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I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based content over the years on just about everything you can imagine related to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy.

I’ve also worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their lives.

That doesn’t mean you should blindly swallow everything I say, though, because let’s face it—nobody is always right about everything. And especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are constantly evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders.

This is why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.

Sometimes I can’t get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate the discussion.

That gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes: publicly addressing things people disagree with me on and sharing my perspective.

Think of it like a spicier version of a Q&A.

So, here’s what I’m doing:

Every couple of weeks, I’m asking my Instagram followers what they disagree with me on, and then picking the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.

And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .

  • Your supplement contains “natural flavors,” but I heard that ingredient can be used to hide many very unnatural and unhealthy chemicals.


0:00 – Buy One Get One 50% off on Pulse Fruit Punch and Blue Raspberry! Go to and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% on your first order or get double reward points on your order.

4:09 – What is the definition of a natural flavor according to the FDA?

5:08 – What is the definition of an artificial flavor according to the FDA? 

5:42 – Are natural flavors used to hide unnatural and unhealthy chemicals?

Mentioned on the Show:

Buy One Get One 50% off on Pulse Fruit Punch and Blue Raspberry! Go to and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% on your first order or get double reward points on your order.

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Hello, and welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today for this Saysyou episode where I address something that somebody disagrees with me on. And so what I do is over on Instagram, I post once a month or so, and I ask people to just share things that they disagree with me on.

And I. Pick ones that are topical or just interesting to me, and then I address them here on the podcast once every two to four weeks. And so if there is something that you disagree with me on and you would like to hear my thoughts on, follow me on Instagram at Muscle Life Fitness and once a month or so.

I post in my feed asking for grist for the saysyou mill. And today’s episode is about natural flavoring or natural flavors because many people claim that this ingredient can be used to hide many. Unnatural and unhealthy chemicals. And the reason why somebody posed this to me is my sports supplements [email protected], they are 100% natural products, so that means they have natural.

Flavoring as opposed to artificial flavoring. And they have natural sweeteners as opposed to artificial sweeteners. And so every so often people ask me about this, are my natural flavors truly natural? Are they 100% natural or are there artificial chemicals with some. Natural chemicals that maybe I don’t have to disclose legally, but which I should disclose in the spirit of full transparency that I should disclose if I am going to promote my products as all natural and I would not be able to promote them ethically as 100% natural if the natural flavors had artificial chemicals before we sink our teeth into it.

If you like saving 50% on pre-workout, keep listening because for this week only, I am running a buy one get one 50% off sale on my pre-workout pulse and specifically on two popular flavors. Well, the two most popular flavors actually. Fruit punch and blue raspberry. Now what is Pulse you’re wondering? It is a 100% natural supplement that increases energy, improves mood, and sharpens mental focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue.

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So let’s start this discussion with what the definition of a natural flavor or a natural flavoring is according to the F D A. What qualifies as a natural flavor or flavoring? So according to the fda, a natural flavor or natural flavoring is the essential oil lio resin essence or extractive protein.

Hydrolysate. Distillate, or any product of roasting, heating, or enzyme lysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb bark, bud root leaf, or similar plant material. Meat, seafood, eggs, poultry, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

So basically, without having to sort through the jargon, a natural flavor is one that comes from a natural source. It comes from a plant. It comes from an animal, and an artificial flavor would be one that is entirely manmade. It would be one that is synthesized in a lab rather than. Extracted from a plant or animal source.

And keep in mind that those definitions are slightly different in other parts of the world. So for example, in Europe, a natural flavor has to originate from a plant or an animal source, but it also must be made through traditional food preparation processes. There are certain forms of food processing that are not allowed in the creation of natural flavors, but that’s not the case here in the us.

Now let’s get to the first part of the claim that I want to address here, which is that natural flavors that that ingredient can be used to hide many very unnatural and unhealthy chemicals, and that simply isn’t true. For a flavor, for a substance that is added to a food product, to impart a flavor to it.

For that to be considered natural, it must be derived from a natural source, but that doesn’t mean that it comes from the source you’d expect or that it’s extracted in a natural. Way that chemicals can’t be used in the process of extraction. And to explain that better, let’s look at vanilla. Most people assume that if a product tastes like vanilla and if it is naturally flavored, then the manufacturers got the flavoring from people who scraped vanilla seeds from vanilla pods and then maybe dried them out and then turned them into a powder.

And maybe condensed them somehow, and that then is used to flavor the product. The reality though, is very different because vanilla pods are very expensive and growing them and scraping them on a scale big enough to flavor vast amounts of food is time consuming. It’s very labor intensive, and it is also ecologically unsustainable.

Fortunately though, some time ago scientists discovered that you can find vanilla, which is the main flavor component of vanilla, the molecule vanilla. You can find that in other things. You can find it in celery seeds, you can find it in tobacco leaves, orange leaves, lemon peels. Cloves and even certain tree barks, and all of those sources are technically natural.

