Archive for February, 2013

The ‘brominated brothers’: still at large despite a bad rap sheet

Posted by -- February 28, 2013


The next ingredient to avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign should have been banned in the U.S. decades ago. It has been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals for over 30 years, and the evidence of its toxic nature is so compelling that this additive has been banned in many countries, including Europe, China, Canada, and Brazil.

In the United States, however, it can still be found in processed foods ranging from breads to tortillas to knishes. The only good thing we can say about this additive is that its use is on the decline, no doubt due to some really bad press over the years, but you still have to be on the lookout to avoid it. Read on to learn how keep this unnecessary, toxic ingredient out of your diet.

Number 7: Potassium bromate

Used to “improve” flour and make more uniform, attractive bakery products, potassium bromate (or bromated flour) has been on the list of carcinogens in California since 1991. And while many other countries have banned its use entirely, the Food and Drug Administration  has merely asked the baking industry to voluntarily stop using it.

According to the American Bakers Association, if potassium bromate is used “properly” no detectable residues will be found; however, if too much is used, or any number of other procedures are not followed (such as proper temperature settings or baking time) a residue of this carcinogenic additive will end up in the finished product.

According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), FDA tests going back to 1992 and 1998 found levels of bromate in “several dozen baked goods” that would be “considered unsafe by the agency (FDA).” One sample, CSPI noted in a press release “had almost 1,000 times the detection limit.”

In 1999 CSPI submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration to ban this additive, saying that “The FDA has known since 1982 that potassium bromate can cause tumors of the kidney, thyroid and other organs in animals,” with additional studies over the years all confirming its toxic properties.

While some commercial brands have replaced potassium bromate with other dough-enhancing additives, brominated flour is still widely used in restaurants and bakeries. General Mills, makers of Pillsbury and Gold Medal brand flours, offers no less than 22 different brominated flours at its “professional baking solutions” site. Bottom line: if a bakery can’t tell you what ingredients it uses in making its cakes, cookies and bread, it’s time to find another bakery. The oddest product that we found potassium bromate in – considering its big “benefit” is to promote yeast rising — was New York brand flatbreads.

This leads us to another nasty bromine additive…

Number 6: Brominated vegetable oil

This Mountain Dew also contains almost 12 teaspoons of HFCS



While PepsiCo got lots of kudos back in January when it announced that it would be removing brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, from one of its Gatorade products, that doesn’t mean it’s gone from the marketplace.  In fact, PepsiCo continues to use BVO in other beverages it makes, such as Mountain Dew

BVO, which used in food and beverages for the highly important cosmetic purpose of keeping their ingredients all  neatly blended together, builds up in fatty tissue and has been shown to cause heart damage in research animals. But while it is banned as a food additive in many other places, including Europe, India and Japan, its  status has been in limbo at the FDA for over three decades.

BVO is especially apt to be found in in orange and other citrus-flavored  beverages, so be sure and check their ingredients carefully before buying them..

Breaking news on the HFCS front

Consumer groups and public health departments from around the country recently submitted a petition to the FDA asking the agency to set a safe level of added sugars in drinks. Of course when you’re talking beverages, especially soda, those “sugars” will most likely be in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which one of the groups involved, CSPI says is currently at “unsafe levels.”

That’s not hard to believe when one considers the vast amount of foods and drinks that still contain this test-tube sweetener. To get an idea of just how much HFCS is manufactured, you need look no further than the Corn Refiners Association’s “Corn Annual,” which lists an unbelievable shipment total for HFCS in 2012 of over 19 billion pounds!

Hopefully, those amounts will go down the same way potassium bromate use has begun to diminish – although it will only happen if enough consumers ‘just say no’ to products containing this cheap synthetic sweetener that’s a major suspect in the obesity epidemic.

A pair of preservatives you need to beware of

Posted by -- February 26, 2013

What if we told you that two closely-related preservatives, commonly-added to scores of processed foods (many of them for kids), are banned in Japan and most European countries; have been found to alter brain chemistry in mice when they are exposed prenatally; that one is listed as a carcinogen by the state of California, and that by adding these chemicals to its list of “eliminated” ingredients, the Feingold Diet success rate for treating kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) almost doubled!

