Archive for April, 2013

Calling it ‘Greek yogurt’ doesn’t mean it’s either Greek or yogurt

Posted by -- April 30, 2013

Does Dannon really expect us to believe that "an authentic Greek recipe" would contain carrageenan and corn starch?

 

There’s no doubt that Greek yogurt is all the rage, helping fill up the massive yogurt section of the dairy aisle with even more confusing choices. But if it’s all “Greek” to you, you’re not alone. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t want to touch it and even the National Yogurt Association wants no part of an official definition of what “Greek” is.

In reality it should be quite simple. Yogurt, Greek or not, is simply milk cultured with certain types of bacteria, beneficial bacteria, that transforms the milk into one of the oldest “health foods” there is.  People have been culturing, or fermenting foods for thousands of years.

Greek yogurt is simple as well, the difference being that the finished yogurt is strained to take out the liquid whey, making it quite thick and higher in protein. It’s hard to believe that Big Food could add so many more ingredients to such a basic recipe.

The rise of the Greek yogurt market in the U.S., called “nothing short of astronomical,” by The Wall Street Journal, first entered by Fage and a few years later by Chobani, was something that took the big yogurt leaders Dannon and Yoplait by surprise. They weren’t quite ready to go Greek — but not to worry, food technology had an answer for that.

John T. Allan, director of regulatory and international affairs for the National Yogurt Association told me that “there’s not really any rhyme or reason, because there is no FDA regulation that defines ‘Greek’, so I think the manufacturers out there are just kind of calling it what they want to call it.”

And making a traditional Greek yogurt requires special machinery – described by NPR as a “trade secret” when their reporter visited the Chobani plant. To make millions of pounds of this concentrated yogurt, you can’t exactly strain it through a cheesecloth.

While “Greek” yogurt is specially strained, Allan told me, “you have other products that achieve the same effect by adding protein to thicken it up…it’s the same product, it’s just how you get there.”

Those “other products” include milk protein concentrate (MPC), an additive that is currently the basis of a lawsuit filed against Yoplait USA and its parent company, General Mills, challenging its Yoplait Greek yogurt as being neither Greek nor meeting the FDA definition of yogurt.

The case of the undefined ‘mystery ingredient’

Arizona attorney Hart Robinovitch, who filed the 2012 action against General Mills, told me the case is still pending, after the judge “refused to rule on the merits of our lawsuit and told us to go to the FDA. And that’s what we did.”

Robinovitch’s case revolves around some twisted and confusing FDA regulations about what exactly can be in a product that is called “yogurt,” or more specifically the use of MPC in yogurt, which the attorney describes as a mystery ingredient that is not included in the yogurt “standard of Identity” (the FDA’s official specifications for what ingredients are allowed in certain food products).

“We don’t know what it (MPC) is,” Robinovitch  contends, “as there has never been a definition if it. What is it, where is it coming from, what kind of animal is it coming from?”

According to the nonprofit group Food & Water Watch, just about all of the MPC used in the U.S. is imported and it’s “unclear if imported MPCs are the product of cow’s milk or if they come from animals like yak or water buffalo.” Whatever the case,  it’s “largely unregulated,” the group’s web site notes.

Robinovitch said while he is aware of other products that are similar to yogurt with MPC in them, “they are not called ‘yogurt’,” any more than Kraft can “call Cheez Whiz ‘cheese’.”

Since Robinovitch’s case was filed, Yoplait has introduced a new version called “Greek 100,” this one without the MPC, but with some  decidedly nontraditional Greek-type ingredients such as corn starch, along with an artificial sweetener and preservative.

“The purpose of our lawsuit is to make it easier for the consumer,” Robinovitch added. “If someone is choosing yogurt at the supermarket quickly, as most people do, they shouldn’t be deceived into buying what is really a cheaper product produced with an additive” as opposed to traditional Greek yogurt. “There is a large likelihood of deception there.”

Seems like ‘mum’s the word’ when pet and people food makers are questioned about carrageenan

Posted by -- April 25, 2013

Why do all these pet foods contain carrageenan?

Since the Cornucopia Institute came out with its report on carrageenan, “How a ‘natural’ food additive is making us sick,” consumer concern has grown over why a suspect food additive that is widely used, but basically unnecessary, is still in the food supply.

