Bill Harris, M.D. | Q&A

Natural Flavors?
Q&A with Bill Harris, M.D.

Q. Dear Mr. Harris,

I am a beginner vegetarian and I was wondering what the deal was with the ingredient "natural flavors" in products. Do I just assume that if a product says it contains "natural flavors" than it does contain animal products?

Please Help

A. Dear Stacey,

That's the assumption I always make because I don't have time to run down the exact contents of "natural flavors," a term that could mean almost anything. A good general rule is: "if man made it, don't eat it." The foods that have labels invariably have lower nutrient values than the fresh vegetables and fruit available in the produce section, anyway. It's better to develop a taste for those healthy foods than to spend time wondering about the contents of processed foods that were made for profit rather than for your health.

Here's a good quote from

"Just What's in Those Natural Flavors Anyway...?
By Dar Veverka

The exact definition of natural flavorings & flavors from Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations is as follows:

"The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, 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, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."

In other words, natural flavors can be pretty much anything approved for use in food."


-William Harris, M.D.

William Harris MD received a degree in physics from the University of California Berkeley, where he earned Phi Beta Kappa honors. He received his degree in medicine from the University of California at San Francisco, and received his postgraduate training at San Diego County Hospital. He holds a Medical License in the State of Hawaii. He has been an Emergency Department physican since 1963, and the Director of the Kaiser Permanente Vegan Lifestyle Clinic on Oahu until his retirement in 1998. Dr. Harris is the author of The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism.

In addition, he was the 1950 Big Ten Trampoline Champion, is an accomplished hangglider and commercial pilot, and at age 70 became a skydiver with 108 jumps to date. Dr. Harris has been vegetarian since 1950, and vegan since 1963.

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