Well, listen up, because this pair of preservatives, commonly added to our food for the sole purpose of extending its shelf life to increase manufacturers’ profits, are the next unnecessary, harmful ingredients we urge you avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign,

Number 8: BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoulene)

Sometimes we get so used to seeing certain ingredients listed on labels that it seems they must be OK. Such is the case with BHT and BHA, which are used in scores of products, such as cereals, snack foods, chewing gum, pies, cakes, processed meats and even beer. These industrial preservatives are also sprayed onto the lining of food packages.

BHA and BHT, which are actually made from coal tar or petroleum, have been the focus of behavioral and health concerns for decades, although the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow the use of these industrial anti-oxidants in food products (as well as medicines and cosmetics).

Over 30 years ago studies found that after pregnant mice were fed BHT and BHA, their offspring were born with altered brain chemistry. According to the researchers, “the affected mice weighed less, slept less and fought more than normal controls.” On top of that, BHA is considered a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization and listed as a carcinogen in California.

While there are many cereals available that don’t contain these or any other chemical preservatives for that matter (including organic varieties), one of the biggest producers of breakfast cereal, Kellogg’s, is also one of the bigger users of BHT, which we found in practically every Kellogg’s cereal we looked at – including its cornerstone product, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

A brand is only as good as its ingredients

Fortunately, many shoppers are no longer willing to accept the presence of such unsavory additives simply because the products that harbor them are put out by “trusted” brands.

“I don’t understand why they use these toxic preservatives when there are alternatives,” noted one, New Jersey resident Dan Brown, who banished his kids’ favorite cereal, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, from the house when he learned about the harmful effects of the BHT it contains.

Consumers seem to want what Mom's Best is offering. The company is now number three in the ready-to-eat cereal market.

Brown, a stay-at-home dad and professional musician, who says his family goes through “a lot of cereal,” was so angry with what he read about BHT and BHA, that he wrote Kellogg’s, saying he had found another brand that was cheaper “without BHT and other additives and chemicals,” telling the company, “I am sorry that you feel that you have to poison me and my family to make a profit on your food; maybe you should rethink your business plan…”

One company that seems to have carefully considered its business plan is Mom’s Best Cereals. Based in Minneapolis, this four-generation family-owned business makes 10 cereals containing no high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or artificial flavors or preservatives such as BHA or BHT.   Now ranked third in sales in the U.S. ready-to-eat cereal market, Mom’s Best has managed to win over consumers such as Brown, who have ditched the big-brand cereals such as Kellogg’s and General Mills for ones containing better ingredients.

“Once you learn what’s really in these products, you can’t go back, especially when you’re feeding it to your kids. For manufacturers to put harmful ingredients in food  marketed to kids just blows my mind,” says Brown, whose advice to other parents is to “read the label, no matter how hard that can be when you’re shopping, especially shopping with kids. But you’ve got to do it.”


Stay tuned as we continue our countdown of the top ten ingredients to avoid including a soda additive that’s also used as a flame retardant, a known carcinogen that is still in baked goods in the U.S. because it helps food manufacturers make more money and a very common flavoring additive that kills brain cells.

Still in our food after all these (heart damaging) years

Posted by -- February 21, 2013

If you still think that it really isn’t all that important to read a food product’s list of ingredients, then you really need to read this blog.

Our pick for the next ingredient to avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign is a sneaky and especially evil one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that if people in the U.S. cut this stuff out of their diets it would prevent over 20,000 heart attacks and more than 7,000 deaths a year from coronary disease, while a study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated the heart-damaging toll from this ingredient is over 200,000 “events” a year.

The best part of banishing this heart-disease-promoting ingredient from your menu is that you won’t miss it one iota. But in order to do so, you need to ignore both claims that a product doesn’t have any and what appears on the “Nutrition Facts” label, and go directly to the list of ingredients.

Number 9: trans fats (as in partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil)

By now everyone – doctors, registered dieticians, government authorities, health officials –  everyone agrees that trans fats are really, really bad for you.  Not only do they increase LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, but they decrease your “good”  HDL cholesterol. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, studies have shown that people with the highest blood levels of trans fats are at much greater risk of developing certain cancers. So why are there still trans fats in processed foods?