Of course, those are all plants, but they have to go through some processing to get the vanilla to extract that vanilla flavor, and that’s known as de novo synthesis or bio transformation. And we don’t have to go into the ins and outs of these processes, but they normally involve fermentation using organic solvents and organic acids, or the use of different enzymes to extract the vanilla.

And research shows that manufacturers can also add certain synthetic chemicals to. Aid in the processing. To aid in the extraction. And this is something the F D A refers to as incidental additives. And these chemicals can end up in the final flavor, but only in insignificant amounts. And so what you have then is.

You have a vanilla flavor here that is natural in the eyes of the fda because it did come from a plant. It came from a natural source, even though it wasn’t a vanilla pod, and even though it was created in a very unnatural way, meaning that even if the chemicals used to extract the vanilla out of the tree bark, for example, were natural, that process does not occur in nature.

And so some people feel kind of. Duped when they learn how the sausage is made, so to speak, because of assumptions that they had about natural flavors. Many people assume that they not only come from natural sources, they also undergo minimal processing, that they are in a mostly natural state. Again, think of the vanilla pods that are scraped and dried out and powdered.

And then sprinkled into products that sounds acceptable to them, but the process that I just shared with you sounds unacceptable because it sounds too quote unquote unnatural. And then of course, some people object to the fact that certain artificial chemicals can be used in the creation of the final product that qualifies as a natural flavoring.

Even though, as I mentioned, those artificial chemicals cannot be present in any meaningful amounts. So just to quickly summarize what we have learned so far, there is a significant difference between natural and artificial flavoring. The natural flavoring started with something from a plant or an animal, and it does not contain significant or meaningful levels of artificial chemicals, whereas the artificial flavoring is 100%.

Artificial chemicals. And so that’s how these substances differ. And it is not true that you can legally, quote unquote, hide artificial chemicals in your product by labeling them natural flavors or part of a natural flavoring or a natural flavor system. And even if you could. Include, let’s say artificial flavors in a quote unquote natural flavoring and still call it a natural flavoring and not have to mention the artificial component.

Let’s say the rule was, well, if it is at least 80%. Natural, then you can call it a natural flavoring. That’s not the case. I’m just saying even if that were the case, I agree that it would be unethical to use that to mislead people into thinking that your product is 100% natural, that it contains no artificial chemicals whatsoever.

When that’s not the case, when that natural flavoring is 80% natural and 20% artificial, for example. But a justification that many supplement companies would use for doing that is that people are wrong in their assumption that natural flavoring is okay or healthy, and. Artificial flavoring is not okay or is unhealthy because a number of studies have shown that both natural and artificial flavors are safe for human consumption unless you ingest huge amounts of them, which is the case with anything Of course.

One of the reasons for that is the molecules used in natural and artificial flavor systems. Let’s take vanilla in, right? So you have the natural vanilla molecule that is chemically identical to the artificial vanilla. Molecule scientists are able to create something that is chemically identical and has identical effects in the body, and so it’s not surprising then that if vanilla, if natural vanilla is safe, then the artificial version of it is also safe.

Another example of this is in the case of vitamins, many people assume that if a vitamin came from a natural source, it is good or it is better than a vitamin that was artificially created. And in some cases that is true. Vitamin E, for example, the natural form has properties that synthetic forms do not have.

And in other cases, that is not true. Vitamin C, natural versus artificial, it does not matter. A number of studies have shown this, and so then coming back to the rationale that some people in the sports nutrition industry, Would use to justify misleading people about the natural flavoring If they could, it would be along the lines of, well, people are just wrong for assuming that natural flavors are okay or are healthy and artificial flavors are not okay or are unhealthy.

And so then the line of thinking could go, it’s actually unfair for me to be penalized for other people’s ignorance. It’s unfair for consumers to not buy. My product because I list both natural and artificial flavoring. And then to go buy my competitor’s product because they list just natural flavoring.

And of course, I don’t know if they are using only natural flavoring, their quote unquote natural flavoring might. Be exactly the same as mine. And because I want to cheat, of course, I project this on everyone else and I assume that they want to cheat and are cheating as well, that they’re using this labeling slight of hand to gain an unfair competitive advantage over me.

And the only way to level the playing field is to do the same thing. And so that would be one way of going about things. And I imagine supplement companies that, for example, call out their. Natural sweetener on their packaging, but then also use artificial sweeteners. So you’ll see that sometimes a product will say naturally sweetened, and then you go look in the ingredients and there is something natural like Stevia or erythritol.

But then there is also SLO or ACE K or asam. That is a good example of this type of mentality where they are. Trying to mislead people into thinking that their products are 100% naturally sweetened. And they would say, well, we didn’t say that. You assumed that we just said naturally sweetened. And look, there is a natural sweetener in there.

But of course we all know that they are trying to mislead people. And one justification for that could be that. Well, artificial sweeteners aren’t nearly as bad as people think, and too many people don’t buy products with artificial sweeteners because they’re misinformed about them. Therefore, it is okay to lie to them or to hide information from them that they don’t understand or are misinformed about.

