Archive for March, 2013

Got aspartame? Dairy industry petition may open schoolhouse doors to toxic chemical sweetener

Posted by -- March 28, 2013

The recent publication at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a four-year-old petition from the dairy industry to alter the “standard of identity” for milk (and 17 additional dairy products) has set off a firestorm of consumer protest in the last few weeks.

Although nearly all the media and Internet reports on the petition were factually incorrect, the popular perception was that something sneaky was afoot. After all, why would the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) put themselves through all this bureaucratic hassle if some major underhanded change wasn’t in the works?

As it turns out, such suspicions were on the mark. For should the petition be approved by the FDA, it could conceivably jeopardize the health of more than 31 million U.S. schoolchildren by allowing them to consume flavored milk laced with aspartame – a highly controversial and neurotoxic artificial sweetener –  every single school day.

But not for the reasons you may think.

To get the lowdown on exactly what this petition is all about I went right to the source, the IDFA and its Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Cary Frye. (The most important news about what this petition will do, should it succeed, is something I’ll get to in a moment, so stick with me here.) Now, to hear the IDFA talk about it, current regulations which define “milk” – known as the standard of identity – are outdated and cumbersome to dairy producers. What they really want, according to Frye, is “to be competitive with other beverages that use no-calorie sweeteners and are less nutritious (than milk).”

The “standard of identity” for certain commodities, like milk, consists of  FDA regulations that provide a legal description of the composition of the named food and its labeling, including permissible added ingredients. The milk standard, as you may have guessed, says first off that something labeled as “milk” must come from a cow. It also allows for many other ‘tweaks’, such as taking cream out, adding cream back, adding vitamins, and  “other optional ingredients.”

Bundled together as “other optional ingredients” are colors, stabilizers, emulsifiers and nutritive (caloric) sweeteners, including sugar and high fructose corn syrup. What’s not included in the current milk standard are any “non-nutritive” artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame. Food companies can currently use aspartame in milk (a fact that was widely misreported), but only with added “front-of-package” labeling reflecting the “nutrient content claim,” such as ‘”reduced calorie” or “sugar-free.”

The proposed petition – which seeks to add “any additional safe and suitable sweetener” to the milk standard — would not make such sweeteners “invisible,” as many media alerts stated, since all added sweeteners would still be required to appear on the ingredient label. And the petition would only apply to flavored milk, according to Frye, who said she didn’t think the FDA would permit sweeteners in white milk.

Giving aspartame access to the school cafeteria

So is that all there is to this petition? Some front-of-package label changes to make things easier for the dairy industry?

If this were just a ‘front-label’ issue, it would still be mighty important. Currently, if aspartame is used in chocolate milk, for example, if might be called “reduced calorie” on the front of the package. If the calories weren’t reduced enough to make that claim, it would be called a “dairy drink.” All of which provide very important hints to rushed shoppers who may not take the time to read the ingredients on everything.

But the really big story here should the petition go forward would be the FDA’s granting permission for artificially-sweetened  milk to be offered in both the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program, which it currently doesn’t qualify for. These two federally supported nutrition programs operate in over 100,000 public and private schools, providing low-cost or free meals to over 31-million kids daily. While state agencies and local schools can enforce more stringent standards, any participating school must meet at least minimum federal guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) .

For these school “subsidized” breakfast and lunch offerings, Frye told me, those minimum federal guidelines “…are regulations in place that say what those meals must include. And they must include eight ounces of milk” as described in the standard of identity for milk, which currently excludes the addition of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.

Should the standard of identity for milk be altered to include such sweeteners, “then the USDA will refer to the new standard,” Frye told me. Which means, in effect, that flavored milk sweetened with aspartame would meet the definition, allowing it to be served in participating schools.

And why is that such a big deal to the dairy industry? Well, it seems that higher-calorie flavored milk has been removed in cafeterias by a lot of school districts in an effort to reduce obesity, which is contributing to a decline in milk sales.  By offering low-calorie alternatives, the dairy industry hopes to reverse that trend – even if it means your kids may be drinking milk sweetened with a brain-cell-destroying “excitotoxin” that has been associated with brain tumors, seizures and a host of other adverse reactions.

Who will tell the parents?

While the IDFA stated on its website that “(t)he petition was and continues to be a direct attempt to keep flavored milks in school cafeterias,” it didn’t explain exactly how that attempt was going to work, or how important the standard of identity for milk is to the USDA and the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

Should the dairy industry succeed, how will parents know what kind of milk is being served in schools? While the sweetener used, be it sugar, aspartame or HFCS, will still appear on the packaging, it’s doubtful that kids in a school lunch line will be reading ingredient labels.

Greg Miller, with the National Dairy Council, told NPR that it’s “likely” schools would “inform parents of the change by putting it on menus, websites and newsletters.” But really, Greg, who knows. It will likely be up to the school, and since most just provide menus without disclosing ingredients, aspartame-sweetened flavored milk might just be described as “fat-free chocolate milk.”