One reason is that partially hydrogenated oils containing trans fats are cheaper and easier for food manufacturers to use. But the main advantage these highly processed oils provide to the food industry is the way they keep pastries, breads, cookies, crackers and other baked goods from going rancid, allowing them to remain on store shelves longer than they ordinarily would. In other words, they increase a product’s “shelf life” even while quite possibly shortening the life of the consumer who buys it.

Besides bakery items, this industrially-created oil can often be found in frozen or refrigerated products such as French fries, pizza, dough, pies and cakes as well as in many of the items served in restaurants, including fried foods, pies, cakes and salad dressings.

Now you might think that checking the Nutrition Facts label, which has required trans fat labeling since 2006, would be the easiest way to avoid this artery-clogging substance. Think again. Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations allow manufacturers to claim there are “zero trans fats” on the Nutrition Facts label as long as the amount is under 0.5 grams per serving (an amount that varies from product to product and is usually much less than you think). Let’s say you eat three servings of a food that claims to have zero trans fats, but in fact has 0.4 – just under the amount required to be labeled. Without realizing it, you’ve just consumed 1.6. grams of trans fats (or more, if your portion size was bigger than what the serving size is on the label).

A well-rounded zero

Some manufacturers play the zero trans fat game with an interesting twist in logic. Pillsbury’s refrigerated pizza crust product, for example, that contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil has a happy label statement in a yellow circle of “0g Trans Fat.” But next to the hydrogenated oil is a little asterisk that sends us to a note at the bottom of the ingredient list that says, “adds a trivial amount of trans fat.”  So is it zero or is it “trivial?” And what exactly is Pillsbury’s idea of trivial? The only thing we know for sure is it’s under 0.5 grams per serving or they couldn’t put that big zero on the package.

(One of the more interesting facts about trans fats is that at one time they were considered healthier than the saturated fats found in dairy products such as butter or in meat. Then in the 1990s researchers started identifying the adverse health effects of consuming trans fats, but by this time they were entrenched in the food supply, and it has only been recently that food manufacturers have begun removing them to some degree.)

Trans fat-free zones?

In 2007, New York City Mayor Bloomberg followed through with his phaseout of trans fats in the city’s restaurants by banning them from serving foods containing over 0.5 grams. But that prohibition carries the exact same “zero trans fats” labeling loophole that the FDA has allowed in supermarket foods. So while the New York City “ban,” along with similar ones in places like Philadelphia and Boston may have reduced the amount of trans fats consumed by restaurant patrons, it by no means has banned them, as a much smaller city is now attempting to do.

On January 1st, the Boston suburb of Chelsea, Massachusetts was poised to be the first city in the nation to have a complete ban on trans fats in packaged and restaurant foods sold there. Not the 0.5 grams allowed in Boston and other locations, but nada – absolutely zero.

Unfortunately, this groundbreaking achievement was postponed, perhaps due to heavy pressure from industry, especially the National Restaurant Association, whose representative was quoted as saying the group was “encouraged” by the delay, which will “allow the industry to provide additional perspective.”

The Chelsea ban, which will be reconsidered by the city’s board of health later this month, would certainly be a strong message to “industry,” to get off the corporate couch and stop selling foods that considerably reduce a consumer’s “shelf life.”

But why wait, when you can institute your own trans fat ban right in your own home?  All it will require is a moment to read the ingredient label before you allow a product to enter.

Coming next: the carcinogenic additive in your chips and cereal.

Read Your Labels campaign kicks off with a countdown of the top ten additives to avoid

Posted by -- February 19, 2013

Do we really need Yellow 5 and Red 40 in apple pie?

If there’s one piece of advice you keep hearing from us, it’s that reading the ingredients label is the only way to really find out what’s in a processed food. Not the nutrition facts label, not the front of the package, and certainly not the advertising copy.

To encourage this time-honored way to actually know what you’re eating (or considering consuming), Citizens for Health is launching “Read Your Labels,” a campaign to create greater awareness of the unnecessary, harmful or controversial additives that are commonly found in the foods and beverages we buy and casually consume without giving them a second thought.

If you only read ingredients occasionally, we’d like to get you into the habit of doing it all the time. If you seldom or never do, now’s as good a time to start as any. To get you going, we will be listing our top ten ingredients to avoid  – and the reasons for doing so – in this and upcoming blogs. We think once you see some of the things that are actually in processed food products, you’ll become a regular ingredients checker before deciding to purchase and eat any of them.


