Archive for July, 2013

Lawsuit challenges Truvia’s claim to being a ‘natural’ sweetener

Posted by -- July 30, 2013

A new class-action lawsuit calls Cargill’s Truvia marketing “unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent…” and “likely to deceive” consumers into believing its “stevia” brand sweetener is natural when it is in fact “highly chemically processed.”

The complaint, filed at the beginning of July in Hawaii federal court, also states that Truvia is merely one percent stevia, the rest being synthetic erythritol, which is derived from corn starch in a patented process. The Truvia box, however, describes erythritol as a simple, natural ingredient “found in fruits like grapes and pears.”

Of course nothing in the long and twisted stevia story is surprising. A bush-like herb native to South America, stevia has been a source of confusion and contradictions for decades, even while the herb itself has been used with no apparent safety issues – albeit in its truly natural form – for centuries.

First “discovered” and valued for its sweetness in Paraguay over a century ago, stevia hit the mainstream when it became a big seller in Japan in the 1970s. In the U.S. however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched an aggressive campaign to curtail its use in food and beverages that included embargoes, searches and seizures, calling it an unsafe food additive (although it had been widely tested for safety by the Japanese, and had never generated any complaints of adverse reactions). It wasn’t until the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), that passed in 1994, that stevia could be legally imported or used, but only as a “dietary supplement” with no mention made of its sweetness or noncaloric nature.

Why the FDA went to so much effort to block the use of stevia has never been made public. But some in the natural foods industry have alleged that the agency’s actions were triggered by a “trade complaint” filed by the makers of NutraSweet, the original brand of aspartame (an artificial sweetener with a long record of health complaints).

Fast forward to 2008, when sweeteners containing stevia, including Cargill’s Truvia, began hitting supermarket shelves.  Had the FDA changed its tune about allowing stevia to be advertised and sold as a sweetener?

Well, not exactly. In fact, the FDA doesn’t even consider such products to be stevia at all, noting at its web site that “FDA has not objected to the use of these highly refined stevia preparations in food products,” since “they are not stevia” but are rather a “…highly purified product.”

Where’s the stevia?

The fact that Truvia, and other stevia sweeteners commonly found at most supermarkets, are derived from a highly refined and chemically-processed sweet glycoside of the stevia leaf called Reb A, isn’t exactly a new revelation. But the current class-action reveals that Truvia is comprised of only “…a minute amount of the stevia-derived ingredient,” the rest being synthetic erythriol that comes from corn starch converted “…to glucose through the biochemical process of enzymatic hydrolysis,” further fermented with yeast. Not exactly what one would call “nature’s perfect sweetness” as advertised on the Truvia box, which describes the Truvia-making process as stevia leaves “steeped in water” that is “similar to making tea.”

But it appears that Cargill may not have been surprised by this lawsuit, inasmuch as back in February, according to the web site Domain Name Wire, it registered dozens of domains ranging from cargill-truvia-natural-lawsuit.com to cargilltruvialawsuit.net to cargilltruviaclassaction.com, most likely to keep the names out of the hands of litigating law firms.

All in all, it hasn’t been a good year for Cargill. In June, the giant agribusiness firm was hit with another lawsuit, this one regarding its big seller, high fructose corn syrup. In a first-of-its-kind civil action, Cargill and five other HFCS manufacturers were sued for products liability, failure to warn, gross negligence, reckless conduct and injuries by a Buffalo-area woman and her 14-year old daughter who has type-2 diabetes, claiming that there is a “direct, causal connection” between the girl’s condition and her consumption of HFCS.

But Cargill, which is “very excited about the future (of Truvia)” may be hoping its refined stevia products will become as popular to the food industry as HFCS currently is. According to the web-based trade pub FoodNavigator-usa.com, its Truvia brand is predicted to be used in more than 1,300 foods and beverages this year, the most recent being Coca-Cola Life, introduced in Argentina.

No doubt all industry-eyes will be on the current stevia litigation, considering the big bucks that comes with holding onto the zero-calorie “natural” label at stake.

Chronicle of an MSG nightmare that deflates a regulatory myth

Posted by -- July 25, 2013

By Bill Bonvie

“What is MSG? Is it bad for you?”

To find a supposedly authoritative “answer” to that question, one need look no further than a posting by nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky at  the official web site of the Mayo Clinic.  After first informing us that MSG is an abbreviation for monosodium glutamate, “a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats,” Zeratsky goes on to allge that  “(a)lthough the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe,” the use of MSG remains controversial. For this reason, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label.”

She then lists a  number of “adverse reactions” to it found in “anecdotal reports” received over the years by the FDA, and adds:  “Researchers acknowledge, though, that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don’t require treatment. The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid foods containing MSG.”