Carrageenan, a highly inflammatory agent, is derived from red seaweed and used as a thickening agent in loads of foods from infant formula to yogurt, meat products, pet food and ice cream, both conventional and organic. Leading the fight to have the additive banned is Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a “physician-scientist” at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has published 18 peer-reviewed papers on carrageenan, studying its effects for almost 20 years. Numerous studies have shown even small levels of “food grade” carrageenan used in food products are enough to cause inflammation in the human colon.

I first wrote about this ingredient at the end of March after blog readers suggested it be added to our Citizens for Health top  additives to avoid. Since that blog appeared, Food Identity Theft readers have been asking about specific brands that don’t contain it, and particularly where to find carrageenan-free canned pet food – a question I myself had after going through dozens of brands of dog and cat food at our area Petsmart store. It appears that carrageenan is the most commonly used additive in high-price premium brands of pet food as well as cheaper ones.

I also had questions for food manufacturers that use the ingredient, and have made numerous attempts to get some answers from both Whole Foods Market (which, oddly enough, makes products with and without the additive) and the Blue Buffalo pet food company, whose products I had been feeding my dog and cat for years.

The Whole Foods media relations specialist at the company’s “global headquarters” answered my email right away, saying she would see what the “product folks” have to “share” about carrageenan, but that was about a month ago, and subsequent calls and emails have gone unanswered.

I didn’t even get that far with Blue Buffalo, leaving messages at both the corporate headquarters and the consumer information line, all which received no response. Since “Blue,” as the company likes to refer to itself, seemed to have no one to answer the phone at its Wilton, Connecticut offices, I plowed through the automated employee phone directory, leaving messages with each name I came up with. As the company makes what it calls its “true blue promise,” of “only the finest natural ingredients” I certainly thought someone there would want to comment, but that was apparently not the case.

One group that does want to talk about carrageenan, however, is the Seaweed Industry Association of the Phillippines (SIAP), which issued a recent press release both threatening to sue Dr. Tobacman and lamenting the fate of its “fisher folks” who are “now under threat of losing their livelihood” as a result of her findings.

SIAP Board Secretary Marcial Solante is quoted in the release as saying “they will challenge the ‘false claim’ scientifically” before the U.S. National Organics Standards Board, and that “we will sue her definitely but only after we will be presenting these scientific evidences to dispute her claimed (sic).”

I asked Dr. Tobacman for a comment on that statement and she told me in an email that “(s)eaweed farmers will need to diversify, so that they are not dependent on farming a product that activates innate immune responses in human cells.”

She added that “carrageenan has been used in scientific experiments for decades and is well-known to cause inflammation, yet continues to be used in a wide variety of food products” as well as in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products, such as room air deodorizers.

If you want to join the growing number of consumers who are avoiding this additive, which Dr. Tobacman claims “can lead to harmful biological effects in human cells and in animals exposed to (it)” the Cornucopia Institute has put together a shopping list of organic foods without carrageenan that can be found here. Pet owners who want to ditch this highly inflammatory ingredient from their best friends’ diets can also check out this page at the Natural Cat Care blog of “best” cat foods, all of which contain no carrageenan (most of the brands listed also make dog food, so check both the manufacturer’s web site and the product’s ingredient list.)’

It also gives you yet another opportunity to tell the food industry, “I’m fed up and I’m not going to eat it anymore” (nor, for that matter, is my dog or cat).

Consumers tell FDA: ‘don’t mess with our milk’

Posted by -- April 23, 2013

What do you do if you’re the great and powerful American Dairy Industry and you want to make a major change in U.S. Food and Drug Administration food-labeling regulations, only to have your proposal met with an uproar from consumers? Well, you can then try and soft-pedal the actual aim of your petition   – with a little help from your friends at the FDA of course!

Last Monday the regulatory agency posted a page at its web site to address the “confusion” on the issue. This new ‘education’ page, headed “FDA wants your opinion on dairy-products labels,” attempts to explain what the petition is all about by including a lot of rhetoric from the dairy industry itself – for example, “reduced calorie” labeling is “unattractive to children,” and  updating the milk standard “would promote honesty and fair dealing.” The page then asks the public to offer comments on such questions as whether the proposed change will create an “increased burden for consumers” who want to know what their milk might be sweetened with.