Number 10 : artificial colors – and why you should shun them

The synthetic hues you’ll see on food and beverage ingredient labels include Red #40, Red #3, Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Green #3.  But you don’t need to memorize all those before you shop for food – all you have to remember is that any product whose ingredients include colors accompanied by numbers or “lakes” should be left on the shelf.

The entire history of artificial colors has been colored by controversy. While they may make products appear more attractive, they represent just the kind of chemical additives we should  delete from our diets – something that’s especially true for kids. But then, the fact that so many supposedly “harmless” coloring agents have been found to be otherwise is hardly surprising when you consider their origins and backgrounds. Many of the older dyes were made from coal tar – a thick, black liquid derived from, well, coal. (Now, does that sound like anything you’d like to ingest?) Some are still in use today, while many newer ones are petroleum extracts.  They may also contain measurable amounts of toxic contaminants, such as lead, mercury and arsenic.

The carcinogenic coloring Red Dye Number 2, for example, was in use until 1976, when it was booted off the “approved” list by the Food and Drug Administration, along with Violet Number 1. Then there’s the curious case of Red # 3, which was banned from use in cosmetics and externally applied drugs after the FDA found it caused thyroid cancer in rats, but strangely enough, its use in food items has continued to be allowed. But why wait for an often decades-delayed “official” decision, when you’re free to ban anything you like from your own home at any time?

The artificial color-hyperactivity link

Perhaps the most compelling reason to avoid artificial colors is the connection that’s been made between fake food dyes and hyperactivity in kids.

In 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest submitted a petition to the FDA to ban nine such food colorings and in the interim to require a package warning label on foods containing them that they “cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.”

The FDA responded by convening a Food Advisory Committee in 2011 (after receiving almost 8,000 comments on the topic), which concluded there was not enough evidence to take regulatory action.

While the FDA might not have been convinced, the same can’t be said of European regulatory officials.  Since 2010, they’ve required foods that contain these unnatural hues to carry a warning label stating that consumption “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

In fact, the link between food dyes (and certain other ingredients, as well as foods themselves) and behavioral problems in kids has been known for quite a while. It goes back to  the 1970s when the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a California pediatrician and pioneer in the field of allergy and immunology, discovered the connection between what we eat and how it affects the way we feel and act. Since then, the Feingold Center he founded has helped scores of kids with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder by eliminating certain additives from their diets – all without resorting to drugs such as Ritalin.

It’s all very simple when you think about it. To help sell food products that are highly processed, manufacturers have doused them with cosmetics – a whole bevy of chemicals to make them seem more appealing. But despite assurances that these substances are harmless, a little knowledge of their checkered history should be enough to make them unwelcome in your home.

Stay tuned for the next additive to avoid – hint –  this heart-harming ingredient can be “hidden” on the nutrition facts label. We’ll tell you what to look for to keep this unnecessary and dangerous ingredient out of your diet.

A new five percent formula to chemically ‘kickstart’ your day is heading your way

Posted by -- February 14, 2013

Is it juice? Soda? An energy drink? According to the marketing minds at PepsiCo, Kickstart, the soon-to-be-released beverage is none of the above. Instead it’s a fresh and exciting “entirely new way to do mornings.”

Now if your idea of how to “do mornings” is to down some high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and some unpronounceable ingredients such as sodium hexametaphosphate and glycerol ester of rosin, this could be the drink you’ve been waiting for.

Scheduled for a nationwide launch on the 25th of February, Kickstart will make its debut in two flavors, “orange citrus” and “fruit punch,” and with the addition of a whopping five percent fruit juice, PepsiCo is hoping to keep the beverage out of the controversial energy-drink category by referring to it simply as a “breakfast drink.”

According to the Associated Press, “PepsiCo claims Kickstart, which is carbonated, is also not a soda because its five percent juice content qualifies it to be considered a ‘juice drink’ under guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration.” The AP also quoted a spokeswoman for the FDA as saying the agency doesn’t have definitions for what qualifies as either a soda or an energy drink.

