Did you know natural colors and flavorings found in everyday foods are derived from nature (from some…interesting sources, which we’ll get into) but are so over processed they’re actually only slightly different than their artificial counterparts?


Just the other day, I purchased a drink. Of course, I read the label, which listed “natural flavors” as one of the ingredients.


The drink was mango flavored, and it tasted…..very mangoey. There HAD to have been a “natural” over-processed ingredient that enhanced the mango flavor.


I’d always heard that “natural flavors” weren’t too natural, and were derived from some pretty weird sources.


In this article, I’m going to tell you about 7 “natural ingredients” you want to avoid – some of them are even carcinogens (might cause cancer).


By now, you probably think I’m over exaggerating – but just keep reading about what these “natural ingredients” are AND how they’re sourced.


You’ll start reading labels MUCH closer and start making different choices, I promise.


If you find this article useful, I suggest you print it out and carry it with you the next time you buy groceries to make sure you don’t accidentally ingest any of them. I know I’ll be looking harder from now on!


  1. L-Cysteine Made From Human Hair Or Duck Feathers

When we ate out a couple weeks ago, there was a hair in my daughter’s quesadilla. Gross, right? Well, apparently, it’s in a lot of breads too.


L-Cysteine is an amino acid used to extend the shelf-life of bread products and soften them (yet another strong reason to bake your own bread – get my recipe here).


While it IS derived from a natural source, that natural source happens to be human hair harvested in China from hair salons.


About 80 percent of the L-Cysteine created is from human hair, and the 20 percent is from duck feathers.


Mass-produced products AND lots of fast food joints use bread products with L-Cysteine in them – so skip the McDonald’s and go for the homemade version instead.


  1. Carmine Made From Boiled Beetles

We all know bugs have a lot of protein in them, and are even a delicacy in some cultures, but I still don’t want a mouthful of them.


A “natural coloring” called carmine is derived from boiled beetles as well as their eggs. Tasty, right?


Apparently, the little buggers can create purple, pink, orange, and red food coloring. Popular candies, certain ice creams, grapefruit juice, and more potentially contain carmine.


So, the next time you pick up a bottle of juice and see “natural colors added,” you now know you’re likely in for a big swig of over-processed boiled beetles.


  1. Castoreum Made From Beaver Anal Glands

Yes, you read that right. Strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla flavors are derived from beaver anal glands, which I guess taste like strawberry.  


This “natural ingredient” is very common in raspberry-flavored foods. So, the next time you pick up raspberry yogurt that has “natural flavoring” on the label – you’ll know to put it down, and back away slowly.


Want to make your own yogurt then add fresh, whole (aka unprocessed) raspberries? Here’s how.


Castoreum is also found in gelatin, pudding, candies, and gum (and gum also might contain lanolin – yes, the same lanolin sourced from sheep and you put on your baby’s bum – double yum).


  1. Carrageenan Derived From Seaweed

Carrageenan is found in different dairy products (milk, cottage cheese, cream, etc) and is used to bind ingredients together or to thicken them.


While seaweed by itself isn’t gross (I love nori), carrageenan is linked to bowel inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, and thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries.


Even all-natural, organic products can contain carrageenan – so read the labels of your organic milk, and if you see “natural ingredients” without a list of what those ingredients actually ARE, you might want to think twice about giving it to your kids (nobody needs irritated bowels).


  1. Yellow #5 Derived From Coal Tar

You probably know by now that the color additive Yellow #5 is something you don’t want in your system. But do you know how Yellow 5 is actually produced?


Turns out, Yellow #5 is derived from coal tar, which is little more than industrial waste.


Aside from it’s disgusting origins, this decidedly NOT natural food additive is linked to hyperactivity in children in some studies. To make it even more appealing, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has said that products containing 5 percent crude coal are considered a group 1 carcinogens (aka, ingest at your own risk).


  1. Shellac Made From Insect Poop

Here’s another “natural food additive” that will get your stomach churning. Shellac is used as a colorant and food glaze….and it’s what makes candy so shiny (you’re putting down the jelly beans, aren’t you?).


You know how those oranges look so nice and shiny in the grocery store? You guessed it – they’re covered in shellac.


Shellac is created from an insect found in Thailand. The excretions (aka poop) of the Kerria Iacca insect are used to make a resin, which is then dunked in ethanol (yum yum) to dissolve it.


Then at some point, it’s apparently brushed on the candy and citrus you plan to eat for lunch. When you buy candy, look for “confectioner’s glaze” on the ingredients list – it’s a sure sign the sweets have been dunked in shellac.


  1. Cellulose Derived From Wood

When you look at the label of the shredded cheese you just bought, you might notice “cellulose.” It’s not from green plants….it’s from sawdust.


In mass-produced shredded cheese, cellulose is used to keep the cheese from clumping. You can also find it in breakfast syrups, ice cream, chicken nugget products, and waffles. Here’s a list of companies and products that use cellulose in their products.


Interestingly enough, cellulose can’t be digested by humans, so it’s literally just taking up space and not providing any nutritional benefit.


Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category.  Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.

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