Archive for December, 2012

Popular holiday foods that could make for the worst meal ever

Posted by -- December 18, 2012

With the bountiful eating season now in full swing, all across the land folks are cooking up (or microwaving up) lovely spreads of what might appear to be real, traditional, festive fare – that is, until you take time to examine the actual ingredients.

On a recent trip to the supermarket, we asked some helpful fellow shoppers to point out their favorite December dishes. What we ended up with was a cornucopia of fake foods that, when put together, might well qualify as the very worst holiday meal ever concocted.

Sure, these products may be quick and easy to prepare and come in appetizing enough packages, but be warned: eating all of these so-called foods will result in your ingesting so many different kinds of chemical additives, we lost count.

First, those side dishes

How is it possible, for instance, that culinary staples such as string beans and potatoes could be transformed into such ‘altered states’?

The Bob Evans brand of green bean casserole and mashed potato sides (adorned with a picture of holly and the message, “Wishing you the happiest of holidays”) may have a “farm-fresh goodness” pledge on the package, but actually delivers a new level of badness that includes such unhealthy additives as partially hydrogenated soybean oil and monosodium glutamate  (along with other “natural” flavors that most likely add more free glutamic acid), and a ‘tasteful’ touch of propylene glycol to “protect the flavor,” as well as various other ingredients you won’t find on any farm. While each starts out with its respective vegetable, it’s all downhill from there.

Another Bob Evans offering, Sour Cream & Chives Mashed Potatoes, which is said to be “America’s #1” on the packaging, also contains several preservatives, partially hydrogenated oil, artificial flavor, artificial color, carrageenan, as well as various other additives you wouldn’t normally associate with sour cream, chives or potatoes.

For step-by-step instructions on how to make real mashed or baked potatoes – with pictures, yet! —click here, or here. ( After watching mashed potato video, I so wanted mashed potatoes that I got up, peeled three russets and followed the instructions in the video. They took all of five minutes to peel 15 minutes to boil and another five to mash and whip. They were absolutely delicious and extremely easy to make.)

Not what Popeye had in mind

Another case of an adulterated vegetable is Birds Eye brand creamed spinach. Here we have a tasty and nutritious vegetable that has been zapped with two MSG associates –autolyzed yeast extract and  hydrolyzed corn gluten. If you long for the taste of real creamed spinach, check out this recipe.

From bad bread….

As I’ve noted on other occasions, there is no excuse whatsoever for bread products having a long list of chemical additives. Bread is a simple food staple that should contain familiar, recognizable ingredients.  The Pillsbury Grands! rolls that were recommended by numerous shoppers were so popular there were only two left in the display case by the time we got there. What you’ll get with these “biscuits” is a false promise of 0 grams of trans fat (as they contain hydrogenated oils, the main source of these artery cloggers), along with some propylene glycol alginate, the preservative TBHQ and artificial color. Some packaged breads have better ingredients – but you’ve got to read the label. That also holds true for the breads available from supermarket bakery departments.

…comes even worse stuffing

What happens when you take less than stellar bread, mix it with some high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil, add a preservative, then dump some highly salted chicken stock containing yeast extract (more free glutamic acid) on it? Stuffing, of course!

That particular recipe comes direct from Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix, along with the package-suggested Swanson (“Natural Goodness”) Chicken Broth, which, by the way, makes a false label claim of “No MSG Added.”

Various natural and organic stuffing mixes can be found if you take a moment to check out the ingredients before you stuff them in your shopping cart.

The turkey solution – or is it turkey in a solution

We were advised by several shoppers to go for the Butterball turkey breast roast, which they described  as “easier,” “fast,” and “delicious.” What we found was a turkey breast containing “up to 20% of a solution.” The “solution” is a salted water concoction containing “natural flavor” (an unknown, unregulated, and never-disclosed ingredient), modified food starch and sodium phosphate to “enhance tenderness and juiciness.”

Most every supermarket will also offer a variety of fresh and frozen no-additive turkeys including at least one organic brand. Our advice is to avoid anything in a “solution,” or that is “deep basted.”

At least the pie is homemade!