All of which typifies how both the medical establishment and the media have long described MSG to a largely trusting public, according to Adrienne Samuels, Ph.D., who heads an organization called Truth in Labeling.  And all of which, from her extensive experience, is a total misrepresentation of the truth about this dangerous and ubiquitous additive.

Now, in an attempt to expose the scope of such widely disseminated disinformation, Samuels has come out with a book entitled The Man Who Sued the FDA, which chronicles the shocking facts that she and her late husband Jack discovered while investigating the source of a drawn-out health crisis that Jack, an investment banker and former hospital administrator, suffered during the last three decades of his life (an ordeal that was only mitigated somewhat when he traveled — and ate — abroad).

To read Samuels’ fascinating account — which was partly written by Jack himself, right up to his death from a heart attack in 2011 — is to realize just how fraudulent such dismissive descriptions as that offered by the Mayo Clinic site and many other medical and media sources are, starting with the idea that MSG is only “monosodium glutamate.”

In actuality, the book notes, there are a whole slew of unlabeled flavor enhancers — that is, other forms of MSG — that also contain the same manufactured free glutamic acid as monosodium glutamate does, and that are being added to everyday foods without any indication of that on the label (as opposed to the “bound” form of glutamate present in many natural foods). The first time Jack was made aware of this, in fact, was after eating what he thought was a bland, spartan diet that included tuna fish for lunch, only to have the Alzheimer’s-like symptoms of his extreme sensitivity to MSG start to recur.  Canned tuna commonly contains hydrolyzed protein, one of these pernicious additives.

As for “a small percentage of people” having short-term reactions” that are “mild” and require no treatment, it turned out that many individuals suffer “adverse reactions” similar to those that plagued Jack — reactions which can range from the debilitating, such as migraines, to life-threatening, such as cardiac fibrillation.  Yet, no labeling of their presence in foods (or, for that matter, drugs) is required, despite a sustained campaign by TLC and others  to petition the FDA to require labeling. That included a suit filed in federal court by the organization and 29 independent citizens in 1995 in an attempt to force the issue, which was dismissed by the judge three years later after the FDA presented what Samuels claims were irrelevant files and refused to produce the material the plaintiffs had requested.

Manipulated research and phony placebos

The fact that the FDA has resisted all attempts to label MSG, while giving it the above noted  “generally recognized as safe” pass, is what has led Samuels to observe that while “20 years ago, we thought the FDA looked out for the interests of consumers … Today, we understand the FDA is nothing more than an extension of industry, promoting the welfare of big business while paying lip service to the protection of consumers.”

Likewise, the idea that “researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms” is a total misrepresentation, according to Samuels. In actuality, she charges, much of the research has been sponsored by the glutamate industry in the form of the International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC), which has found ways to manipulate outcomes — most notably by using placebos in supposed “double-blind studies” that actually contained either both hidden forms of MSG or aspartame, a synthetic sweetener that’s similar to MSG in its effects (both are considered “excitotoxins, which are capable of destroying certain brain cells, especially in children and older people whose blood-brain barriers have been compromised.)

As for so-called “anecdotal” reports of adverse reactions, the book cites instances in which such reports (including those from physicians) were obviously altered from their original form to reach a different conclusion.  In one telling instance, Jack was contacted by a skeptical FDA employee who mentioned to him that her daughter was in the hospital with what turned out to be symptoms that sounded very much like an MSG reaction. When, after following Jack’s advice, the symptoms disappeared, the worker admitted, “Mr. Samuels, you were right,” and actually showed him the report she was filing — which included statements from his physician — that indicated Jack’s strong sensitivity to MSG. Later on , however, when Jack paid an unannounced visit to the FDA official in charge of such reports (of which the FDA had received several thousand), he was told that the one on his particular case indicated the exact opposite.

Similar examples of the withholding of information can be found  throughout the book, ranging from negative research findings that have been ignored by both the FDA and the glutamate industry to instances in which it was quite obvious that media had been pressured to tread lightly where MSG was concerned or not cover the issue at all.

“The bottom line? Interwoven with the assertion that research says monosodium glutamate is ‘safe,’ has been the suppression of virtually all commentary or data that would say otherwise,” Samuels writes. “The FDA, the media and the medical community are essentially under glutamate industry control. The ‘virtually’ comes from the fact that the glutamate industry doesn’t yet have control of the Internet.”

Perhaps not — but the fact remains that industry propaganda has a strong online presence as well, the above-mentioned blurb from the website of the supposedly authoritative Mayo Clinic, which is the first thing that comes up when you Google “Safety of MSG,” being a typical example.

That’s why anyone who really wants to know the truth about MSG — or the true picture of the relationship between the food industry in this country and its regulators — needs to read this book, which can be purchased here.

