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Is Taco Bell-Pizza Hut's Ingredient Re-Branding Creating The Illusion Of Natural Food?

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— By the end of the year you will no longer find any artificial colors or flavors in the products of two fast food giants. Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, both owned by Yum Brands Inc. made the commitment, which will affect the vast majority of both of their menus.

A spokesman from the company said the move was made because "what people want are things on labels that they can pronounce." We've seen the recent changes at places like Panera and Chipotle, but we asked Penn State University Food Science Professor John Coupland (also Chair of the Ingredients as Materials Impact Group) if he was surprised that this movement is impacting the fast-food sector.

"I think we're seeing a real transformation in what Americans are expecting in their food. People are really looking for this natural label on all kinds of things," Coupland said. "We can sensibly ask what does 'natural' mean."

Coupland says the amount of trans fats and sodium are being targeted in the fast-food giants' products, with an eye towards reduction. Yum Brands is among companies looking to reduce artificial colorings, but Coupland disputes the absence of food coloring will make the food any healthier.

"I think we would do better if we started to count our calories more, maybe looked at portion sizes and maybe looked at eating more vegetables. Perhaps a small amount of chemicals here and there isn't the fact that we should be making our decision on."

But not so fast: your Mountain Dew Baja Blast drink and Dorito Loco taco shells will look just as unnaturally colored as ever.

"I think if you read their announcement more closely; they're going to change the ingredients in the food they're making themselves. They're not making changes in soda or other branded products. Whatever the color is, it's still going to be a whole mass of sugar that you might want to think twice about adding it to your diet," he said.

Coupland says Yum Brands headquarters will be asking themselves, and likely betting on, that they'll capture more of the market share by "appearing" to be more natural.

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