So what’s behind the FDA’s transparent attempt to defend the petition against being ‘misunderstood’ by consumers? The answer can be found in the trade pub Food Business News, which quotes International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) spokesperson Peggy Armstrong as saying that the petition has “drawn some negative feedback due to misunderstanding” – an apparent reference to more than 33,0000 negative comments on the petitions filed at the site.

Now granted, there has been a good deal of confusion about the purpose of this petition, which attempts to change the “standard of identity” for milk (and certain other dairy products). But one thing is clear from the responses – the fact that many people don’t want either the FDA or the industry to “mess with our milk,” as one writer put it, and just intuitively don’t seem to like the idea of “aspartame” being connected with “milk” in the same sentence.

But while supposedly attempting to dispel whatever “confusion” may exist over the petition, neither the FDA nor the IDFA  have bothered to inform us about what the really big story here is – one that I wrote about at the end of last month.

As I noted then, the most alarming consequence for parents should the FDA approve the petition — and what’s in it for the dairy industry — is that by changing the standard of identity for milk, in effect the FDA will now be granting permission for aspartame-sweetened flavored milk to be offered in the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program, which it is currently not.

Existing regulations mandate that these two federally supported nutrition programs must include meals that offer eight ounces of milk. And that milk must be the kind described in the milk “standard of identity.” By changing that standard, I was informed by Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs, it would mean that artificially sweetened milk would then “meet the definition” required to potentially be served up to more than 31 million kids a day.

The “confusion” alluded to by the FDA stemmed from many people’s mistaken belief that aspartame is not now allowed in milk, and would be under the proposed change, The fact is, however, that nothing currently stops manufacturers from adding aspartame to flavored milk to their heart’s content – just as long as the front label contains some additional words to “signal the presence of artificial sweeteners” such as  “reduced calorie milk” or “no added sugar” or perhaps even  “dairy beverage.” And that’s where the new identity standard would come in, both knocking out the restriction against allowing artificially sweetened milk in those school programs and eliminating the front label “signal” (although aspartame would still be listed on the ingredients label).

But even if you don’t understand all the technical aspects of what a “standard of identity” is or the basics of food labeling laws, the thought of every child who participates in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program being offered  aspartame-sweetened milk on a daily basis should be enough of a reason to add your comments on this petition before the May 21 deadline. You can click here to go to the FDA site and tell them what you think.

Besides protecting kids from being served a neurotoxic chemical in their milk at school, it’s a chance for you to help “educate” both the FDA and the dairy  industry in the kind of standards that consumers expect them to maintain.

Corn Refiners admit HFCS with 90 percent fructose used ‘for decades’

Posted by -- April 18, 2013

Exactly how much fructose does a can of Coke contain?

If you’ve been reading my blogs here at Food Identity Theft, you’ve no doubt heard about HFCS 90, a ‘super-high’ high fructose corn syrup formulation which, according to a leading manufacturer of this laboratory-created sweetener, Archer Daniels Midland, is the “ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”

My previous research indicated that both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) know about HFCS 90 and its food uses. Numerous studies, patents (including a method for using HFCS 90 to produce a reduced-calorie beverage that was assigned to PepsiCo) and journal articles refer to it and all the different foods that can be sweetened with it.

Of course, the position of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has been that the fructose content of HFCS is “virtually the same” as real sugar — saying on its web site that the sweetener “is actually NOT high in fructose.”

But now, the CRA itself has come out and admitted that HFCS containing such mega doses of fructose has been in use “with FDA knowledge for decades.”

Given that the fructose content of HFCS is a topic the CRA would prefer not to discuss, it’s unlikely the organization would ever have made such an acknowledgment if not for a petition filed with the FDA this past September by Citizens For Health.  The petition requests that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose levels above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows) and in the interim, require that actual percentage of fructose it contains be specified on the label.

In responding to that petition, J. Patrick Mohan, interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, not only states that HFCS 90 has been used for “decades,” but also claims the “FDA acknowledged this in 1996 when it issued the HFCS GRAS (generally recognized as safe) affirmation regulation.” What Mr. Mohan neglects to mention, however, is in what context the FDA “acknowledged” HFCS 90 use.