Coke’s ‘happy’ activities ad ruled inadmissible to Britain’s more accurate airwaves

Posted by -- July 23, 2013

The Brits appear to take the integrity of their advertising as seriously as they do the line of succession to the throne, if their response to Coke’s “happy” activities ad is any example, The commercial,which I reported on in an April blog, “A spoonful of HFCS is neither ‘OK’ nor especially happy,” has recently been banned in the United Kingdom – a definite blow to Coke, which released it under the pretense of a promise to tackle “obesity head on.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the U.K.’s “independent regulator of advertising across all media,” received ten consumer complaints saying that each of the “happy” activities shown would not be enough to burn off the 139 calories in the can (interestingly, the U.S., version has it at 140 calories.)

The commercial starts out with a can of Coke, an equal sign, and the statement “140 happy calories to spend on extra happy activities.” It goes on to depict young, fit and fun-loving folks walking a dog, dancing, laughing, and doing a “victory dance.” and ends by showing not just a can of regular 140-calorie coke, but a can of Coke Zero as well, with the message “calories optional. ”A caveat also adds that “calories burned may vary.”

Apparently the ASA wasn’t fooled by the “calories burned may vary” disclaimer, and also didn’t feel that the plus sign after each activity was enough to convey the message that each and every activity needed to be done in order to burn off the beverage’s high fructose corn syrup calorie infusion. The Authority said as much in its decision, noting, “…we considered that it would not be clear to some viewers that it was the combination of all the activities depicted which would burn off 139 calories.” Also at issue were six complaints it received that the ads “implied a general health claim.”

The ASA reported that the response from Coca-Cola Great Britain was that  “the ad explicitly communicated that the activities featured needed to be done in combination to burn off the 139 calories in a can of Coke,” using “a plus (‘+’) sign between the activities and also an equals (‘=’) sign, which they considered clearly communicated that it was the sum of those activities that amounted to at least the 139 calories in a can of Coke.”

Calories of a different caliber

Of course, nowhere in this analysis as to whether laughing out loud for 75 seconds or walking your dog will burn off the calories consumed in a can of Coke is it mentioned that the calories from the HFCS used to sweeten this beverage (and just about every other non-diet soft drink) are, in the opinion of many experts, no mere conventional calories, but supercharged calories.

One such authority, Dr. Mark Hyman, a bestselling author, practicing physician and board chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine in Washington state, 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.”

Another, author, 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.”

What Coke intends to do about its now ‘banned in Britain’ commercial, the company isn’t saying, except to dispute the idea that the spot represents a “health claim” by contending that it makes no connection “between the consumption of their products and good health or well-being…”

We couldn’t agree more.

BPA free safety claims not yet a sure bet

Posted by -- July 18, 2013

Thanks to all the concern and negative publicity about BPA over the past few years, the vast majority of plastic water bottles, baby bottles and plastic food containers are now bearing the “BPA-free” label. But does that make them any safer than the old plastic water bottle in your cupboard?

BPA, short for bisphenol A, is a hormone-disrupting, reproductive and developmental toxin that has also permeated the environment so much so that a government study found detectible levels of it in 93 percent of several thousand people tested over the age of six. BPA can cause adverse effects at very low levels, and is a particular concern for infants and children.

While most manufacturers of plastic food and drink containers no longer use BPA,  researchers who conducted a 2011 study claim that the replacement chemicals also have estrogenic activity, making them “a potential health problem” as well.

And in an strange twist, the maker of one of those replacement resins, called Tritan, that is advertised as “safe” and used in over 600 products most likely labeled “BPA-free,” is suing two Texas-based companies involved in that study.

In a trial set to start this week, Eastman Chemical claims that companies PlastiPure and CertiChem made “false” and “misleading” statements about Tritan.

The defendant companies say that Tritan-made products can leach “chemicals having significant estrogenic activity after common-use stresses” and calls the case a “David & Goliath match up” that is an attempt to “shut down independent testing…”

The study Eastman is focusing on, published in a 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, is by no means the first time the safety of these BPA-free plastics has been questioned.

Author and alternative medicine expert Dr. Joseph Mercola has been sounding the alarm about so-called “safe” plastics for several years, advising people to limit drinking and eating from all plastics and to never, ever microwave foods in plastic containers.

What about canned food?

While BPA is said to be found “everywhere” in the environment, including in every water source that has ever been tested, the Environmental Protection Agency states that human exposure is “primarily through food packaging manufactured using BPA.” (Another route of exposure to the chemical is through thermal printed paper, such as store receipts possibly through dermal exposure or by hand to mouth contact).

Cans (and lids) need some type of coating to prevent corrosion and bacterial contamination of the food, and coming up with BPA alternatives (especially for acidic foods such as tomatoes) is apparently not all that easy, or more likely, cost effective.  One company, however, Muir Glenn, says it has managed to remove the BPA from all of its tomato product cans since 2011.