The FDA docket will be open for comments on this issue through May 20, and you can read about the petition at the FDA  here, add your comments by going here. Hopefully, like another attempt at deceptive labeling that was defeated last year – the Corn Refiners Association ploy to try and have high fructose corn syrup labeled as “corn sugar” – the ‘power of the people’ will again prevail.

Even organic foods may harbor this ‘smooth’ but highly inflammatory ingredient

Posted by -- March 26, 2013

Yoplait brand GoGurt yogurt for kids is one of the many dairy products containing carrageenan


Since Food Identity Theft presented the Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid, I’ve been receiving email from readers who think there are some very important additions that should be made to this list. I agree – and, in fact, during the next few weeks will be blogging about the “Top Ten Plus,” starting with a very commonly found ingredient that has been a suspect for over 40 years in promoting gastrointestinal disease and even colon cancer.

This additive has no taste or nutritional value and can be replaced with safer ingredients that do the same job. Although it’s well established that it causes harmful gastrointestinal  inflammation and intestinal lesions, it continues to be used by food companies in numerous items such as infant formula, yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, certain meats and pet food, for the very important role it plays in giving products a nice texture, fatty “mouth feel” and a good appearance.

The Top Ten Plus Food Additives to Avoid:
Number 11 –  Carrageenan

Concern over carrageenan goes way back to the 1960s, when researchers linked the carrageenan used in food to gastrointestinal disease and colon cancer in laboratory animals. And the bad news about this ingredient has been piling up ever since.

Carrageenan comes from red seaweed and can be processed into either what’s called “food grade” or “degraded.”  Degraded carrageenan, recognized as a “possible human carcinogen” and not permitted in food, is extremely inflammatory — so much so that it is used extensively in scientific studies to induce inflammation in laboratory animals on which to test anti-inflammatory drugs. While “food grade” sounds a lot nicer, numerous studies have shown even small levels of this version commonly used in food products are enough to cause inflammation in the human colon, and  what’s even more disturbing, it appears that “food grade” can turn into the potent inflammatory and carcinogenic “degraded” version in the human GI tract.

In 2008, Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a “physician-scientist” at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has been studying the effects of this additive for almost 20 years (publishing 18 peer-reviewed papers on the subject), filed a citizen petition asking the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of carrageenan in food, which was turned down by the agency just last year.

Supporting Dr. Tobacman, The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit farm policy research group based in Wisconsin, sent a letter to the FDA this March asking the agency to reconsider Tobacman’s petition, which stated,“When a body of publicly funded scientific literature points to harm from consuming a common, widely used yet unnecessary food ingredient, the FDA should act in the interest of public health.” The group added that every claim that supports the safety of carrageenan in foods and beverages “can be refuted, based on strong scientific evidence.”

The Cornucopia Institute has also just released a report titled “Carrageenan, How a ‘natural’ food additive is making us sick,” which details the scientific studies and other evidence against this additive and urges consumers to avoid foods containing it. The report notes that “(f)or individuals who consume carrageenan on a regular or daily basis, the inflammation will be prolonged and constant, which is a serious health concern since prolonged inflammation is a precursor to more serious disease,” and points out that there are over 100 human diseases, including cancer, associated with such constant inflammation.

This high-priced premium dog food from Blue Buffalo contains carrageenan despite the company claim of being the "next generation of healthy pet food"

If all this sounds bad, perhaps even worse is the permitted use of carrageenan in organic foods.

Last year the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a group that determines what non-organic ingredients can be used in organic foods, approved, by a one-vote margin, the continued use of carrageenan in the certified organic food supply.

According to the Cornucopia Institute, the carrageenan lobby group “convinced enough corporate-friendly NOSB members…to ignore the disturbing findings of dozens of independently funded and peer-reviewed studies…” including those that found high rates of colon cancer in laboratory animals fed the “food grade” carrageenan.

Avoiding carrageenan in your diet (and your pet’s diet as well) is yet another reason to read the ingredient label, even on organic foods.

Although industry predictably is trying to convince consumers with assurances that carrageenan is perfectly safe, as the Cornucopia Institute said in its letter this month to the FDA:  “…there are no benefits to society or public health from adding carrageenan to foods or beverages. It is added solely to change the texture of food. Already, some food manufacturers are replacing carrageenan with other thickeners and stabilizers, or eliminating thickeners altogether and asking their customers to shake the product before consumption. If carrageenan is prohibited, the food industry will quickly adapt.”

In the meantime, we can do them one better – by eliminating foods containing this highly risky “smooth operator” from our personal shopping lists.