In fact, what the agency said was, “This product contains a substantially different ratio of glucose to fructose than…HFCS-55. The HFCS-90 is not included in this rulemaking because the agency does not have adequate information to assess the safety of residual levels of the processing materials in the final product.”  The FDA also noted that “additional data on the effects of fructose consumption that is not balanced with glucose consumption would be needed to ensure that this product is safe.”

Seeking further clarification, I asked the agency last year about HFCS 90, and was informed in an email from  a spokesperson that HFCS 90 is a “nonstandardized food” and is “not high fructose corn syrup.”

‘Limited’ to what, exactly?

Mohan’s response also makes mention of “fluctuations in fructose levels above 42 or 55 %” in HFCS, which he apparently believes “would be expressly permitted” by regulatory officials.

Those so-called “fluctuations” were ‘discovered’ in 2010 by Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. Dr. Goren, who regards higher fructose intake as a risk factor in health problems such as diabetes (as do other experts), analyzed samples of Coke, Pepsi and Sprite, and found that fructose  levels in the HFCS used in these popular beverages went as high as 65 percent.

“The only information we have,”  Goran told me in an interview, “is that industry says sodas and beverages are made with HFCS 55, which suggests that 55 percent of the sugar is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes,” he said. “So we decided we wanted to actually verify, measure the fructose content so we could get a better handle on how much fructose people were actually consuming every time they open a can of soda.”

In fact, consumers have been given the impression that HFCS is even lower in fructose than that.  In  a TV ad blitz sponsored by the CRA, they were told that HFCS and sugar are basically the same, having “virtually” equal amounts of fructose and glucose. (Natural sugar, or sucrose, contains a fixed amount of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose). One commercial – although it wasn’t produced by the CRA, but another group called “SweetScam.com” a site attacking critics of HFCS – even depicts HFCS as a psychiatric patient complaining to Dr. Ruth about having a name like “high fructose corn syrup” that was really “stupid…as I’m actually low in fructose” and being advised to change it to “corn sugar” (a recommendation that was flatly rejected by the FDA).

But Mohan, must have missed all those commercials, judging from his letter to the FDA, which also states that  “…there is no evidence that consumers have been ‘told’” about the fructose content of HFCS, and that “(I)nformation of that specificity simply does not appear on product labels or in the advertising or marketing of HFCS-containing, end-user products.” And while his letter claims that HFCS 90 uses are “minor” and that the “FDA has been aware of these limited uses for decades,” he provides no hints as to which food products may actually contain it or any idea of what “minor” and “limited” actually mean in this context.

All of this leaves us with a question: how do we know the precise fructose content of food products containing HFCS? Is it 42 percent, 55 percent, 65 percent, 90 percent,or somewhere in between? And what, exactly, are those supposedly “limited” and “minor” items that the CRA now admits have contained the 90 percent fructose version of HFCS for all these years?

These are things every American consumer should have a right to know. And by signing and supporting this Citizens for Health Petition to have HFCS fructose amount labeled, you’ll be making a statement that secrecy is impermissible when it comes to what we’re ingesting – and how much.

A spoonful of HFCS is neither ‘OK’ nor especially ‘happy’

Posted by -- April 16, 2013

Just what are “happy calories”? If you have no idea, Coca-Cola is only to glad to fill you in on the principle of caloric contentment.

The world’s largest beverage company wants you to know that the excess calories you gain from guzzling its flagship product Coke are really your friends, ready to be spent on “extra happy activities” such as dog walking, laughing and dancing.

If that seems kind of bizarre, the fact is that its “I just want to be OK” commercial, which has been airing in prime time, is said to be one of the ways Coke is addressing “obesity head-on.”

By bringing a familiar “calories in, calories out” message to consumers (one Corn Refiners Association President Audrae Erickson has been fond of conveying in her appearances over the last few years),  the soft-drink giant has been doing its part to spread the word that that “…all calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola.,” but can be easily worked off through all kinds of recreational pastimes.

Of course, there are scores of consumers and health professionals who would call those calories in Coke, which come from high fructose corn syrup, distinctly ‘unhappy’ ones that may ‘count’ in ways we hadn’t counted on.

For example, health guru and integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, M.D. calls HFCS “a direct driver of obesity in kids,” and something he predicts is “going to turn out to be one of the very worst culprits in (our) diet.”

