Free, Family-Friendly, Fun: FAST
A Growing Trend and Concern: Natural Flavorings
Explanation: Where Have I Been?
There are a couple of reasons the site has taken a back seat in my life for many years now.
Originally, FAST was one of only two websites about food allergies! And it had quite a large following. The site was always about helping others and not a for profit site (for example, the ads are put up by, and benefit, Angelfire, the free website host). Though I started it as a teen, and spent many years in college and continued it during that time, in recent years I have had to devote my time to working.
In the meantime, many websites have been started about food allergies, and people seem to prefer social media, as well. So there was less of a need for a constantly growing website. And that's a main reason FAST is no longer updated. I need money, FAST doesn't bring it in, and I know people can readily find the information they need elsewhere.
I decided to keep FAST online for now as a bit of a time capsule. It doesn't need to be updated since it does contain some timeless information (like recipes, etc.), as well as a peek into the past. (Although sometimes I shudder to think of old content! Sometimes it's not super fun having a peek back into being a teen. :))
That being said, I do try to post to the FAST mailing list when I see something or have something worth sharing about food allergies. Please think about joining! I would enjoy hearing from you! https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/fasters/info
The other thing that has kept me from FAST is personal, in that I've been dealing with major family issues, including our diagnosis as a BRCA1+ family. You may have heard of this condition, since some celebrities such as Angelina Jolie have shared their experiences with it. Sadly, it took my mom's life in 2013. She was FAST's co-founder and responsible for some of the recipes, ideas, etc., and my biggest helper in life dealing with my own serious health issues. She was an amazing woman, and not just my mom, but my best friend. I miss her dearly. My entire life, from early childhood, my mom dealt with various cancers. I also have been diagnosed as BRCA1+, and have had to deal with the various ramifications in my own life. My father's health (MS) has also taken a turn for the worse.
So for years now our family has been facing very important matters that had to be dealt with. One positive thing about having food allergies, if there can be one, is that the longer you know you have them, the more they become an aspect of your everyday life. The condition is one that's hard to live with, no doubt, but it is a part of me that I do deal with every day, and because of that it was able to take a back seat while dealing with other important matters.
That being said, I wanted to address something I feel is becoming more and more of a concern for those of us with food allergies. We constantly deal with changes with labeling, and this change is becoming more of an issue as consumers push for what they believe are healthier ingredients. I think it's important to get the word out there about this issue. If you find this article helpful, please think about sharing it with your friends and family with allergies, and/or people misinformed about what "natural flavorings" means.
Take care, and I hope you and your family are doing well!
A Growing Trend and Concern: Natural Flavorings
Those of us with food allergies hopefully know what this vague term on labels means. If you're new to allergies or otherwise don't know, "natural flavorings" indicates ingredients that are not listed on the label. They are generally made by flavoring houses and are proprietary (secret) ingredients. The ingredients can be food allergens; although there are some common food allergens that now can no longer hide under this blanket term. (Be sure to read up on this to find out the most current information, talk to your doctor about artificial and natural flavorings, and learn how they may impact you with the specific allergens present in your family.)
Some companies such as, famously, Coca-Cola use these hidden artificial or natural ingredients to their advantage, creating unique flavors that other companies are unable to replicate.
Or, the ingredient may flavor the food without using that ingredient, in the same way "artificial flavorings" do. For example, there may be a strawberry candy that has absolutely no strawberries in it, but instead contains ingredients to make it taste like strawberries, whether through artificial or natural flavorings.
They may also be used to hyper-flavor a food, making the taste especially strong or savory, etc.
One thing is for sure: Flavorings are unlisted ingredients used to flavor a food. They benefit the manufacturer because they don't have to use the specific ingredient to create the flavor, while protecting their "secret recipe." Whether artificial or natural flavorings are used, neither one is a "healthy" ingredient.
What is the big difference between the two? A natural flavoring begins with a natural ingredient, whereas an artificial flavoring is artificial; however, both are modified to such a degree that people who want to eat "natural"ly would no doubt be surprised to know what the term "natural flavorings" actually refers to. It is still something concocted in a lab and hardly natural at all. You can read more at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-difference-be-2002-07-29/.