Knowing for sure if there is BPA in a food can is a tough question that many food manufacturers can’t even seem to get a handle on. But what we can tell you is that one of the ways to be sure you are not buying food in containers in which BPA was used in the manufacturing process is to ditch the can – and the plastic (including at-home food storage containers) and go with good old fashioned glass or stainless steel. There is, however, one caveat: that lid linings used on glass containers may be coated with BPA.

So while it’s impossible to eliminate all exposure to this toxic chemical, carefully selecting packaged food products, or eliminating cans and plastic containers altogether, is one way to start reducing it. Here are four companies that have eliminated BPA fully or partially from their product containers:

  • Muir Glen

This General Mills-owned organic food company, which makes a wide variety of tomato products that include pasta sauces, soups, salsa and ketchup, says that since 2011 it has not used BPA in its food packaging.

  • Eden Foods

The oldest independent organic food company in the U.S., Eden is apparently the pioneer in eliminating BPA from most of its cans, with its beans being packaged in BPA-free containers since 1999. (But apparently even Eden couldn’t totally solve the problem, and says on its web site that years of searching for a BPA alternative for its high acid products, like tomatoes, was unsuccessful. Because of that the company now packages a portion of its tomato products in glass jars, but even that isn’t 100 percent. Saying “there is no such thing as the perfect food package,” Eden states that the first coating inside the twist cap does have BPA in it, but contains a “second protective sealant over the metal that does not contain any…” and that “isolates” the BPA coating from coming into contact with the food.

  • Wild Planet

A privately owned, California-based company that specializes in sustainably caught wild seafood, Wild Planet produces a variety of products, including, pole-caught tuna, wild salmon, sardines, crab and shrimp, packaging its tuna and shrimp in BPA-free cans.

  • Amy’s Kitchen

A privately-owned organic food company with a wide variety of canned and frozen dishes, Amy’s Kitchen says that it has transitioned “to cans using no BPA in the formulation of its liner.”

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just last Thursday announcing that it will no longer allow the chemical to be used in packaging for infant formula (the agency banned it in baby bottles and cups last year), it appears that BPA use in the food industry may be finally if ever so slowly losing its grip.

But whether its chemical kin are any better remains to be seen.

Proposed new FDA limit on arsenic in apple juice vindicates years of warnings

Posted by -- July 16, 2013


Last week the U.S. Food & Drug Administration threw a bone (or was it merely an apple core?) to consumer groups and a certain celebrity doctor who have repeatedly warned of the health hazard posed by arsenic in apple juice.

What the FDA did was to propose an “action level” of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in apple juice – the same level the Environmental Protection Agency sets for the toxin in drinking water. This new proposed allowable limit, which would take effect following a 60-day public comment period, represents a significant regulatory tightening from the “level of concern” of 23 ppb set by the agency five years ago. What it would mean is that if apple juice was found to contain inorganic arsenic in excess of that amount, the FDA could take legal action to remove it from the market.

According to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the agency has “been studying this issue comprehensively” and based on its data and analytical work, “is confident in the overall safety of apple juice for children and adults. Two years ago, however, some big concerns about the arsenic levels in apple juice were raised by both both Dr. Mehmet Oz and Consumer Reports.

In 2011 Dr. Oz conducted an “extensive investigation” that found arsenic in popular apple juice brands, including Mott’s, Apple and Eve, Minute Maid and Gerber (whose highest sample contained 36 parts per billion). The popular television physician received a lot of heat for the report, culminating in a shouting match he had on Good Morning America with ABC News Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser who accused Oz of being “extremely irresponsible”and  “fear mongering” and said that it reminded him of “yelling fire in a movie theater.”

A stern-looking Oz responded that “we did our homework” on this issue and that “most of the arsenic” in a previous study was of the “inorganic kind.” Inorganic arsenic is typically considered the more toxic type, which FDA itself claims has been associated with cancer, heart disease, skin lesions, neurotoxicity and diabetes in humans.

But Oz also claimed that the “assumption that organic arsenic is safe is not true,” adding that “there is a lot of debate over the (presumed) safety of organic arsenic.”

Shortly after the Oz study was released, Consumer Reports conducted its own investigation, finding around 10 percent of its apple juice samples exceeded the drinking water limit for the more toxic inorganic kind.

How ‘archaic arsenic’ comes back to haunt us

While the FDA repeatedly notes that arsenic is a ubiquitous element found in water, air, soil and even the earth’s crust, the agency downplays the human involvement of millions and millions of pounds of lead arsenate and calcium arsenate used in farming and most especially orchards, from the early 1920s right up until the 1980s.  Unfortunately, such archaic arsenic just doesn’t go away, with fields still tainted from use in the early 20th century.  And the agency also fails to bring into the conversation the fact that China, where illegal use of lead arsenate as well as other banned chemicals is suspected, supplies the U.S. with over two-thirds of its apple juice. (Apparently, the term “apple pie American” doesn’t necessarily apply to apple juice.)