And Dr. Mark Hyman, bestselling author, practicing physician and chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, notes that the consumption of high fructose corn syrup, which went from zero to over 60 pounds per person per year, has coincided with “obesity rates (that) have more than tripled and diabetes incidence (increasing) more than sevenfold” –  a correlation he believes “cannot be ignored.”

In fact, if you look at “delivery” data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it wasn’t until 1968 that HFCS first appeared as a little blip on the data chart, coming in at 0.1 pounds consumed per person annually. By 1978 we were sucking in 10.8 pounds per person per year, and it was all uphill (or downhill) from there, hitting an annual high in 2002 of 62.9 pounds of HFCS consumption per capita.

By contrast, our sugar intake has actually declined  over the last 100 years, with folks in 1909 consuming over 73 pounds per person annually, rising to 101 pounds by 1969, only to drop almost 40 pounds per person by 2011 with the corresponding rise in HFCS use.

And if you’ve ever wondered how much actual HFCS might be in that soda, we’ve actually gone to the trouble of  measuring out the amount of this test-tube sweetener that can be found in various ‘syrupy’ drinks (which, as we’re pointed out before, are not “sugary drinks” in spite of how many times you see them mistakenly described as such).  The results are shown below.

The point is that while sugar may be sugar, it is not high fructose corn syrup (as was made clear last year by the Food and Drug Administration)  – and just as a teaspoon of high fructose corn syrup is not the same thing as “a spoonful of sugar” (or a sugar cube), neither can the calories found in these two very different sweeteners be said to affect us the same way, in the opinion of many experts.

So while it may once have been fairly easy to “work (or play) off” the calories in a truly “sugary drink” and “be OK,” it may not be quite so simple with one whose caloric content comes from HFCS.

Perhaps someone ought to tell the folks who market Coke.

 

Six really bad food choices we’ve selected in observance of ‘Read Your Labels Day’

Posted by -- April 11, 2013

Now that the first annual Read Your Labels Day is finally here, have you shared with the world a processed food label with some questionable ingredients yet?

If not, get out your phone, find a food product with one or more of our top ten additives to avoid, take a photo of that product’s ingredient label and share it on Instagram using the hashtag #ReadYourLabels. Foods containing these bad ingredients are (unfortunately) very easy to find. Chances are there are probably several in your own kitchen right now.

We have our own special picks we would like to share with you – six really bad food choices, and all the more reasons why before buying a product, you always need to check out the ingredients first.

1. Kellogg’s Pop Tarts

Why we picked this: As a very popular breakfast “replacement” and snack food marketed to kids, this product contains some of the very additives parents should make a point of avoiding, including high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, artificial colors Blue #2 and Blue #1 and partially hydrogenated oil.

The beautiful and appealing Pop Tarts packaging also makes nutritional claims such as “baked with real fruit” (only “equal to 10%” however), “Good source of 5 B Vitamins,” and “Good source of 7 Vitamins & Minerals.” While all this may be technically accurate, Pop Tarts are in no way a good source of nutrition, and these package claims only serve to attract the eye of busy and tired consumers who can be easily convinced they are purchasing an item packed with ‘food value’ for their kids.

2. Campbell’s Fun Favorites soup lineup

Why we picked this: This is another example of a product line with kids in mind that actually harbors some pretty awful ingredients, including the brain-damaging additive monosodium gultamate, along with another “excitotoxin” soy protein isolate, both added for one reason only: to create a “more flavorful broth.”

While monosodium glutamate and other forms of manufactured glutamic acid aren’t good for anyone, they can be especially harmful to children. And with the packaging depicting some of the most popular cartoon characters around, such as Phineas and Ferb and Disney Princesses, there can be no doubt that’s precisely the market Campbell’s is targeting with these products.

3. CapriSun Mountain Cooler

Why we picked this: If you just looked at the front of the CapriSun packaging you might think it’s a fruit juice containing apples and raspberries. In label-reading reality, however, this drink is little more than water and high fructose corn syrup, with an apple juice content of just 10 percent. And while the box copy boasts about containing “15 percent less packaging” and the fact that’s what’s left is “made from renewable material” and  is “still recyclable!” and that by buying this product you can “respect the pouch and the planet, too,” it’s what’s inside the pouch that counts. And it’s not what the graphics make it out to be.