Kickstart is certainly not the only beverage out there referred to as a “juice drink” that contains miniscule amounts of fruit juice. Any product that goes by the description “beverage,” “drink” or “cocktail” can contain as little as one percent juice. And if it’s less that that, it gets demoted to being called a “flavored” drink. (Something called a “punch” can be just about anything, since the FDA hasn’t bothered to define that term at all.)

An excess of early-morning metaphors

If you read the Kickstart press release, however, you might think this is the greatest new breakfast innovation since sliced bread for making toast. Employing extravagant descriptions ranging from a “fresh alternative to the age old morning question of ‘coffee or juice,’” to help in “catching the first waves at sunrise…or hitting fresh powder on the slopes at first light,”  PepsiCo is even offering you a chance to be included in what it calls a “chasing sunrise”  video.

But despite the addition of a small bit of grape or orange juice and vitamins C and B, all the fanciful hype devoted to  Kickstart won’t transform it into some some amazing new health drink. Usually there’s something they’re hiding under all that labeling lingo, and you won’t find it on the product’s splashy Facebook page.

If you think Kickstart’s copy is a bit too fancy for what the beverage actually contains, consider that while certain health claims are subject to censure by the FDA, companies are otherwise free to indulge in all kinds of imaginative imagery in describing product benefits – that is, until they’re successfully sued by one or more consumers for deliberately misleading them.

Last spring, for example, the sweet, nut and chocolate spread Nutella was taken to court by a California mom who claimed she was misled by Nutella advertising stating it can be part of an “easy, balanced breakfast.” Crazy, you say? Well the court didn’t think so, sending her home with over $3 million (the bulk of which was divided among other such deceived consumers).

So while the new Kickstart drink may have ad copywriters working really hard to convert this chemical concoction into a healthier way to start the day, anyone who bothers to read the ingredient statement will know what it really it. And if any of those consumers are still confused – well, they can always take it to court.

Just where are the ‘facts’ on the ‘nutrition facts label’?

Posted by -- February 12, 2013

How much is that in HFCS?

With all the confusing terms, claims and information to be found on food or beverage packaging, the most challenging can be those that are supposed to make everything perfectly clear – the “facts” found on the nutrition facts label, or NFL.

The Food and Drug Administration  has been trying to explain how to read this required label addition for around 20 years. And despite the various tweaks to make it more user friendly over the decades, the NFL remains an interesting enigma.

The Mayo Clinic has a web page to help you “decode” it, while Web MD calls it a “label reading adventure.” And though referring to it to it as an “easy tool,” the FDA provides a microsite complete with “programs and materials” to help you understand what it all means. These comprehension aids include video productions, one complete with singing and dancing shoppers vocalizing “read the label” to the tune of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the NFL isn’t totally useless. In fact, it contains a key piece of information that’s worth checking out. Right on the top, under the big “Nutrition Facts” name, you’ll find the “serving size”  – or what the manufacturer has envisioned as a “serving.” That in turn will let you know how the calories per serving number is relevant to what you’re consuming.

But even for that to be of use, you have to check each and every item, as the “serving size” appears to vary from product to product. The 20-ounce Coke used in the accompanying video, for example, claims to be one serving, while the same size Mountain Dew says it contains two-and-a-half servings.

And while the terms “total fat” and “trans fat” can be totally misleading, there’s one part of the NFL that could use its own microsite to explain – and that’s the “sugars” listing.

What’s the difference: ‘sugar’ or ‘sugars?’

Sugar, according to the FDA definition, is the natural sweet substance that comes from “sugar cane or sugar beets.” “Sugars,” however, is a far more complicated and confusing term.

The terms “sugar” and “sugars” have entirely different meanings, and even the simple word “sugar” can have a different meaning depending on the place that it appears on a food or beverage label.

Last May I wrote the FDA about Capri Sun Mountain Cooler drink, which has a front-of-package statement in big letters claiming to  have “25% less sugar.” Since the ingredients are actually nothing more than water, high fructose corn syrup and a little apple juice, what I wanted to know is where’s the sugar it claims to have less of?

The agency responded in an email that while the word “sugar” has a very specific meaning in the ingredient label (the part of a package you should be reading) which is natural cane or beet sugar, “…how it may be used depends on the context in which it is used.” In other words, “sugar” can become a “nutrient” claim when not being used in the ingredient list as a “statement of identity.”