In a fascinating article about the history of arsenate pesticides, Pulitzer Prize winning science writer and author Deborah Blum, notes that there’s “a very long history here because arsenic is a very old poison.”

“By the 1920s,” Blum writes, “U.S. fruit growers were plastering on lead arsenate in such amounts that they were starting to poison their customers. In 1919, the Boston Health Department destroyed arsenic- contaminated apples because people were getting sick. The following year, it had to do it again. In 1919, California health officials discovered with alarm that arsenic residues tended to stick to fruit, meaning the poison was hard to remove.”

So have we learned our lesson where arsenic is concerned? While lead-based arsenic pesticides have been phased out or canceled by the EPA over the years, a “modified” one, MSMA, has continued to be permitted and is currently used on cotton farms due to a “superweed” created by the overuse of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. Other arsenic uses include animal feed, resulting in manure that adds still more of the toxic substance to soil.

If despite all this talk about arsenic (which no one is suggesting even remotely approaches the amounts used to poison people in actual and fictitious murder cases), you still wish to keep apple juice on your family’s menu, Dr. Oz, the go-to guy for advice on this subject, gave these tips for buying a “safer” juice back in 2011:

  • Buy organic whenever possible. According to Oz,  none of the organic apple juice tested came back with “arsenic levels higher than the safe limit as determined by the FDA.”
  • Look for apple juice concentrate that’s made in the USA;
  • Check juice packages for the actual country of origin, watching for misleading information such as “a product of Canada,” which may indicate only that the juice was packaged in that country.

But while refined apple juice is in no way considered a “health” food, apples — in their whole, unrefined state, complete with the peel — are an exceptional source of antioxidants. Actually it’s the apple peel itself that bestows most of the nutritional advantages on apples; a fact that inspired the popular saying more than a century ago, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” So our best advice would be to go with the real McCoy — meaning organic, U.S.-grown varieties that can be eaten, peel and all, without having to worry about ingesting residues of toxic pesticides.

Yet another company jumps into the business of helping consumers make ‘healthy’ food choices

Posted by -- July 11, 2013

“Everybody wants to get into the act,” a catchphrase made famous back in the day by show business legend Jimmy Durante, seems to have found a new meaning.  Apparently, everybody now wants to get into the act of helping the busy food shopper quickly determine what items are the “healthiest” ones to grab off the supermarket shelf.

But isn’t this a good thing? After all, supermarket shopping can be an annoying, tedious chore that isn’t exactly top on most people’s list of fun things to do. But if you plan on eating the food taken home from such an expedition, it helps to know what’s in it. And the only real way to acquire such knowledge is to read the ingredient label — something all of these health-conscious ‘helpful Hannahs’ seem to be steering you away from by calling your attention to superficial and often misleading criteria instead.

The latest player in this  game of mock health marketing appears to be the technology and data company Vestcom out of Little Rock, Ark. Vestcom, which specializes in “shelf-edge solutions,” consisting of messaging and pricing information tags posted on store shelves, has now entered the nutrition advice arena with “healthyAisles,” which it describes as “nutrition info your customers can trust.”

The healthyAisles tag makes the same kinds of nebulous claims as do all those other quick nutrition guides. It’s angle is to choose from a list of  35 “health and wellness” attributes such as “heart healthy” or “low sodium” to describe each product without offering much more in the way of information as to what these processed foods actually contain. The system has already been sold to enough retailers to now appear in over 5,000 stores, according to the trade pub FoodNavigator.com.

Just why another such ersatz health-and-nutrition merchandising system is needed isn’t readily apparent. But Vestcom is holding firm to the concept that healthyAisles is “fact based,”  “effective,” and a “national strategic partner with the Unite States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate,” although it doesn’t exactly specify what that “strategic” partnership consists of. Perhaps the company’s competitive edge is its appeal to older shoppers seeking a nostalgic connection to a time when buying food was considered strictly a woman’s job, as evidenced by its tag line: “Give her the nutrition advice she seeks, precisely when and where she needs it.”