Our ‘awfulness awards’ recipients range from soups to cereals

Posted by -- March 21, 2013

Inspired by some of the items I saw on the shelves during my latest trip to the supermarket, I thought it was time to again single out those most worthy of  “dishonorable mention.” After carefully compiling a list of products whose claims and ingredients were among the most dubious, I narrowed it down to the ones I thought particularly deserving of  Food Identity Theft’s “Awfulness Awards.”

And the winners are:

Umm, Umm, Bad Award: Campbell’s Fun Favorites soups

We know the supermarket is filled with numerous bad food choices, but when big and supposedly reputable food companies like Campbell’s specifically market items to kids containing ingredients known to be harmful to them, well, that’s just plain wrong.

As an especially egregious example of that kind of marketing, we selected three of  Campbell’s “Fun Favorites” soups, Scooby-Doo, Phineas and Ferb and Disney Princesses, all of which contain monosodium glutamate.  Now while this neurotoxic flavor enhancer isn’t especially good for people of any age, it’s especially harmful to kids. Experts have known for some time that ingredients such as monosodium glutamate and other “excitotoxins” containing manufactured glutamic acid (among them soy protein isolate, which these soups also contain) can have devastating effects on a child’s personality, behavior and learning ability (for more on these additives, read the blog, “’Glutamic bombs’”).

Monosodium glutamate is used in these products for one reason only: to create a “more flavorful broth” – even if it means putting the health and healthy brain development of its intended consumers at risk.


Misleading Labeling Award: Crisco Baking Sticks

Implying its product is somehow healthier than butter and contains zero trans fats, Crisco’s parent company, J.M. Smucker, is happily taking advantage of an unfortunate labeling loophole that allows up to 0.5 of heart-damaging trans fats per serving to be labeled as zero. (For more on trans fats, look here).

While there are many other products out there that also enjoy this free pass for trans fats, we chose Crisco Baking Sticks because of its proud and prominent front-of-package “0 Trans Fat” claim.





Breakfast Bummers Award #1: Quaker Oatmeal Peaches & Cream

Is it too much to expect of a product that has “peaches” in its name for it to actually contain some? Instead of peaches, however, what you’ll actually find in this peachy-sounding breakfast food are apples pieces treated with sodium sulfite and some artificial peach flavor. But what’s even worse, Quaker has managed to mangle a simple dish such as oatmeal with a “creaming agent” containing partially hydrogenated soybean oil (another source of trans fats), artificial color and more artificial flavors.

Quaker does, in fact, know what peaches are, and uses them in its “Real Medleys” peach oatmeal. Perhaps this version is for those who either don’t care or don’t bother reading ingredient labels.



Breakfast Bummers Award #2: Kellogg’s Mini Wheats Blueberry and Strawberry cereals

Kellogg’s gets this award not only for failing to add any blueberries or strawberries to these fruity sounding cereals, but also for the rest of the lineup of bad ingredients they contain,which include the artificial colors Red #40 and Red 40 lake, along with Blue #1, Blue #2, and Blue 2 lake, as well as the preservative BHT.

So if you’re thinking of buying these cereals for the health benefits of blueberries or strawberries, forget it, because what you’ll actually get are a bevy of artificial colors, which, as noted in our “Top ten additives to avoid” blogs, are widely associated with behavioral problems in some kids. That’s why in Europe, foods containing these additives are required to carry a warning that they “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” And if that’s not bad enough, such fake hues are made from petroleum extracts and coal tar.


‘Goodness Has Nothing To Do With It’ Award: Minute Maid Lemonade

We’ve simply gotta hand it to the advertising agency that landed the Minute Maid Lemonade account for coming up with so many extravagant words to describe this product, some of which they liked so much they actually put them in bold type:

Why does our lemonade taste so good?
With Minute Maid Lemonade you can taste that goodness in every last drop. The refreshingly delicious taste of good times and sunny days. We take the goodness of real lemons to give you the perfectly delicious, naturally refreshing taste you love. Lemonade this good deserves a special package. That’s why we have a refreshing look to go with our great taste and real lemon goodness.

Here’s my version:

Is all that high fructose corn syrup what makes our lemonade taste so good?
With Minute Maid Lemonade you can taste the high fructose corn syrup in every last drop (since it’s the second ingredient after water). We took the goodness of as few lemons as possible (which is why it’s only 3% lemon juice), added all that HFCS along with the artificial color Yellow #5 to make it look more ‘lemony’, three preservatives to allow it to remain “refreshing” for a very long time, and some citric acid to provide tartness, since there isn’t that much actual lemon juice. But then, since the Food and Drug Administration has no legal definition of lemonade, you’re lucky it has any “real lemon goodness” at all!

Judge nixes ban on large ‘sugary drinks’ that really aren’t

Posted by -- March 19, 2013

This 20-ounce Coke contains over ten teaspoons (shown here) of the test-tube sweetener HFCS

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on sales of so-called “sugary drinks” in super-size containers bit the dust last week when state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling rejected Bloomberg’s prohibition as “arbitrary and capricious.”