But the word “sugars” is actually the most confusing aspect of the NFL, which gives no hint as to whether such “sugars” are naturally occurring or added, nor what the source may be.

“Sugars”ending in ‘s’ is defined by the FDA as “the sum of all free mono- and disaccharides (such as glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose).” In other words “sugars” can include lactose (from milk), added honey, real sugar (sucrose), fructose and high fructose corn syrup. The NFL will also give you no information as to the fructose amount in a product, especially useful information when it comes to HFCS.

For reference, the “sugars” in a one-cup serving of plain milk is 12 grams from the lactose, while the same amount of apple cider with no added sweetener is 30 grams from the fructose in the apples. The Sunkist Orange Soda in the video contains 43 grams of “sugars” per serving, all from HFCS. (For more details on the NFL, read my blog from last year, Five big things that are wrong with the nutrition facts label).

So before you spend valuable ‘store’ time trying to  analyze the nutrition facts label, why not go right to the source — the ingredients label? This handy tool can tell you the most important things you need to know before considering a food or drink for consumption. And if you find all the additives and ingredients to be unfamiliar or indecipherable, that shouldn’t be a problem. It means the product in question is best left right on the shelf.

As use drops, companies get ‘help’ hyping HFCS to customers

Posted by -- February 7, 2013

With consumption of high fructose corn syrup appearing to be on the decline, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) seems to have redoubled its efforts to keep this increasingly unpopular ingredient in foods and beverages.

According to a recent Bloomberg news story the amount of corn used to produce HFCS is at its lowest level since 1997, with the Huffington Post reporting that “High fructose corn syrup consumption plummets in America amid backlash.”

But the CRA has a job to do, and since its big idea to call HFCS “corn sugar” was firmly rejected by the Food and Drug Administration last May, it appears to have stopped selling its “sugar is sugar” message to consumers and instead is hitting on the food industry.

As we first reported last August, at, the industry-geared CRA web site for food and beverage manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants, industry people can schedule a “lunch & learn,” read that “96% of consumers aren’t avoiding HFCS,” and discover that “HFCS is simply not a top-of-mind consumer issue.”

But in another part of its education “tools and resources” the CRA will also provide food and beverage companies with canned answers to consumer questions about HFCS.

Along the lines of ‘you can’t make this stuff up,’ the CRA has developed a helpful phone script for company representatives to follow. So if you should call a company and ask “what is high fructose corn syrup,” and think the response sounds an awful lot like what Big Corn itself might say, you may be right:

Thanks for calling {company name} regarding our use of high fructose corn syrup. Your concerns are important to us, and we’re happy to answer your questions.

High fructose corn syrup, also called HFCS, is simply a form of sugar made from corn. High fructose corn syrup got its name from the fact that it is high in fructose compared to corn syrup. However, high fructose corn syrup has approximately the same amount of fructose that’s in sugar or honey.

Are there any other questions I can help you with today?

If no other questions, close with:
Again, thank you for calling. You can also find more information about high fructose corn syrup on our website and at Sweet Surprise dot com.

Also included at the page, called “how to talk about high fructose corn syrup,”  are phone responses for any customers who might chance to ask, “Is high fructose corn syrup safe and natural?” or express concerns about “high fructose corn syrup and weight gain.” And should such queries be made via email, there’s a “template” for that too!

High fructose? You bet!

While it may be amusing, there’s a high cost to all this hype, and that’s the continued use of HFCS in foods and beverages. In addition to which, the message it conveys is just a bit off kilter.

While the FDA’s legal limit on the fructose amount in HFCS is 55 percent – a 10 percent increase over sugar – studies have shown fructose levels in HFCS-sweetened soft drinks to be as much as 20 percent higher in fructose, the component considered most damaging to health. Also being marketed to the food industry is a super-high 90 percent fructose HFCS, said by a manufacturer to be “the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods…”

“We know there are differences in the way our bodies process fructose and glucose,” is how it was put by Dr. Kathleen Page, assistant professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Southern California’s  Keck School of Medicine and co-author of a recent study on fructose and the brain in The Journal of the American Medical Association. “There are reasons to believe that fructose is worse for us than glucose,” she noted, adding, “the processing of HFCS, which could be made with higher percentages of fructose…has public health implications.”

