Our current food culture takes natural and artificial flavors very casually. Both “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” are chemicals. The difference between them lies strictly in how they are manufactured, not in their ultimate effect on us, and I refer to both as “synthetic flavors” here. We have allowed the distinction between flavorful food and synthetic flavors to blur and are largely unaware that these added flavors are one of the biggest problems in our diet. Those just beginning the TQI Diet are often frustrated that virtually everything on the grocery store shelf and served up at most restaurants contains off-limit synthetic flavors. And often their frustration ends up directed at the diet: “There’s nothing left to eat. What’s the harm in a little “natural flavor, anyway?”
Today, most Americans suffer from nutritional idiocy. They prefer foods that do not nourish but instead make them sick. Synthetic flavors are largely to blame for this. For example, most children will not guzzle bottles of pure sugar water but will gulp them down if a little “natural raspberry flavor” is added. Why? Taste helps us gauge the nutritional value of our food. Raspberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and essential fats and most children like raspberries. But the flavored water contains no nutrients, instead the child’s instinct to go for raspberries is tricked into drinking non-nutritious sugar water.
Sucram is a chemical that tastes like the essential sweetness found in all mother’s milk. Added to unpalatable feed, sucram will trick animals into consuming large amounts of feed that they would otherwise refuse to eat. This makes feeding them less expensive but does not promote health. In a natural setting, an animal deficient in a vitamin or mineral will switch to foods that provide the missing nutrient. Today, however, animal feeds – and our foods as well – are fortified with synthetic vitamins that replace missing nutrients. “Palatants” like sucram combined with synthetic vitamins trick us into continuing to consume excessive amounts of nutrient depleted foods. These chemicals interfere with our ability to know when to stop eating a given food and are a big cause of why our culture has so many weight and other chronic health issues.
And, as the use of synthetic flavors increased, our “real” foods began to be bred in ways that reduced their true flavor. Crops were chosen for yield, for appearance, for ability to travel damage-free, and for a longer shelf life. The trade-off was flavor and nutrition. Tomatoes, chicken, strawberries, to name just a few, no longer tantalize our taste buds, and a simply prepared meal is no longer as pleasing. Restaurants, gourmet cooks, and food manufacturers have responded by drenching foods in cheeses, sugars, bacon, Panko breadcrumbs, and, of course, synthetic flavors, making the meals more palatable yet less nutritious.
These synthetic flavors interfere with innate nutritional wisdom. For instance, calves fed a premixed feed with of all the nutrients a calf needs will not grow as well as a calf given the choice of getting their nutrients from whole foods where the calf chooses what to eat. Humans also begin life with nutritional wisdom. In one study, children were placed in the care of a scientist for 6 years (!) where they were allowed to eat as they wished, choosing among 34 different healthy foods, without sugars and additives. The children initially sampled all of their food options but then each child settled into its own individual eating routine that often differed over time. All of the children ended up healthy because they selected foods that matched their individual nutritional needs.
“The Dorito Effect” by Mark Schatzker is a great book on the many negative effects of synthetic flavors. It is a book that I hope will usher in the next big food movement: The Quest for Real Flavor. Mark ends with the story of his search for the most flavorful varieties of foods he could find – chickens, tomatoes, potatoes, fruits, all bred naturally for the best flavor. Then he sought a chef who could make a meal without burying these carefully chosen ingredients in cheese, soy sauce, entire bulbs of garlic, bacon and sugar. “I didn’t want faux heirloom Dorito cuisine. I needed a chef who wasn’t going to club these ingredients senseless.” He learned that in all of Napa Valley, the original farm-to-fork haven, there actually were only three chefs capable of cooking this way. One of them then prepared a simple, nutritious, flavorful meal that satisfied the palates of some of the biggest foodies Mark knew.
Those on the TQI Diet are already on this journey back to real flavor and are on the road to reconnecting with their innate nutritional wisdom. Added sugar and synthetic flavors are off-plan and people are rediscovering how to enjoy the real flavor of foods. Now, if the “Real Food” movement takes hold, our restaurants will begin to offer menu items as carefully chosen and as simply prepared as those in Mark’s dinner. When that happens, it will become far easier to disconnect from foods buried in fats, sugars, and flavorings that cause us to overeat and crave non-nutritious foods.
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