New York City delis, restaurants, food carts and movie theaters had all readied for the new rule, due to go into effect today, which prohibited them from offering certain caloric drinks to customers in containers any larger than 16 ounces. The court decision, according to one expert, “invalidated” the measure, meaning short of an appeal by Bloomberg and a higher state court overruling Tingling, the city can’t enforce it.

The proposed ban had numerous exemptions, such as a free pass on any size diet drink, as well as beverages containing over 50 percent milk or soy “milk” (curiously enough, beverages made from almonds and rice were not exempt, and also had to be under 16 ounces).

“We believe that the judge’s decision was clearly in error,” Bloomberg responded. But the biggest error in the whole controversy was one that received virtually no notice amid all the hoopla it created. I’m referring to both the mayor’s and the media’s continual use of the term “sugary drinks” to describe the items at issue in his war on obesity, while the high fructose corn syrup actually used to sweeten nearly all such sodas (and scores of other products) these days has hardly merited a mention.  “Sugar-sweetened beverages” and “large sugary sodas” are other erroneous phrases often used in press coverage of the issue.

While this may seem like mere semantics to some people, the distinct differences between real sugar (sucrose) and HFCS are substantial, including the fact that HFCS is likely to contain considerably more fructose than sucrose does – as much as 90 percent, in some cases. Recent research has identified excessive fructose consumption as an added culprit in obesity and associated health problems.

While the consumption of sugar has dropped over the past few decades, HFCS use, which first appeared as a mere blip on U.S. Department of Agriculture data in 1968, steadily climbed to a peak “delivery” of over 63 pounds per person a year in 1999.  On the other hand, sugar use per person was shown on the same USDA chart as being lower in 2011 than it was 102 years ago in 1909.

Even the Food and Drug Administration made the distinction between the two when it rejected a petition from the Corn Refiners Association last year attempting to rename HFCS “corn sugar,” saying that the term “sugar” inaccurately characterizes HFCS.

The varying fructose amounts in HFCS are now the subject of a petition that has been filed by Citizens for Health with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The petition asks that the FDA require a manufacturer using HFCS in a product to determine the fructose percentage in the formulation involved and have the label reflect that information.  The highest amount the FDA allows in HFCS is 55 percent fructose, yet popular sodas such as Coke and Sprite were found in studies to contain fructose levels as high as 65 percent, and a version with 90 percent fructose is advertised by one HFCS manufacturer as the “ideal choice” for low-cal foods and beverages. (Read the petition here, and add your comments here).

So while variations on the term “sugary drinks” may now have come into wide, if inaccurate use when describing what used to be known as “soda pop” (back in the days when it actually contained sugar), the fact remains that it’s high fructose corn syrup that’s actually in those beverages Bloomberg and other officials would like to curtail. And while the mayor and the media have both used sugar cubes in attempts to depict the amounts of sweetener these drinks contain, what they’re really talking about is the sticky, syrupy synthetic sweetener shown in the photo below which represents the 60 teaspoons of HFCS used in these three sodas:


Interestingly, the Bloomberg ban on super-size beverages would have exempted the biggie of them all, the 7-Eleven Super Gulp, which at 44 ounces would contain over 20 teaspoons of high fructose corn syrup. Perhaps if Bloomberg had shown that instead of the erroneous example of sugar cubes, well, who knows how his constituents may have reacted.

The ‘top ten’ additives to avoid: a recap

Posted by -- March 14, 2013

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been blogging about the Citizens For Health selections of the top ten food additives to avoid in the “Read Your Labels” campaign. In case you missed any of the actors in this rogue’s gallery of unnecessary and health-damaging ingredients that turn up in so many products, here’s a recap of what they are, where you’re most likely to find them, and why you should keep them out of your diet.

As the high point of this campaign, Citizens for Health has declared Thursday, April 11 to be  “Read Your Labels Day.” On that date, we would like you to help spread the “411” on these additives by taking a photo of food and beverage products containing these undesirable ingredients and sharing your photos on Instagram by using the hashtag #ReadYourLabels.

The “Read Your Labels”  top ten additives to avoid in review:

#1. High fructose corn syrup

Where you’ll find it:

Where do we begin? HFCS has permeated the marketplace in so many foods and beverages it’s just about impossible to create a list. For starters, it’s in most all sodas, and many other beverages such as tea and flavored drinks, and numerous juice drinks made for kids, as well as other sweetened items such as jellies, cookies and pastries. It also turns up in some surprising places like bread and condiments, and oddly, even in some diet foods (where it’s possible that a super-high fructose version is used). All in all, to purge HFCS from your diet, you need to read ingredient labels and reject all products containing this laboratory sweetener.