While HFCS may be shunned by more and more consumers, it has a ways to go before it becomes a thing of the past. You still have to be a careful label reader to keep it out of your diet. So be sure and let food and beverage manufactures know where you stand on this very important issue through both the selections you make at the supermarket and by communicating to them directly how you feel about the ingredients in their products.

And if a company responds by reading you a CRA-sounding phone script, you can tell them you know exactly where that came from – and you’ll no more swallow that than you will food products laced with high fructose corn syrup!



Citizens for Health has filed a petition with the FDA asking the agency to take action against food and beverage manufacturers using these ‘high-octane’ versions of HFCS, and in the interim, to have them provide accurate label information so consumers know just how much fructose is in the HFCS-sweetened food they are buying. You can sign and support that petition here.

Substitution and dilution: the most brazen forms of food identity theft

Posted by -- February 5, 2013

As if it wasn’t hard enough to shop for food, a new report out from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) has found that food fraud is on the rise, with olive oil, fish, milk, spices, honey and coffee the commodities most subject to culinary counterfeiting.  The updated USP database also listed some new items among the top 25 foods most often subject to substitution or dilution, which were shrimp, lemon juice and maple syrup.

The USP, a non-profit organization that establishes standards for foods, supplements and drugs, first launched its Food Fraud Database last spring, compiling 1300 published records of such illicit practices from 1980 to 2010. The new additions, updating the online database by 60 percent, came from reports published over the last two years.

Some of the fakes had added fillers, such as plant material mixed with tea leaves, or cheaper spices in place of more expensive ones, juices such as pomegranate labeled as 100 percent that had been diluted with grape or pear juice, and olive oil diluted with cheaper oils, or in some cases containing no real olive oil at all.

The USP describes “food fraud” as including “deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food…” It can also include misleading statements on packaging, and, of course, “the fraudulent addition of non-authentic substances…for economic gain to the seller.”

The creator of the database, Dr. Jeffery Moore, senior scientific liaison for the USP, said the hope is that “the database can be used as a tool by food manufacturers, regulators, scientists and others worldwide to help achieve a safer food supply.”

Safety is a concern in many of the reports, but particularly in regard to seafood, such as a fish with some nasty side effects called escolar, which is often passed off as white tuna or butterfish. Escolar is banned in Italy and Japan due to the extreme gastrointestinal effects it can produce. (We won’t go into details, but escolar is sometimes called “the ex-lax fish.”)

It’s also likely you may be squirting fake lemon juice on your fake fish. Last spring the National Consumers League (NCL) filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration over four brands of “100 percent lemon juice” that were found to only contain small amounts of the real thing.

NCL found that the brands Natural Lemon, Lira, Lemon Time and Pampa, while all labeled as 100 percent lemon juice, were so diluted with water that they contained only 10 to 35 percent actual lemon. The league has asked the FDA to take action and stop sales of the water-downed products.

To make your fake meal a bogus triple play, how about adding some phony olive oil to the recipe?

A 2010 report by the University of California-Davis Olive Center found that a whopping 69 percent of imported olive oil samples touted as “extra virgin” were actually made from inferior grades. In addition, some of the samples showed signs of oxidization (from age or bad storage), poor quality or adulteration with cheaper, chemically refined oils, such as soy and canola.

Legal food fraud

While the USP database has identified many examples of misrepresented and adulterated food, there’s another kind of food fraud that is actually permitted under current regulations, which we refer to as “loophole labeling.” A prime example is the widespread practice of slapping trans fat-free labels on products that actually contain partially hydrogenated oils, the major source of trans fats (but falling below 0.5 grams, which is legally ‘under the radar’), and foods that say “no MSG” on the label but include other ingredients containing processed free glutamic acid that is essentially the same thing.

Steering clear of loophole labeling, of course, can be done by scrupulously reading the ingredient list. But how do you know when a manufacturer is deliberately mislabeling a product?

The answer is, you  don’t – but there are ways to protect yourself and your family from this most brazen form of food identity theft. One is to avoid unknown, deeply discounted, brands. But the main thing to keep in mind is that the more “whole” a food is, the better. For example, instead of buying lemon juice, buy some actual lemons and squeeze them. Or try using loose tea and grinding whole spices instead of assuming that the packaged varieties are everything they’re cracked up to be.