Of all the folks who gave shopping suggestions, the most friendly and helpful was a sweet grandma who advised that “everyone loves a cook who can make a homemade pie.”  She then led us to her “special” secret, Pillsbury ready-made pie crusts. “No one will know it comes from a box,” she said, adding, “don’t forget the apple pie filling!”

Containing partially hydrogenated lard with two preservatives and two artificial colors, this pie crust is not only a hotbed of bad ingredients, but a misrepresentation of perhaps the most cherished pie in America! Add some canned  apple pie filling with high fructose corn syrup and it qualifies as a complete homemade lie.

So don’t fall prey to the “fast and easy” con artists who claim to be selling you traditional holiday foods the popularity of which merely goes to prove the validity of the P.T. Barnum adage, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Study author supports HFCS fructose amount labeling petition

Posted by -- December 11, 2012

1982 ad to sell food companies HFCS

Last week I wrote about a new study published in the journal Global Public Health that revealed how high fructose corn syrup may add an “additional contributing factor” to the development of diabetes.

That added risk factor, according to study co-author Dr. Michael Goran, likely comes from the higher, “more damaging” fructose content in HFCS, which for HFCS 55 (that is, with 55 percent fructose), is 10 percent more than real sugar.

“It is scientific, textbook knowledge that fructose is handled differently (by the body) than glucose, they are different,” Goran told Food Identity Theft last week.

But a 10 percent increase isn’t the whole story. While the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) lost their bid with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), spending some big bucks in the process, to rebrand the chemical concoction with the name “corn sugar,” the issue of  how much of the “more damaging” fructose HFCS may contain is still unresolved and the subject of a pending petition at the FDA.

This past September, Citizens for Health filed a petition asking that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose amounts above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows), and also, in the interim, to provide accurate label information revealing the actual fructose percentage in the HFCS formulation being used. (To read and comment on this petition at the FDA, click here.)

While the CRA continues to pitch the concept that HFCS is almost identical to sugar (which contains 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose), HFCS with higher fructose amounts have been around for a while, some containing as much as 90 percent fructose. One brand, Cornsweet 90, is advertised by its manufacturer, Archer Daniels Midland, as having “an intense sweetness that makes it ideal for sweetening foods and beverages without adding a lot of calories.”

“This petition makes perfect sense given the broad use of high fructose corn syrup in our food supply,” Goran commented when the petition was filed. “Consumers need to be provided with accurate label information, especially with regards to fructose content.”

The FDA is fully aware of the use of HFCS 90, which was deliberately not included in the 1996 generally recognized as safe (GRAS) notice for HFCS, which acknowledged that it has “a substantially different ratio of glucose to fructose” and that “the agency does not have adequate information to assess the safety…”

‘Tilting the balance’

“Who would argue that fructose consumption now is higher than it was ten or twenty years ago?” asks Goran, adding,  “I’m not talking about the subtle variations in year to year,” but rather “about  a huge shift in the food supply that is increasing the amount of fructose that we’re exposed to.”

While some of this fructose increase is coming from sugar,” according to Goran, “the excess is coming from HFCS. And that excess is tilting the balance toward a greater proportion of fructose to glucose.”

With HFCS now found in everything from bread to spaghetti sauce to drugs, many consumers are starting to demand greater transparency from food manufactures regarding its use. As one petition supporter put it in a comment posted at the FDA docket,  “It is only fair to require manufacturers to let consumers know exactly what and how much of this potentially damaging ingredient is included in their product. That way consumers at least will have true information when they make a choice to buy or not buy a product.”

In 1982, when HFCS was still a fairly new food ingredient, an ad by Cargill Corporation, one of its major producers, hyping the sweetener to food and beverage companies asked, “Corn in your cola?” and noted how “Coke, Dr. Pepper, Sprite and Fanta, they’ve all switched to the sweetness of high fructose corn syrup.”

In anticipation of even more big corporations not only putting corn in their cola, but all kinds of other foods and beverages, Cargill underwent a $90 million dollar expansion, declaring that “when this expansion is completed, Cargill will have a total capacity of 1.3 billion pounds of fructose a year. That’s enough to fill a train load that would stretch 154 miles.”