Why you should avoid it:

  • HFCS and high fructose consumption have been implicated in a variety of diseases and health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and weight gain.
  • The actual fructose percentage of HFCS is variable and unknown (which is why Citizens for Health has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to require the true fructose content of HFCS formulas be disclosed on food labels).
  • Contrary to industry propaganda, HFCS isn’t “corn sugar” or a “natural” ingredient, but a test-tube concoction that’s much cheaper than sugar.

#2. Aspartame

Where you’ll find it:

Aspartame is apt to turn up in foods labeled as “light” or “low-cal,” diet soft drinks, teas and juice drinks, kid’s vitamins, liquid cold drugs and other pharmaceuticals, chewing gum, cereal, sugar-free candies. Foods containing this artificial sweetener must also bear a warning that the item contains phenylalanine for those with a disorder called PKU.

Why you should avoid it:

  • Aspartame has never been proven to be a safe food additive, and is, in fact, considered by experts to be in a class of ingredients called “excitotoxins” that can literally excite brain cells to death, especially in children and the elderly (as are the three additives that follow);
  • Studies have connected it to the development of brain tumors in rodents and grand mal seizures in monkeys.
  • Thousands of aspartame-related health complaints, from migraines to memory loss to dizziness to vision problems have been reported to the FDA.

#3. Hydrolyzed protein
#4. Autolyzed yeast
#5. Monosodium glutamate

Where you’ll find them:

These “excitoxins” can be found in soups, broth, flavoring additives, chips, dips, soup mixes, ramen noodles, frozen meals, snack mixes, canned fish, and a wide variety of other dishes —  including “natural,” “vegetarian,” and organic ones.

Why you should avoid them:

  • These are all toxic substances containing processed glutamic acid that can kill brain cells. They are especially harmful to kids, the elderly and developing fetuses.
  • Adverse reactions to these additives include everything from skin rashes and asthma attacks to mood swings, upset stomach, migraines, heart irregularities and seizures – even potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

#6 Potassium bromate

Where you’ll find it:

Added to flour, it can be found in breads, flat breads, bakery products, knishes and tortillas. (It may also be listed on ingredient labels as “bromated flour.”)

Why you should avoid it:

  • Potassium bromate has been known for over three decades to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  • It’s banned in Europe, China, Canada and Brazil.
  • If it’s not used “properly,” a significant residue of this additive can end up in the finished food product.

#7 Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO

Where you’ll find it:

Some Gatorade products, Mountain Dew and other drinks containing citrus flavorings.

Why you should avoid it:

  • BVO builds up in fatty tissue and been shown to cause heart damage in research animals.
  • It’s banned in Europe, India and Japan.
  • It’s never been declared safe by the FDA, where its status has remained in limbo  for over 30 years.

#8 BHA and BHT

Where you’ll find them:

This pair of preservatives turn up in many breakfast cereals (including most Kellogg’s varieties), as well as snack foods, chewing gum, pies, cakes and processed meats.

Why you should avoid them:

  • Made from coal tar or petroleum, BHA and BHT have been of concern for decades.
  • Over 30 years ago studies found that after pregnant mice were fed BHT and BHA, their offspring were born with altered brain chemistry.
  • BHA is considered a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization and listed as a carcinogen in California.

#9 Trans fats

Where you’ll find it:

Any food products containing partially hydrogenated oil contain trans fats, regardless of a zero trans fats listing on the nutrition facts label. These can include bakery items, pizza, dough, pies, cakes and cookies, snack foods and frozen meals.

Why you should avoid them:

  • Trans fats increase LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and decrease “good” HDL cholesterol.
  • People with high blood levels of trans fats appear to have a greater risk of developing certain cancers. (Some research has even linked them to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.)
  • All health authorities, including government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are in agreement that trans fats cause heart disease and that cutting them out of our diet could prevent thousand of heart attacks and death from coronary disease each year.

#10 Artificial colors

Where you’ll find them:

They’re present in many cereals, cakes, candy, bakery products, drinks, juice drinks, vitamins and pharmaceuticals.

Why you should avoid them:

  • Artificial colors are widely acknowledged to cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.
  • They’re made from both coal tar and petroleum extracts – hardly the sort of things one would want to ingest.
  • Some, such as Red #3, have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, but are still allowed to be used in foods.

So there they are in review – the top ten offenders among food additives. They’re best avoided (except in the case of processed glutamic acid), by buying organic processed foods, or, better yet, by cooking your own food from scratch as much as possible. But if you’re too hard pressed to always do all that, you should at least take the time to read those ingredient labels – and keep the items that contain these health-threatening intruders out of your kitchen and out of your life.

Often confused with sugar, this ingredient wins the distinction of ‘worst of the worst’ in our ‘Read Your Labels’ campaign

Posted by -- March 12, 2013

The only way to avoid this additive, which turns up almost everywhere, is to read the ingredient label.