4. Hungry-Man Boneless Fried Chicken dinner

Why we picked this:  While no ingredient-conscious individual would ever consider “Hungry Man” frozen meals to be anywhere close to “healthy” eating, this product contains so many of our top ten additives to avoid we just had to include it. Whether it’s partially hydrogenated oil, soy protein concentrate or monosodium glutamate, this is where you’ll find it – and that’s just in the chicken patties. Move on to the mashed potatoes and you’ll turn up more partially hydrogenated oil, the preservative BHT and some “natural” flavorings. Consider the brownie, and you’ve got even more partially hydrogenated oil, more preservatives and some artificial flavors. The “sauce” contains more of the same. All in all, this product contains seven sources of artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oil and seven different sources of artificial preservatives.

In fact, Hungry-Man frozen meals represent such amazing concoctions of food science that they should probably be put in a time capsule, where they might very well look and taste the same a century from now.

5. Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts

Why we picked this: Pie is a simple and traditional pleasure that doesn’t deserve to be adulterated by ingredients such as partially hydrogenated lard preserved with BHA, Yellow 5 and Red 40. The package also makes a 0 grams trans fat claim that deceptively takes advantage of an FDA labeling loophole allowing products with under 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to be labeled as having none.  All-told, “America’s #1 pie crust” has certainly strayed a long way from a dessert that’s as American as…well, apple pie.

6. Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth

Why we picked this: This Swanson product is a perfect example of a misleading “No MSG” label, hoping to snare consumers who wish to avoid this neurotoxic “flavor enhancer.”

Although monosodium glutamate can be easy enough to look for, there are dozens of ingredient names that contain various amounts of manufactured glutamic acid, enough to cause a reaction in an MSG-sensitive individual. (For a complete list of ingredients that “always” and “often” contain MSG, look here).

And there are a lot more bad food choices where those came from. Hopefully they will stay in the supermarket and not make it to your kitchen.

Registered dietitians register dissent over ‘Big Food’ presence at their event

Posted by -- April 9, 2013

PepsiCo booth at the 2012 AND convention. Photo courtesy Nancy F. Huehnergarth

Back in February, I told you about the ‘traveling show’ being staged by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to spread its mantra that “the body can’t tell the difference” between high fructose corn syrup and natural sugar. Presentations scheduled this year include not only three trade shows, but the School Nutrition Conference planned for Kansas City in July.

Now, you might not think that “school nutrition” and HFCS sound like a particularly good fit. But try telling that to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Formerly known as the American Dietetic Association, it’s described as the “world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals” with over 74,000 members, mostly registered dietitians (RDs). And last year, not only did its annual Food and Nutrition conference feature a CRA booth, but several “continuing education credit” sessions for registered dietitians conducted by the CRA.

The corn refiners, of course, aren’t the only Big Food participants in “health and nutrition” seminars of this sort — in fact some of the biggest sponsors of such gatherings are also among the industry’s best-known names. And if you’re thinking that doesn’t sound quite right, you’re not alone. Those who believe that food companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Hershey’s, along with lobbying organizations like the Corn Refiners Association, should not be sponsors of such events are many of the very same RDs that processed-food companies and trade groups would like to convince of the safety and beneficial nature of their products.  And some of these dissenting dietitians have just come out with a new Facebook page, “Dietitians for Professional Integrity” that’s intended to protest the presence of such corrupt influences at professional get-togethers.

Having garnered more than 2,500 “likes” as of this writing, the page features a strongly worded statement  that “these sponsorships pose a serious conflict of interest for a nutrition organization, and harm our credential(s) and reputation.” It further notes that while the AND claims its mission is to “…improve the nation’s health and advance the profession of dietectics…” there are many RDs who believe that allowing the food industry such “insider” contact with AND members by sponsoring annual meetings, giving educational seminars, having conference exhibits and handing out marketing materials has corrupted the very essence of the organization.

A recent posting on the page by a self-described “newly minted RD” comments “Let’s not have our conference and expo floor look like a junk food trade show where we ‘learn’ about the ‘nutritious’ offerings of McDonald’s,” further pointing out the need for those in the profession to not appear “as nothing more than easily manipulated professionals who can sell their largely unhealthy products to an unsuspecting public.”

