "Apple Room" where all the apple processing happens? What if one batch is slightly riper, or tastes slightly different from the rest? Will your customers notice a different taste? Apples are perishable - they go bad. So how would you guarantee the apples won't go bad? There is just so much that can be left to chance when you use real fruits and vegetables, right? So using artificial ingredients is really quality control for big food manufacturers. Artificial flavors last longer and will be virtually identical batch after batch.It is easy to understand why food companies will often opt for the easier and more profitable option like artificial flavors to make their products. But it doesn't make it right.

The Darker Side...

And what if you can have an apple flavor that tastes better than using real apples? Something that makes people want to keep buying them every week? It's true - some of the artificial flavors are engineered to give an even better taste than the real food. And people can get addicted to the flavor, craving more and more.

In our apple muffin example, artificial flavors used to make an apple muffin are ready to go, so you don't need to peel, cut, or worry about apples going brown, or that they're not tasting "appley" enough. And it’s way cheaper than using real, whole apples.

Note to self: If the package says "flavored" in the description, then the flavor is artificial. For example, "apple muffin" contains at least some apple. But, "apple flavored muffin" contains artificial flavor and no apple.

Are artificial flavors safe? or nutritious?

While there are some flavors banned for use in many countries, other countries allow them.

There is an approved list of flavors that are accepted to be safe, and are used by the food industry. They are considered GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”

Even if they are 100% safe to ingest, the mere fact that an artificial flavor is in food makes it an artificial food. It's not a real, whole food. Having an artificial flavor as an ingredient almost defines that food to be a processed, "food-like product." Sometimes referred to as "junk." So, artificial flavors in food indicate that the food, regardless of the marketing, or health claims, is not a healthy choice. It is not nutritious and may not be completely safe.

However, big food companies use artificial flavors to reduce costs, make the manufacturing process simpler, reduce waste and even enhance flavor way beyond what the natural ingredient would taste like.

Don't kid yourself. They are not added to improve the “healthfulness” or nutrition of the food, regardless of any labelling as such. Artificial flavors in the ingredient list indicate that the food is not going to optimize your health and are most certainly “junk".

Don’t buy them. Make this recipe instead.

Recipe: Real Apple Muffins

Serves 12

1 cup quick oats, uncooked 1 tsp cinnamon 1 cup cooked quinoa 3 tbsp maple syrup 1 cup chopped apples 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, mix the quick oats and cinnamon. Add the quinoa and mix again. Now add maple syrup, apples and eggs, and mix until just combined.

Place 12 muffin liners into a muffin pan. Fill each muffin cup about ⅔ full. Place in oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes.

Tip: Before baking, sprinkle each muffin with a touch of cinnamon for extra (natural) flavor.

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