Our number-one additive to avoid in the Citizens for Health “Read Your Labels” campaign is a man-made laboratory creation that turns up in such a wide variety of foods and drinks that you need to read labels constantly in order to keep from ingesting it.

Experts have implicated this unnatural ingredient in scores of health issues and diseases. Author and pioneer in integrative medicine Andrew Weil, M.D. calls it “…one of the very worst culprits in the diet.” Consumers have made it perfectly clear they don’t want it in food products, yet manufacturers of those products keep on using it because it’s cheap and easy to add to foods and beverages.

Like processed glutamic acid, this additive also has the backing of a powerful, multimillion-dollar lobbying group whose purpose is to keep it in widespread use, no matter how unpopular it becomes.

Our number one additive to avoid: High Fructose Corn Syrup (or HFCS)

High fructose corn syrup is a highly-processed, industrial sweetener in which glucose from corn syrup is further processed to create a desired amount of much-sweeter fructose. The manufacturing of HFCS is a highly complicated process, but the product is typically less expensive than sugar. It was first created in the late 1950s and hit the marketplace during the ’70s as a sweetening ingredient in soft drinks, its use soon expanding to almost every conceivable processed food product.

Due to increasing consumer dislike of the additive, the lobbying group representing the manufacturers of HFCS, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), made a failed attempt several years ago to “officially” change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar.”  Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) firmly rejected the name switch attempt last May, the CRA had already gone full steam ahead in promoting the “corn sugar” concept. And even now, almost a year after the FDA ruled that HFCS is most decidedly not sugar, the CRA still can’t let go of the idea that it is, currently referring to the industrial sweetener and preservative as “…simply a form of sugar made from corn.”

While the CRA wants us all to believe that HFCS and sugar are identical twins – a misconception often unwittingly spread by media and politicians who describe beverages containing HFCS  as “sugary drinks” – there are numerous and substantial differences between the two, one of them being the higher and varying amounts of damaging fructose found in HFCS.

Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in a 2010 study published in the journal Obesity, found fructose amounts in several HFCS-sweetened sodas, such as Coke, Pepsi and Sprite to be as high as 65 percent – almost 20 percent higher than if they actually contained the 55 percent fructose version of HFCS we’ve all been led to believe they do.

While Dr. Goran’s research should have been the definitive “change (in) the conversation,” as the CRA likes to say, further research by Citizens for Health has turned up additional reasons why high fructose corn syrup is the perfect name for this laboratory-concocted additive.

Last year Citizens for Health filed a petition with the FDA 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 so consumers know just what they’re buying (you can read the petition here and sign it by clicking here). The petition asks that the FDA require a manufacturer that uses HFCS to state the fructose percentage in that formulation and have the label reflect that information, such as HFCS-55, or HFCS-90.

Haven’t yet heard about HFCS 90?  This is a version of the additive that is 90 percent fructose, described by one manufacturer and CRA-member company as “…the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”

A research rap sheet that gets longer all the time

One of the latest negative HFCS studies, done by Dr. Goran, found that countries consuming large amounts of HFCS have a 20 percent higher prevalence of diabetes than those where it isn’t used. Goran said what that study suggests is that “HFCS poses an additional risk” over and above other risk factors, such as obesity,  most likely due to the higher amounts of fructose in HFCS (which even if used at the ‘allowed’ 55 percent is a 10 percent increase over real sugar).

Goran is far from the only researcher to implicate HFCS and high fructose consumption with a variety of diseases and health problems. For example:

  • Georgia Health Sciences University researchers found in 2011 that high fructose consumption by teens can put them at risk for heart disease and diabetes, and also speculated that kids may “crave the cheap, strong sweetener.”
  • A Yale University study in 2013 published in the the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fructose – especially in the form of HFCS – may contribute to weight gain and obesity, since it has little effect on brain regions that act as a check on appetite.
  • Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles in 2012 showed that a diet high in fructose slows the functioning of the brain, hampering memory and learning – and that omega-3 fatty acids may counteract the disruption.
  • University of California at Davis researchers in 2011 found adults who consumed high fructose corn syrup for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, indicators of increased risk for heart disease.

And with the Corn Refiners Association reporting over 19 billion pounds of HFCS shipped in 2011, it’s pretty obvious that this unhealthy and ubiquitous sweetener is not something folks are consuming in “moderation” as the CRA claims they should. And that, many experts believe, goes a long way in explaining why our population has suddenly become so “large.”

So there you have it – a rogue’s gallery of 10 undesirable food additives that, taken together, are no doubt responsible for many of the health problems that plague our nation, marring the quality of life for tens of millions of us and steadily driving up the cost of health care.  And, unfortunately, so powerful and politically connected are the corporations that profit from their continued use in processed food that we cannot depend on regulatory agencies to keep these harmful substances out of our diet, but must take responsibility ourselves. This is why Citizens for Health has declared April 11 as “Read Your Labels Day,” which, hopefully, will mark the beginning of a healthy new trend. Stay tuned for more details and how you can participate now that you have the “411” on the top 10.