Genuinely natural foods do not contain natural flavorings. "Natural flavorings" is food terminology; it's not an indication of natural ingredients. Foods consumed by those who only eat all-natural foods in the way society envisions "natural" should not have the term "flavorings," artificial or natural, on their ingredient labels.
Now that we know what the problematic terminology refers to, here's the growing issue for people with food allergies.
The food industry is subject to the whims and desires of consumers, and in today's society we're experiencing a trend where people do not like the term "artificial."
More and more, I have been finding that foods or beverages I used to be able to consume that originally contained "artificial flavorings" are switching to "natural flavorings" and then occasionally adding to the label that they are "all natural." (Or the foods may have originally had no flavorings at all, and the company then adds this "natural" ingredient.) No doubt at least this first example is in response to the current health trend to avoid "artificial" anything, and gravitate towards "natural" products, instead.
But here's the problem. A natural flavoring is not natural. It is a term used on labeling that is misleading, at best. Whether someone is eating natural flavorings or artificial flavorings, what they are eating is chemicals.
Now, I'm personally not on a health kick, and don't mind eating chemicals. But I personally want to eat artificially-derived ones. The odd thing for me as someone with food allergies is that I have never reacted to artificial flavorings. I have, however, reacted to natural flavorings. And, ironically for the general public, "[a]rtificial flavorings are simpler in composition and potentially safer" (Gary Reineccius, Scientific American).
So we have a society insisting on companies switching over to what they believe is healthier and safer; and not only potentially for those with food allergies, but also potentially for the general public, they are accomplishing the exact opposite!
I have been devastated to find that even a well-respected "allergen-free" foods company has chosen to add "natural flavorings" to their cookie line.
I feel like the sad truth is that there are a lot of overlaps between the health food industry and the allergen-free food industry. If we are honest, we know that some things are trend diets. People may remove gluten from their diets, or think they have food allergies, despite not being diagnosed through testing and medical doctors. They then later abandon what turns out to be trend diets. But if we're eating prepackaged foods, we're often eating the same foods as these individuals; the foods in the specialty foods aisle at the grocery store. And that's why I think these companies are becoming less and less allergy-aware and more and more likely to add "natural flavorings" to their foods. They want to appeal to people who are on health-based/"natural" diets, and those of us on medical-based diets are not as common and not as big of money makers for them. We've seen this a bit in the major trend companies had to make gluten-free cereals. Do we really think that was suddenly done for the benefit of people with celiac disease? No, it coincided with the time when going gluten-free (for anyone) became trendy.
For people who are on a trend diet, they will not mind if "natural flavorings" is added to a food ingredient list; in fact, that term makes the food look more healthy to many people. Sadly, those of us with food allergies pay for this labeling misunderstanding.
Is there a solution? Some people with food allergies contact companies and ask for a list of what foods are in the "natural flavorings." Some companies' customer service representatives get suspicious of you being a rival company spy (This sounds completely off the wall, but it's true!), some simply won't share, others are people low on the totem pole who won't have access to the information. Some are kind enough to let you know. Some will tell you what's not in them. And some will even go out of their way to find out all the information for you.
But here is the problem even with that. Even if you trust a company, even if a company is kind enough to share with you what all those unlisted ingredients are, those ingredients can change at any time without the label changing. And that's a scary thing for someone with food allergies who reacts to things present in trace amounts.
At this time I think there is no real solution. If you (or your child) react to ingredients in minute amounts, the best thing to do is stick with brands you trust that list all ingredients, eat simpler foods you know are safe, and make more complicated foods from scratch. Stay in close contact with a doctor to know what nutrients your diet may be low on.
One thing we can all do as individuals, though, is to take it upon ourselves to try and sensitively educate others about natural flavorings. Because in order to change this trend and stop the pressure on companies to switch to or include "natural flavorings" in foods, we need to convince society that "natural flavorings" is not a "health food" ingredient.
I don't think that will solve the problem, because there are other reasons companies use natural flavorings. But with so many people spreading misinformation and thinking it's healthy, it certainly wouldn't hurt to at least convince those who eat "health food only" diets that this ingredient doesn't necessarily belong in the foods they choose to eat. For those concerned about genuinely natural foods, neither "artificial flavorings" nor "natural flavorings" belong in their food.