Other consumer-confusing in-store “information” programs include:

  • Safeway’s “SimpleNutrition” program
    SimpleNutrition is comprised of 22 “benefit messages” under “two groups of messages” that are supposed to meet “lifestyle, dietary” and “specific nutrition or ingredient criteria.” Could anything be simpler than that?
  • Publix Markets’ “Nutrition Facts” tags
    Apparently not bothered that “nutrition facts” is the exact same term the government requires for processed food packaging information panels, Publix, a Southern supermarket institution, now features its own “Nutrition Facts” program that asks, “Who has time to analyze food labels? Luckily, when you shop with us, you don’t have to.”
  • Stop & Shop’s Healthy Ideas
    The creative naming of these programs is pretty much the biggest difference between them. Stop & Shop, for example, wants us to have “a simple way to know it’s healthy”: all you have to do is look for the Healthy Ideas shelf tag! Healthy Ideas tags are also on nearly all the fruits and vegetables in the produce department. Duh.
  • NuVal Scoring System
    This “nutrition made easy” program was purportedly “developed independently by a team of nutrition and medical experts.” NuVal is another shelf-tag system that rates the “nutritiousness” of foods by scoring them from 1 to 100 using a patent-pending algorithm. But despite all the hoopla from NuVal, and its partner company Topco Associates, LLC, the system is a bizarrely flawed idea that rates sugar-free jelly higher than eggs.
  • Guiding Stars
    Described as  “Nutritious choices made simple,” Guiding Stars appears to be another variation on the theme, It uses a rating system featuring one to three big yellow stars — perhaps to appeal to those those who can’t count to the higher NuVal numbers.
  • Supervalu Nutrition iQ
    Called “The better-for-you food finder” (which, by the way, is a pending trademark), nutrition iQ is a “shelf tag navigation program” that uses color coded tags below products to show which ones make the “healthy” grade. As Heidi Diller, Albertsons’ registered dietitian, explains in a Youtube video, “reading labels is important, but that takes time. If only there was an easier way to shop healthy. Let our science guide you..(to) better-for-you shopping.” Unfortunately nutrition iQ omits more facts than it offers.
  • Facts Up Front from the Grocery Manufacturers Association
    Soon to be the focus of a big-bucks advertising campaign, Facts up Front features some tiny blue boxes that will provide data on calories and three nutrients – but nothing, of course, about a product’s ingredients.
  • Walmart’s “Great for You”
    This front-of-package icon is designed to appear on food products that conform to the mega-retailer’s standard of healthiness.

There are also a number of nutrition advice programs that have ‘bit the dust’, including:

  • Smartspot, Pepsico’s self-serving “more nutritious” designations on its own brands, which was launched in 2004 and canned in 2010;
  • Sensible Solutions, a similar idea from the marketing gurus at Kraft, which made its debut in 2005 and was“put on hold” in 2009;
  • Smart Choices, a promotion designed and paid for by the food industry that got bad press when its ‘better-for-you’ icon started appearing on Kellogg’s Froot Loops packages. It came and went in 2009.

So there you have it, eight ways the food industry is helping us to shop.

If only it were that easy.

Monkey study shows more evidence of high fructose diet harm

Posted by -- July 9, 2013

A study recently performed on monkeys by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., not only found that a diet high in fructose caused very rapid liver damage, even without weight gain, but has also spurred the planning of a new “real world study” to begin next year, this one using high fructose corn syrup.

“The results of this were actually quite surprising,” the study’s lead author Kylie Kavanagh, D.V.M. told Food Identity Theft in a phone interview. “No one really expected that we would see that degree of liver damage that quickly, in only six weeks.”

The study, published in the June 19th online edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved feeding the animals a calorie-restricted diet, 24 percent of which consisted of fructose derived from corn. Each week, the researchers measured indicators of liver damage in the primate’s blood, and checked levels of intestinal bacteria.

“We didn’t think we’d see that downstream step, where that bacteria was passing through the intestine and going to the liver, actually causing liver disease,” Kavanagh said. Apparently, “something” in the consumption of a high fructose diet causes the intestines to lose some of their protective nature, allowing bacteria to leak out “at a 30 percent higher rate,” she explained.

“What we’re feeding (in this study) is extremely high levels (of fructose). This is the equivalent of a teenager who drinks Coke all day and eats doughnuts –  it does happen, but it doesn’t represent (what’s consumed by) most of the population,” she said.  “Our next study is going to be looking at a real world scenario.”

The planned study, according to Kavanagh, will be done using high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient she calls “unavoidable,” as it is in “probably 80 percent of shelf products.” The HFCS will be administered at a “high level, but within what a reasonable fraction of the population actually consumes.”

Proves nothing ‘human’,  CRA claims

In response to the study, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), has issued a press release from its new president, John Bode, contending that the its authors “…have failed to prove anything about human consumption of high fructose corn syrup…” and that such studies “…only lead to confusion among consumers and inhibit the development of real solutions.”

While Kavanagh believes that the CRA isn’t willing to “buy into” the results yet, she is hopeful that the corn refining industry “might be willing to make a different product other than high fructose corn syrup if the public demanded it.”