Along with sponsoring such conferences and “nutritional” expos, the food industry and associated lobbying groups have a few more tricks up their sleeve, one being industry-sponsored studies on the topic or ingredient in question.

Recently for instance, I told you about Big Corn’s ‘spokesdoc’ Dr. James Rippe and his newly published article,  “Scientists conclude no significant metabolic difference between consuming high fructose corn syrup and sugar.” Now while it’s become pretty apparent, and widely acknowledged that there are some really big differences between the two, according to Dr. Rippe’s CRA-sponsored paper, there’s really no cause for concern.

Nor is the the CRA alone in funding papers and studies that somehow always seems to come out on the side of the group spending the bucks to sponsor them. But how does that work, exactly?

Bruce Bradley, former Big Food insider, now a blogger and author who is highly critical of the very industry he once worked for offered this explanation in a recent news interview:

“When these big food corporations are participating in these studies, they are very carefully designed…they are set up for success.”

But what about industry-sponsored research that involves big-name universities? “They are working with those universities to pretty much set up the results,” Bradley explained. “They have a good understanding of the different variables…and they’ve constructed the study in such a way that most likely it will bare results that are positive.”

“The cards,” he added,  “are stacked in a certain way so that it most likely will shed a favorable light on their products.”

Gee, who would ever have guessed?

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Remember, this Thursday, April 11th is “Read Your Labels” day. Please join in this movement to promote awareness that the list of ingredients on a processed food label is the part you really need to read in order to know what it is you’re actually eating.

To learn more about the additives on those lists, check out the blogs on our top ten to avoid, and when you find any of those ingredients, take a photo of the label with your phone and share it with the world on Instagram using the hashtag #ReadYourLabels.

If you’re among those who are “fed up, and not going to eat it anymore,” be sure and share what you find out with others on 4-11.

Take part in ‘Read Your Labels Day’, and tell the food industry that you’re ‘fed up’ and not going to eat it any more!

Posted by -- April 4, 2013

A food package is a very interesting item. While it supposedly contains something of vital importance to our survival (or just as likely, one that has been adulterated to the point where it does us more harm than good ), it is a prime piece of advertising for a company – one whose objective is to get the product it contains off the shelf and into your shopping cart.

To help you discover the real facts, or “411” on what all this processed food is really made of, Citizens For Health has declared April 11th  as “Read Your Labels” day.  We hope you join us in this movement to promote awareness that the part of the food package that means the most isn’t its graphics — the fancy font and appetizing depictions – or even (gasp) the nutrition facts label. What counts the most when it comes to processed food is the ingredients label.

Without knowledge of the actual ingredients that go in to a food product, you really have no idea what you’re eating. That’s why we want you to get involved by not only reading those labels, but showing us those labels.  We want you to stand up to the food industry and show that as a  knowledgeable consumer, you won’t accept deceptive marketing ploys, like references to nonexistent fruit or bogus claims of “no MSG.” Or that you’re not fooled by cereals with fake colors and preservatives and soups that “taste good” due to the presence of monosodium glutamate and other forms of free glutamic acid,  and that you’re wise to the hidden trans fat in products that claim to have “zero” amounts.

For more information on many of these additives to avoid, check out the blogs on our top ten, and when you find any of these ingredients take a photo with your phone and share it with the world on Instagram using the hashtag #ReadYourLabels. Helping others become aware of the presence of these nasty additives is a true good deed!

Don’t be fooled by ‘what’s out front’

What do you look at first when you see a processed food? Most likely the colorful, carefully designed front of the package, known in the industry as the “principal display panel” or PDP. I prefer to think of the PDP as prime real estate. Here’s where the big, beautiful photo of the food appears – usually with the tiny words “enlarged to show detail.” The goal of most principal display panels is to provide you with information that is as deceptive as is legally possible.

Along with the front panel PDP, there are also areas allowed to be used as “alternate PDPs,” and immediately to the right of the PDP is the “information panel” that contains most of the data required by the Food and Drug Administration. If the packaging meets all its FDA-required statements, the back of the box or container offers yet more free real estate for the manufacturer to hype the goods inside.

