Whole Life Magazine

October/November 2014

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Page 26 of 43

erned by strict confl ict of interest rules that bar its experts from having ever worked for any FEMA member companies, or in the food industry. Flavors are reviewed anonymously—meaning the scientists don't know what company created it—and must be ap- proved unanimously. ese are reassuring safeguards against fl avor favoritism in the food supply, but two questions remain: Are natural fl avors better? And what is the overall impact of fl avor on health? NATURAL VS ARTIFICIAL W hat my mother overlooked in her passion for natural is the fact that fl avors are simply chemical compounds. Artifi cial vanilla, which she snubbed in favor of pricier real vanilla extract, is based on vanillin—the chemical that gives natural vanilla its char- acteristic aroma and taste. You can't change a compound without changing its fl avour, so my birthday cakes would have been laced with similar fl avor molecules regardless (plus perhaps a dash of castoreum). Since building blocks of fl avor are chemically identical, the natu- ral versus artifi cial fl avor debate rests on the origin rather than the substance. Natural fl avors must be derived from a natural product, but that's where transparency ends. " e fl avor industry has the ability to hide the actual ingredients in their fl avors," says Dr Mc- Cully. "People should be aware of this." Matt Ruscigno, a registered dietician and former chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Di- etetics, is a passionate advocate of healthful eating but echoes her concern about fl avor: "I'm not convinced that natural is better than artifi cial, or that it makes that much diff erence." His bigger concern is how fl avor infl uences our food choices. WHY FLAVOR MATTERS T he fundamental health issue with added fl avor is where we fi nd it: processed foods. Unlike whole foods, these are loaded with fl avor, fat, salt and sugar to make them appealing. "Flavors are engineered to make us want more," notes Dr McCully. " ey taste bigger and better than the real thing. People have a hard time [actually] tasting real food when they are used to processed food." us we choose apple pie over raw fruit and munch chips instead of baked potatoes. is has serious health implications, according to Ruscigno: "Most chronic diseases are related to consumption of refi ned carbs, sugars and oils. People are dying from a lack of fruits and vegetables." BACK TO WHOLE M y mother was on the right track a er all. ere is less dis- tinction between natural and artifi cial fl avors than she believed but her fussiness about fl avor cut down on the amount of processed food I ate. Of course, maintaining good habits is a lifelong task. Like many people, I sometimes eat processed foods for convenience, but it is possible to return to whole foods. "In the weaning off processed foods, whole foods will eventually taste more fl avorful," assures Dr. McCully. e key to making positive changes is to take small steps says Ruscigno: "If you like pizza, get veggies on it. If you want a burger, have one made from lentils and whole-grains. Do it slowly." Cila Warncke is a freelance writer and creative writing teacher. http://cilawarncke.com, Twitter @CilaWarncke october/november 2014 27

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