“We’ve been trying to figure out for some time why we’ve become more inflammatory, with asthma, for example, much more common. We’re proposing that there could be a dietary component to that,” she said, adding that the very low grade intestinal infection observed by the researchers is a new indicator of “why we may be seeing a whole plethora of diseases.”

Kavanagh, who is a strong advocate for reading ingredient labels, likened the use of HFCS to that of trans fats, which she noted is also “a cheap product” that “everyone thought …was fine,” but is now “disappearing from the food chain.”

“I think that high fructose corn syrup will probably go the same way,” she said. “Things take time and we have to prove them in a slow and steady manner.”

July 4th: a perfect time to declare your independence from the tyranny of insidious ingredients

Posted by -- July 4, 2013

When in the course of getting together with your family and friends to celebrate America’s having declared her independence 237 years ago, it might be as good an occasion as any to declare your own independence as well. By that, I mean your independence from industry’s attempts to inveigle you into ingesting fake foods and ill-advised additives on a continuous and sustained basis.

Your personal Declaration of Independence should take into account that food corporations derive their power to market products from the consent of the consumer, and that as a consumer you have been endowed with certain inalienable rights, including the right to eat unadulterated food that is “most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”   Foods, in other words, produced in accord with “the Laws of Nature,”and having been “long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes,” such as the extra bit of profitability that comes from substituting injurious ingredients that prudence dictates should not be part of anyone’s diet.

OK, I admit to having taken a few liberties (no pun intended) with some of the language from America’s Declaration of Independence, for which I offer my apologies to the Founding Fathers.  But I did it to make a point – that there are more ways than one of freeing ourselves (and our fellow man) from those who try to impose their will on us. And today, that’s exactly what certain food manufacturers and their trade groups are attempting to do – that is, use the powers of mass marketing to literally get us to swallow synthetic substances that a growing body of research has found pose a threat to our health and well-being.

Here at Food Identity Theft, we’ve already offered descriptions of the top ten of these culinary culprits – but to help free you of their pernicious presence in your food, let’s briefly review them again:

  • High fructose corn syrup, or HFCS  This cheap, unnatural test-tube sweetener that has replaced old-fashioned sugar in nearly all soft drinks and a wide variety of other products – and is used as an additive in many more –has been linked by researchers to skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes, as well as other health problems.
  • Aspartame (often goes by the name of NutraSweet or Equal)  This “no-calorie” artificial sweetener that started life as an experimental ulcer drug can be found in a multitude of products, despite initial research that linked it to brain tumors and thousands of  adverse reactions ranging from migraines to seizures and vision problems.
  • Hydrolyzed protein,
  • Autolyzed yeast,
  • Monosodium glutamate: These flavor enhancers are all classified as “excitotoxins” (as is aspartame) – neurotoxic substances capable of literally exciting certain brain cells to death, especially in children and seniors. And like aspartame, they have been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects.
  • Potassium bromate:  This additive used in flour and baked goods has long been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  • Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO:  Although never having been declared safe by the Food and Drug Administration, linked to heart problems in research animals, and  banned in Europe, Japan and India, this cosmetic ingredient continues to be added to citrus-flavored soft drinks.
  • BHA and BHT:  These two preservatives, derived from coal tar or petroleum , are considered possible carcinogens and have caused mice to be born with altered brain chemistry.
  • Trans fats: Produced by “partial hydrogenation” of various oils, trans fats are considered by all health authorities to be a cause of heart disease, and may be a factor in cancer and Azheimer’s as well
  • Artificial colors: These coal tar and petroleum-based hues are widely linked to behavioral problems and hyperactivity in children.

And to further assist you in  declaring yourself free and independent of foods that harbor harmful ingredients, here’s a basketful of such offenders that you should make a point of excluding from your 4th of July festivities:

Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos
Not only do these “bold” snacking chips contain both monosodium glutamate and sodium caseinate, another “excitotoxin” flavor enhancer, but they are also enhanced by the addition of five artificial colors.

Stroehmann Dutch Country Hot Dog Potato Rolls
Despite its claim of being an  “original recipe,” it’s doubtful any authentic Pennsylvania Dutch recipe ever called for high fructose corn syrup – let alone artificial flavor.

Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet Vidalia Onion Barbecue Sauce
While it may contain some Vidalia onions (6.48%, to be precise), this down-home-style sauce appears to have more in the way of high fructose corn syrup, its very first ingredient.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup
Though it might seem like a traditional condiment going back many years, you can be fairly certain this ketchup, which comes complete with added HFCS, isn’t the same stuff your grandparents took along on July 4th picnics.

Penn Maid French Onion Sour Cream Dip
With both monosodium glutamate and autolyzed yeast listed as ingredients, this dip is the perfect match for those Nacho Cheese Doritos –that is, if you’re looking to zap your brain cells with a quadruple dose of excitoxins before the fireworks begin.

