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Added flavourings are a red flag for food fakery, a marker for ultra-processing.

Whether coyly labelled as ‘natural’ or as plain old ‘flavouring’, these synthetic substances are used by manufacturers to reduce ingredient costs, compensate for taste loss during processing, and mask off-flavours imparted by industrial production methods.

Their presence invariably augurs an inferior eating experience. And if that wasn’t enough to put you off, there’s now another reason to steer well clear.

A new study published in the BMC Medicine journal, reviewing human and animal data, suggests added flavourings are potential contributors to the obesity epidemic.

Researchers in Germany believe they promote “hedonic eating and override homeostatic control of food intake”. In simple terms, if you consume food without added flavourings, your body will regulate your intake to suit your energy requirements. Foods with flavourings, on the other hand, upset this innate control mechanism.

By letting loose your hedonic, or pleasure-seeking, instinct, these laboratory flavourings encourage you to continue eating beyond the point where you have satisfied your energy needs. Your inner glutton takes over.

The researchers also posit that added flavourings might induce weight gain by disrupting “flavour nutrient learning”. It seems if you eat real strawberries, for instance, your body discovers what nutrients to expect from them. But if you eat products containing strawberry flavourings, your body can’t form a reliable flavour-nutrient association.

In this way, added flavourings are implicated in “compensatory overeating”. They leave you feeling unsatisfied and consequently impair your ability to eat sensibly.

This is another piece of research shedding light on the empirical observation that people whose diet includes lots of ultra-processed foods are more likely to become overweight or obese than those whose diet does not.

Synthetic flavourings have never had any legitimate place in a good quality product, yet even many upmarket brands that claim to be artisan quietly use them.

In the run-up to Christmas, it’s a challenge to find a panettone, Christmas pie, marzipan, or box of chocolates that’s free from them.

Brands that rely on added flavourings can’t afford to ignore the mounting body of science. If they truly want to cultivate a quality image, they must start reformulating products to remove these palate-deceiving chemicals.