But the only part of the label  you should be paying any real attention to, the ingredient panel, which will give you the real lowdown on what  the product is made from, is neither  fancy nor usually even easy to read. Sometimes it seems to be presented in such small type that even magnifying glasses won’t help (which is probably a sign that the food inside is best avoided). But it’s there if you strain your eyes, just to the right of the PDP, underneath the nutrition facts label.

Oatmeal, for example, is about as simple as food comes. You put oats in water and cook it for a length of time depending on the cut of the oats. Below is a pretty box of Quaker Peaches & Cream instant oatmeal. It looks simple enough, but check out what it’s really made of.

And how about this Minute Maid lemonade?  Does it look to you like the ingredients match the package copy?

Once you start really reading the ingredients that processed food products contain, there’s no going back. One good ‘side effect’ of such label scrutiny is that when you discover what all these food “chemists” have been up to, you may start cooking more of your own food, using real ingredients that actually belong in a kitchen, rather than a laboratory.

Industry ‘spokesdoc’ trying to fool you into believing HFCS is the same as sugar

Posted by -- April 2, 2013

Why is this man laughing?

In my Google news feed yesterday, April 1st, there appeared two stories at the top of the list about high fructose corn syrup. The top story listed the “health benefits” of HFCS, the second claimed that “scientists conclude” both sugar and HFCS are basically the same stuff. Now which one do you suppose was the April Fool’s joke?

Since the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has put out some amazingly silly things under the guise of “information,” it might be a close call. But it’s the first one, by a staff writer at The Montclarion, the student paper for New Jersey’s Montclair State University, that does say “featured in the April Fool’s Day edition” up top, right above the part that says consuming HFCS is “just like eating fruits and vegetables.”

The second item, a press release titled “Scientists Conclude No Significant Metabolic Difference Between Consuming High Fructose Corn Syrup and Sugar,” has no such “fooling you” notice. In fact, it came from a Harvard-educated cardiologist, Dr. James Rippe. So, you might ask, what’s funny about that?

Well, let’s just say it’s a kind of “insider joke.”  By that, I’m referring to the fact that Dr. Rippe is an acknowledged insider with the CRA itself, and his latest findings are simply another attempt to neutralize any bad press or studies that put its pet product, HFCS,  in a negative light. For, as it turns out, James Rippe, M.D, the founder of the “Rippe Lifestyle Institute,” is also an official ‘spokesdoc’ for the CRA who has consistently led the group’s efforts to equate this fructose-heavy artificial sweetener with sugar and debunk any research that comes to a contrary conclusion.

In fact, Dr. Rippe, who is fond of saying that “the scientific debate is largely over” related to HFCS and obesity, doesn’t try to conceal his ties to the CRA, noting at the bottom of the recent press release that he has “received unrestricted educational grants from the Corn Refiners Association.”  But perhaps the most interesting admission he makes along these lines can be found in the “acknowledgments” section  of the study itself, where he thanks his “friends and colleagues,” including two individuals from the Archer Daniels Midland Company, which happens to be one of the largest producers of … high fructose corn syrup.

The scientific evidence keeps piling up

But despite claims by Dr. Rippe and  his “friends and colleagues” to the effect that any controversy regarding HFCS is over and that all concerns about it are merely Internet-generated rumors, the scientific rap sheet implicating HFCS with a variety of diseases and health issues just keeps growing.

For example:

  • A study conducted in 2010 from Duke University Medical Center found that consuming high fructose beverages are harmful to the liver. They also identified a link between patients with “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease” (which can lead to liver failure and liver cancer), and even further liver damage caused by fructose consumption, which the researchers stated mostly came from drinking beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
  • Another study in 2010 by UCLA  researchers found that pancreatic cancer cells can effectively utilize fructose to proliferate. One of the study’s authors, Dr. Anthony Heaney, was quoted by Reuters and other news sources as saying, “I think this paper has a lot of public health implications. Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of high fructose corn syrup in our diets.”
  • 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 expressed the opinion that young people were especially apt to develop cravings for products sweetened with HFCS.
  • 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.

The fact is that “experts” like Dr. Rippe are always being engaged by industry to make products that are under a cloud, such as HFCS, appear relatively benign and harmless. But once you’re knowledgeable about what they’re up to, you don’t have to allow them to play you for a fool – whether on April 1st or any other time.