Smucker’s Sundae Syrup, Caramel Flavored
Here’s  a great way to “make your dessert divine” – if your idea of “divine” includes HFCS, whey protein concentrate (yet another free-glutamate excitoxin), vanillin (a petrochemical-based  artificial flavor), and two artificial colors.

Of course, these are just a few samples of numerous snack items and condiments you can find with similarly insidious ingredients. But since all these additives are listed on the label, all it requires is a little vigilance to banish them once and for all from your family’s diet and holiday celebrations.  And when you do, you’ll discover there are plenty of healthier, more ‘genuine’ snack foods out there (especially organic ones) with which to help celebrate your country’s – and your own – independence.

AMA calls obesity a ‘disease’ after acquitting a primary culprit

Posted by -- July 2, 2013

When the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity to be a “disease” last month, it not only made headlines, it made a lot of people really angry.  One reason is because, as it turns out, the AMA’s new classification, which could potentially affect more than a third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children, also coincided with the release of the new diet drug Belviq, leading many to believe the “disease” designation was no coincidence.

And then there’s what happened a few years ago when the AMA passed up an opportunity to identify a primary culprit in this new “disease,” and thus do something far more meaningful in the battle against obesity.  But more on that in a moment.

Formerly referred to by the AMA as a “condition,” “concern” or “disorder, obesity was reclassified as a disease by a vote of over fifty percent of the organization’s membership. However, its own experts, the AMA Council on Science and Public Health, disagreed with the new designation. “Without a single, clear, authoritative and widely accepted definition of disease,” the council said in a report, “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether or not obesity is a medical disease…”

But what exactly does this mean? Certainly, if the AMAs own expert committee can’t come to terms with all this, how are the rest of us supposed to interpret it?

Experts who have ‘weighed in’ on the issue have also sharply disagreed with the new characterization:

  • Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO?: “The AMA seems eager to expand weight-loss treatment and convince insurers to reimburse for it. Big Pharma has two new weight-loss drugs out, with users losing at most only 10 percent of their body weight at a monthly cost of $100 or more and possible health complications.”
  • Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist: “This decision is another example of inventing illnesses — a favorite pastime of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) – and another step towards eroding people’s autonomy and making them passive participants in their health.”
  • David Katz, M.D., director, Yale Prevention Research Center: “The notion that obesity is a disease will inevitably invite a reliance on pharmacotherapy and surgery to fix what is best addressed through improvements in the use of our feet and forks…”

The AMA “disease” vote spawned the Twitter #IamNotADisease, and promopted Wann to launch a petition at Change.org, American Medical Association: Stop defining “obesity” [sic] as a disease!

While the conversation continues online about what this all boils down to, it appears that even the AMA itself isn’t sure. An article at the AMA website asking “What’s next…?” doesn’t appear to answer any questions, but merely features some vague quotes from medical professionals such as this one from Jeffrey I. Mechanick,  president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists: “Many of us believe that this is going to propel a critical effect so that we will see a lot of action.”

While the AMA has everybody talking about its new “disease” designation of obesity, a few years ago the group was dealing with another aspect of the obesity issue – a resolution on the table calling for foods containing high fructose corn syrup to carry a warning that they could cause obesity. Introduced by the International Medical Graduates Section at the 2007 AMA meeting, the resolution asked:

That our AMA urge the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to require the food industry to use non-fructose sweeteners and limit the use of high fructose syrups in their products; and That our AMA urge the FDA and USDA to require the food industry to clearly label products containing high fructose syrups with an indication that “this product contains high fructose syrup; excessive intake of high fructose syrup may lead to obesity.”

“This report reviews the chemical properties and health effects of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in comparison to other added caloric sweeteners and evaluates the potential impact of restricting the use of fructose-containing sweeteners, including the use of warning labels on foods that contain high fructose syrups.”

While the resolution didn’t pass, the very fact that such a proposal was in the works, and how it got there, is amazing all on its own.

As told by Clinical Nutritionist Byron Richards at his Wellness Resources site, this “pivotal moment” came about as “a movement withing the AMA ranks…(from) doctors who graduated from medical schools outside the U.S. and Canada.” Without regard for how the Corn Refiners Association and other influential agribusiness organizations might react, Richards says, “the resolution was submitted with extensive science supporting the fact that high fructose corn syrup is metabolized in a way that promotes obesity.” (Read Richards blog here).

But the AMA, noted Richards, “sided with the Corn Refiners Association and against the public health” by voting in defense of high fructose corn syrup, which he maintained made “its entire organization look like a ship of fools.”

“Let’s not forget,” Richards added, that “the AMA was directly responsible for the promotion of smoking in this country, taking in large amounts of ad revenue (by) actively promoting its safety and glamor for many years.”

Yes, we’ve been there and done that – high fructose corn syrup needs to go.”