One can only wonder how much further that HFCS train has stretched (along with the waistlines of American consumers) in the 30 years since.

To read and comment on this petition at the FDA docket click here.

Corn refiners launch preemptive attack on study suggesting HFCS-diabetes link

Posted by -- December 6, 2012

How much fructose do these HFCS-sweetened drinks contain?

In the latest desperate attempt by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to salvage the image of its highly profitable additive high fructose corn syrup, the industry group broke a news embargo to lash out against the latest negative study on the widely used test-tube sweetener a day before its scheduled publication via a press release and statements highly critical of one of the study’s authors.

The study, co-authored by Dr. Michael Goran, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, found that countries consuming large amounts of HFCS have a 20 percent higher prevalence of diabetes than those where the corn-derived unnatural sweetener isn’t used (yes, there are still places in the world where you won’t find HFCS in your food).

“I don’t know how they got the paper,” Goran told Food Identity Theft, “I sent the paper out to several reporters who agreed to honor the embargo…somebody at the CRA was working very hard over Thanksgiving weekend to have it ready and circulated Monday morning,” Goran said, adding that the CRA’s actions probably ended up giving the study more publicity than expected when it was officially released on November 27th.

Calling Goran “a known detractor of HFCS,” and saying the study “crosses the line from science to advocacy” (a comment Goran feels “got a little personal”), Big Corn was obviously deeply concerned about this new research, which adds to the growing concern over the widespread consumption of HFCS.

The study, published in the journal Global Public Health, revealed that independent of total sugar intake and obesity levels, HFCS consumption is associated with the “significantly increased prevalence of diabetes.”

“It’s almost like an additional contributing factor that’s independent,” said Goran. “Some of the critique was that we just need to focus on obesity,” which, he noted, is not the “only cause” of diabetes. “We know that obesity and total sugars contribute to diabetes. What this shows is that over and above those, HFCS poses an additional risk.”

That “additional risk,” the study suggests, is most likely due to the higher amounts of fructose in HFCS, the most popular formulation of which contains 55 percent fructose, a 10 percent increase over sucrose (real sugar). Other studies done by Goran in 2010 have shown fructose amounts in some beverages to be as high as 65 percent.

How much is too much?

The question, in Goran’s view, is, “what is the tipping point? We know that fructose is more damaging than glucose; if anyone tried to argue with that, they just don’t understand biochemistry and nutrition. …(But) at what point do the damaging effects of fructose become apparent?”

Goran’s 2010 study, published in the journal Obesity, found several popular beverages are delivering a fructose jolt higher than the industry would like you to believe. Levels as high as 65 percent of super-sweet fructose were found in analyzed Coke, Pepsi and Sprite. The CRA in all of its messaging and multi-million dollar “sugar is sugar” campaign will only admit to the use of HFCS with a 55 percent fructose content in drinks.

Other research suggests that fructose levels can go even higher than what Goren found, with HFCS containing  up to 90 percent fructose used in certain products.

Foods containing varying and higher fructose amounts are the subject of a current citizen petition to the Food and Drug Administration by Citizens for Health. The petition requests that the agency take action against food and beverage manufactures using HFCS in amounts above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows) and also, in the interim, provide consumers with label information declaring just how much fructose a HFCS blend contains. (You can read about the petition here, and sign it here).

The fact that HFCS comes in higher-than-55 percent-fructose formulations is not something the CRA really likes to talk about, but a look at the 2012 “Corn Annual,” which gives shipment totals for last year, has one listing for “high fructose corn syrup 55% and above,” (which, by the way, is 11,591,481,000 pounds – yes, that’s over 11 billion. Add HFCS 42 to the mix, and the total shipments of HFCS for 2011 amount to over a whopping 19 billion pounds!)

Goran, who is currently involved in an additional, larger study to measure fructose amount in HFCS-sweetened foods, feels the CRA is “just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the consumer.”

“Saying they (HFCS and sugar) are almost identical is an oxymoron. They are either identical or they are not,” said Goran, adding, “I wasn’t surprised that they would criticize the study, but to have complete disregard for the media process tells you what they have at stake in this argument.”