The Corn Refiners Association takes its show ‘on the road’

Posted by -- February 1, 2013

Behind every big public relations campaign is a parent group – and the one behind the campaign to promote high fructose corn syrup, as regular readers know by now, is the Corn Refiners Association (CRA).  But if you thought the only way to know the CRA is through its online presence, you’re wrong –  because if you attend the right shindig, you can actually meet its representatives in person!

Events in which the group plans to participate this year include the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, the National Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas, the Baking Tech Conference in Chicago and the School Nutrition Association National Conference in Kansas City.

That’s right, the School Nutrition Association.

If you’re wondering how “school nutrition” and HFCS go together, well, so are we. And it’s not the first time the CRA has attended this event, described as a gathering of “thousands of professionals representing the school nutrition community… to shape the future of healthy school meals and good nutrition for all children.” Back in 2008, for example, the CRA was one of the top sponsors of the conference.

One of the crusading registered dieticians for the CRA, Neva Cochran, who often takes her “choose your sweeteners by the company they keep” show on the road, discussed the 2011 School Nutrition Association meeting held in Nashville in her blog at the CRA website. Noting that over 3,000 nutrition professionals were in attendance, she made a point of how happy she was to work in the CRA exhibit booth to help answer the most commonly asked question about chocolate milk containing HFCS.

Now Ms. Cochran does much more for the CRA than just work its trade booths. She’s often ‘on the road’ for Big Corn, spreading the CRA word that “it’s all the same” when it comes to choosing HFCS over real sugar.

The annual School Nutrition Association expo isn’t the only health event you’ll find the CRA at either. Last year’s Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics food and nutrition conference also had a high fructose corn syrup booth and “sponsored” several sessions that counted toward “continuing education credits” said Rosanne Rust, another dietitian spokesperson for the CRA in her blog “Chew the Facts.”

One of those informative for-credit sessions presented by Dr. James Rippe, a CRA spokesdoc, was called “Fructose, Sucrose and HFCS: Danger or Distraction?” Rust invited all to stop by the CRA booth to “get copies of the latest science-based studies on high fructose corn syrup.”

Even though science does not appear to be on the side of HFCS, the CRA is very fond of the term. In last year’s directory for the School Nutrition Association conference, held in Denver, the CRA listing invited all to “visit booth 1009 to learn more about, a resource which provide a scientific examination of HFCS and other sweeteners…”

The CRA’s idea of a ‘fair and balanced’ analysis

SweetenerStudies, a serious looking site in gray and black, presents selected studies along with reviews by CRA consultants. In an attempt to appear objective, comments include study “strengths” along, of course, with “limitations.” An example of this seemingly ‘fair and balanced’ approach can be found in an analysis featured at the group’s website of a recently published study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that showed the bad effects fructose can have on the brain appetite control region.  The “strengths” section of the review, authored by Richard David Feinman, PhD, begins by noting that “the strengths in this study have to be seen in the context of its publication in a major medical journal and the significant media coverage,” and goes on to comprise all of two paragraphs. By contrast, the “limitations portion” runs to a full ten paragraphs (actually, eleven, if you include a totally negative second paragraph of the “strengths” section in which Feinman contends that “….the data are over-interpreted and the writing demonstrates substantial bias.”)

The JAMA study did hit the news services big time, with HFCS in almost every first paragraph and a wire story saying “Researchers say if you are trying to drop a few pounds, consuming foods made with sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup may help.”

But while the CRA may go to great lengths to refute the ongoing research bashing HFCS, there’s really nothing they can do to stop the tide that has been turning against this test-tube sweetener for some time now.

For example, popular author and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, M.D, also commented on HFCS and the JAMA study at his web site, saying that he was “concerned that this highly processed substance has disruptive effects on metabolism, in part because the body doesn’t utilize fructose well, and humans have never before consumed it in such quantity.

“Clinical studies,” Weil added, “strongly suggest it promotes obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes; disturbs liver function, and elevates serum triglycerides in men. The latest study is further evidence that HFCS isn’t good for us.”

So if you’re in Kansas City this July when the School Nutrition Association national conference is taking place, be sure to visit the Corn Refiners Association booth; tell them we don’t want HFCS in our chocolate milk – in fact, that we don’t want it in anything.

And be sure to add that’s what science is really telling us.