A really bad additive actor too often mistaken for a ‘good guy’

Posted by -- March 7, 2013

Found in all kinds of foods and beverages, you need to be on the lookout to keep this toxic additive out of your diet

The second place designation in our Citizens for Health “Read Your Labels” campaign of food additives to avoid goes to a really bad actor found in many supposedly “healthy” foods as well as diet products and beverages. Although this ingredient has become totally entrenched in the marketplace, it has never been proven to be safe. In fact, studies done over 40 years ago connected it to the development of brain tumors in rodents and grand mal seizures in rhesus monkeys.

Even worse – school officials and health agencies are actively promoting this chemical as a healthy alternative for kids!

Number two: Aspartame (a.k.a. NutraSweet, Equal) the ‘diet devil’ in disguise

The aspartame fiasco is an example of how one bad regulatory decision can set the stage for a host of subsequent evils. In this case, the ‘original sin’ was a Food and Drug Administration commissioner’s decision more than three decades ago to ignore the agency’s own scientific advisers by clearing this laboratory-created synthetic sweetener for entry into the food supply, where it was soon firmly ensconced.

Aspartame (originally marketed as NutraSweet), which was accidentally discovered by a chemist working for Searle while looking  for a new ulcer drug, is made up of three neurotoxic chemicals – substances that are toxic to brain cells. (See Tuesday’s blog about other similar excitotoxins liberally added to food.)

Citizens for Health Board Chair Jim Turner, a Washington, D.C. Attorney and author of the best-selling book The Chemical Feast: The Nader Report on Food Protection at the FDA, along with his advocacy group managed to keep aspartame off the market for 11 years until 1981, when its use was approved over the advice of FDA scientists as well as the agency’s Public Board of Inquiry that previously had concluded that it should not be permitted in the food supply.

That official OK was about as clear an example of corporate influence in government as has ever been seen, an obvious political favor to the then head of Searle, Donald Rumsfeld (yes, that Donald Rumsfeld) by the incoming Reagan administration for his help on the transition team. Turner summarizes the entire aspartame fiasco as a case of “political toxicity and biological toxicity working together to create toxic health problems for the public.”

Before long, thousands of aspartame-related health complaints about everything from migraines to memory loss to dizziness to vision problems were being reported to the FDA, which even acknowledged that adverse reactions might be possible, but did nothing to reverse the decision.

Today, a growing number of health-conscious consumers avoid aspartame like the plague, avoiding any product described as “low calorie” or “sugar free.” But if the dairy industry has its way, such descriptive phrases may disappear from the front of flavored milk cartons and other dairy products that contain this chemical sweetener.

Got aspartame?

The latest wrangle involving aspartame is over a petition filed by the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association to “amend the standard identity of milk” (and 17 additional dairy products). If the FDA agrees, it would allow flavored milk with added artificial sweeteners such as aspartame to be labeled as just “milk,” eliminating the now-required “low-cal” notice on the front of the package.

The dairy industry claims this would be all for the benefit of American kids. “Promoting more healthful eating practices and decreasing childhood obesity is one of the most pressing problems facing our country today,” notes the petition, which also states that the phrase “reduced calorie…” according to market research, “doesn’t appeal to children.”

But what it does reflect is that milk consumption is way down, especially in schools where the amount of calories in the products sold in school lunchrooms are starting to be “officially” limited, and the feeling of the dairy industry that in order to sell more milk – the aspartame-sweetened kind, that is – they’ve “got to hide it from the kids.”

Fortunately, a lot of American consumers and parents who have by now become familiar with aspartame’s long and ugly “rap sheet” – which includes actually promoting, rather than discouraging obesity — are no longer willing to go along with the idea that this neurotoxic additive is a “healthy” alternative to sugar, as reflected by the amount of public outrage the petition has sparked, including a counter-petition to “tell the FDA we don’t want aspartame in our milk,” and almost 15,000 comments sent into the FDA docket.

But it does leave one to wonder about how a really bad additive actor, believed to have caused brain tumors in one set of test animals and brain seizures in another (the latter after being fed a milk-based  formula), to say nothing of countless other adverse health effects, can come to be categorized  as a “safe and suitable sweetener” for chocolate milk being sold to school children.