This is very similar to the noble Lie concept. The idea that it’s okay to lie to people if it is in their best interests, if it leads to them making better decisions or doing things that are better for society, even if they are doing them for the wrong reasons. It would take another podcast for me to unravel my thoughts about that philosophy.

I mostly disagree with it. Uh, I do think that there could be scenarios where it would be appropriate to tell a noble lie, but the way that it is often used, especially by officialdom, is. Unethical or even evil. But again, that’s another discussion. And coming back to supplements, I absolutely disagree with using that rationale to excuse misleading people into thinking products are what they are not or are not what they are, or can do things that they can’t and.

So on, and that’s one of the reasons why I chose to make legion’s products 100% natural, which is quite expensive to do if we’re talking about flavor systems, for example, which includes sweetener. Some of my products cost upward of three, $4 per bottle to flavor in sweetened naturally, and if I were to switch to artificial ingredients, I could bring that cost down to 50 or 75 cents.

That’s huge. I mean, just think of that as an immediate addition to the bottom line of the company. For every bottle sold, I am now making another $3, $4 in some cases, and Legion sells hundreds of thousands of bottles a year. It’s a lot of money. But I am not doing that. I am sticking to all natural ingredients, including all natural flavors.

Why? Well, in the case of artificial sweeteners, while they are not as harmful as many people would have, you believe there is more and more evidence showing that having many servings of those chemicals every day. Forever is probably not great for your health, particularly your gut health. And that’s pretty easy to do if you are into workout.

And if you are into supplementation because you have pre-workout, intra-workout, post-workout greens, protein powder. And then on top of that, maybe there are some energy drinks thrown into the mix and maybe some gum and other artificially sweetened goodies, maybe some diet soda. And so again, for many fitness folk, it is not a stretch to have eight to 10 plus servings of artificial sweetener every day, more or less forever.

And that is not something I would do myself. It’s not something that I would recommend others do. So then it was obvious to me that I had to make 100% naturally sweetened products that I could use and that I could stand behind. And as far as the flavoring goes, it’s a bit different because there is not any good evidence that having eight to 10 plus servings of artificial flavoring every day can be bad for your health.

But I know that many people who are drawn to natural sports supplements who are drawn to. 100% naturally sweetened. Also like to see 100% natural flavoring as well. They like to see no artificial chemicals of any kind, and I had a choice to make. Then it was one, use a combination of natural and artificial flavoring.

And understand that I’m going to lose some customers because of that, to do that, but add some education, try to get some of those customers that I would lose by helping them understand why there is no reason to be concerned about artificial flavoring. Not in the same way as artificial sweeteners or artificial food dyes.

I also explicitly did not want to use those because of health risks, especially when you are consuming quite a bit of them every day. Indefinitely, so that was another option. Or three, just use 100% natural flavors, and I chose number three, which is the most expensive option, by the way, because I think it is the smartest marketing decision.

It is tremendously hard to change people’s minds. It is a lot easier to meet people where they are and get them engaged and build a relationship. Help them in some way. In our case, we do a lot to help people achieve their fitness goals faster. Our goal is not just to sell supplements. It really is to give people all of the know-how and all of the tools they need to lose fat, build muscle, get healthy, and stay that way.

And supplements are the least important component of what it takes to do that. And that is not something that. Many supplement companies will tell you, but supplements are supplementary. By definition. You actually don’t need any supplements whatsoever to achieve your fitness goals. But of course, if you have the budget and you have the inclination, the right ones can help.

You can get there a bit faster. And so anyway, coming back to the flavoring point, I knew that many of my ideal prospects, they wanted 100% natural supplements. They wanted no artificial ingredients whatsoever. I thought that it was smarter to just give them what they wanted rather than give them 95% of what they wanted and try to convince them that the remaining 5% doesn’t actually matter.

And also if you go poke around on Legion’s website, you’ll notice that I don’t make any claims about natural flavors being any better than artificial flavors for our health or otherwise, even though many of my ideal prospects think that, and I could make claims to that effect and they would play well with many of my ideal prospects, it might even increase their likelihood to buy my stuff at least a little bit.

But, It’s not true, so I don’t say it. So with that, I think we can wrap this discussion up. I have run out of things to say about natural and artificial flavoring and oh, one other thing, in case you’re wondering, the natural flavoring that Legion uses, it contains no chemical additives. I dunno if you remember, earlier in the podcast I mentioned that the FDA does allow for the use of artificial.

Additives to the natural chemicals in the course of processing them to create the final product. So long as those artificial chemicals are not present in the final product in any meaningful amount, but the natural flavoring that I use does not contain any artificial chemical additives whatsoever. That is something that I specified, something that I wanted because I wanted to be able to fully meet the claim of 100% natural.

Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.

And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for, muscle f o r and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.

I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you soon.

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