‘Glutamic bombs’: playing tricks on your tongue and havoc with your brain

Posted by -- March 5, 2013

While the package says "No MSG!" a check of the ingredient label shows "yeast extract," an ingredient that always contains manufactured glutamic acid (MSG)

They’re often referred to as “excitotoxins” because of their ability to literally excite brain cells to death. Consumers ingest massive amounts of these often hidden and highly toxic “flavor enhancers,” which can also cause adverse reactions ranging from skin rashes to asthma attacks, mood swings, upset stomach, migraines, heart irregularities and seizures. For those who are extremely sensitive, it can put them into life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

The Food and Drug Administration has been presented with ample evidence that these particular additives can be especially harmful to kids, the elderly and developing fetuses. Yet, they’re allowed to be routinely – and liberally — added to scores of processed foods, even organic, vegetarian and “natural” ones, for the devious purpose of fooling the tongue so the food tastes better.  That’s why we’ve designated them as five, four and three on our list of additives to be avoided in Citizens for Health’s  “Read Your Labels” campaign:

(5) Monosodium glutamate, (4) autolyzed yeast and
(3) hydrolyzed protein

Monosodium glutamate is by now a familiar name that many consumers make a big point to avoid. And while you’ll still see it in numerous products such as chips, ramen noodle dishes and soups, manufacturers know that many consumers check package labels for this neurotoxic flavor enhancer.

That’s why looking for monosodium glutamate on ingredient labels is just the tip of the iceberg.

In selecting our top ten food additives to avoid, we not only picked monosodium glutamate, but also two of the most common ingredients that contain manufactured glutamic acid, the substance in monosodium glutamate that triggers all those adverse reactions. And there are dozens more. In fact, if you want all the manufactured glutamic acid (or MSG) out of your diet, you won’t be eating many processed foods.

There is no doubt that the food industry has a love affair with MSG. It allows products with bland or sparse ingredients to taste really exciting, both saving companies money and adding immensely to sales. Why use 20 chickens in a commercial chicken soup recipe when you can use half that number, add some yeast extract, and everyone will love the taste?

The history of monosodium glutamate use is a sneaky one as well. This toxic chemical found its way into more and more products during the 1950s and ’60s, its use having reportedly doubled in each decade since the 1940s. In addition to being marketed as an ‘off the shelf’ flavor enhancer, it was also at one time added to baby food. But in the late 1950s, researchers tested the chemical on infant mice and discovered it destroyed nerve cells in the inner layers of the retina.  A decade later, prominent neurosurgeon Dr. John Olney, found it had a similar effect on cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Disclosure of that information to Congress in 1969 was enough to get monosodium glutamate voluntarily removed from baby food, to which it was being added in amounts equivalent to those that had produced brain damage in test animals.

Experts now know that feeding excitotoxins, such as monosodium glutamate and other ingredients containing manufactured glutamic acid, to newborns and young children can have devastating effects on learning ability, personality and behavior. In his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills (originally published in 1994), well-respected neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock noted that  “sometimes the effects might be subtle, such as a slight case of dyslexia, or more severe, such as frequent outbursts of uncontrollable anger…”

The list of adverse reactions to these additives is wide and varied, and because they are “sneaked” into so many  foods, highly sensitive people who react to very small doses have no way of knowing they have even been exposed.

The Truth in Labeling Campaign, a grassroots, science-based, information service to help people identify reactions to manufactured glutamic acid and avoid ingesting it, estimates that as many as half of all Americans are sensitive to ingredients containing MSG. And the harm these additives cause isn’t necessarily limited to obvious adverse reactions, for as Blaylock points out, MSG can produce “silent damage to the brain with very few symptoms.”

How to keep your diet (relatively) free of MSG

While monosodium glutamate can be easy enough to look for, the dozens of ingredient names that also contain manufactured glutamic acid can turn a trip to the supermarket into an adventure in chemistry.

Along with autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed protein, you need to watch out for anything that’s “hydrolyzed,” and basically any ingredient name that contains the word “protein” (e.g., whey protein isolate, textured protein).  (For a complete list of ingredients that “always” and “often” contain MSG,  look here). To add to the confusion, many companies use the trick of  putting “NO MSG ADDED” on the labels of food products that contain various amounts of manufactured glutamic acid, which is ‘hidden’ in over 40 different ingredients.

Another misleading Swanson label. This one claims "No MSG added."

Highly sensitive people can react to extremely small doses of these additives, making nearly all processed foods a dangerous proposition for them. One such extremely MSG-sensitive individual was the late Jack Samuels, who with his wife Adrienne, a Ph.D. focusing on research methodology, founded the Truth in Labeling Campaign, sharing studies and information they learned over decades of research at their web site

Now that you have some idea of where you’ll find various forms of MSG, if you want to know why such dangerous ingredients are still allowed in food, we suggest you read  The Man Who Sued the FDA,

by Adrienne Samuels, which documents Jack and Adrienne’s own story of  ‘discovery’ in regard to MSG that spans several decades. The book is also the story of how industry and, in particular, a lobbying group known as the Glutamate Association gets its way when it comes to keeping this toxic additive in the food supply at all costs, even to the point of producing studies claiming MSG to be “safe” that many experts have deemed blatantly flawed.

Admittedly, keeping your family’s diet free of these neurotoxic substances may be tricky, but is well worth the effort. Remember, the brain you save may be your own.