Archive for April, 2014

How the misrepresentation of a trusted product name could land you in the ER

Posted by -- April 29, 2014

A Food Identity Theft Exclusive

By BILL BONVIE

oldbay1It may be one of the most deceptive – and dangerous – cases of misrepresentation that Food Identity Theft has yet come across.

As long-familiar food products go, Old Bay Seasoning is among the relative few that seem to have resisted a growing tide of adulteration with cheap additives and fake ingredients. First marketed in Baltimore as a seasoning for shrimp and crab more than 70 years ago, this “unique blend” of spices and herbs is “still produced to its original exacting standards,”  according to its website.

That’s what we thought, too. But then we discovered there’s a significant exception to that.  And should you suffer from a particular type of “intolerance,” it could well send you to the ER.

If you’re one of the many consumers (or amateur chefs) who enjoy the taste Old Bay gives to various dishes, and have confidence in its integrity, it seems only natural that when you spot a display of Herr’s “Old Bay Seasoned Potato Chips” in your supermarket, you might be inclined to throw a bag in your shopping cart. And that you might assume the ingredients are identical to the seemingly harmless ones listed in Old Bay Seasoning – especially since a graphic of the iconic blue, yellow and red tin is prominently featured on the front of the package.

But that assumption would be wrong – very wrong. And in this case, what you don’t know – that is, unless you happen to glance at the actual “seasoning” ingredients listed on the back of the package – can hurt you.

Because there, smack in the middle of those you’ll find included in the “seasoning” category, is the neurotoxic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate.

That’s not something you’ll find in Old Bay itself, an institutional size container of which lists its ingredients as celery salt, (salt, celery seed), spices, including mustard, red pepper and black pepper, bay (laurel) leaves, cloves, allspice (pimento), ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon and paprika. In fact, McCormick & Co., which added the seasoning blend to its product line back in 1990,  makes a point of assuring consumers that there’s no monosodium glutamate in Old Bay.

But the presence of this pernicious additive in these supposed “Old Bay Seasoned” chips wasn’t the only thing we found, well, shocking. We were also quite taken aback when a spokesman for Herr’s denied that his company is the one that put it there, claiming that it’s part of the “seasoning formulation” directly supplied by the folks at McCormick.
In other words, like Fuzzy Wuzzy, Old Bay isn’t the same Old Bay you’ve come to know and love when it’s used to season a potato chip.

Reviewing the ‘rap sheet’ on MSG

oldbay2

As regular readers of this blog already know, the effects of monosodium glutamate (which is also known as MSG, although those initials can be applied to various other forms of free glutamic acid added to food) can have devastating effects on many people who are sensitive to it. For such individuals, reactions can include blinding headaches, asthma attacks, stomach distress and seizures. Those with extreme sensitivity can also suffer from symptoms resembling those of Alzheimer’s and life-threatening anaphylactic shock.  And according to the American Heart Association, it can even be a trigger for atrial fibrillation, the chaotic heart rhythm that increase your risk of stroke (and the possibility you’ll be put on a risky prescription drug).

In addition, both MSG and the artificial sweetener aspartame are chief among the additives referred to by some prominent neurologists as “excitotoxins” – a label given to them because of their ability to literally excite certain brain cells to death.  This reaction poses a particular threat to the behavior and learning ability of children and adolescents whose blood-brain barrier is still in a formative stage, and to older people who may have suffered strokes or other neurological problems. (Neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock, noted in his book Excitoxins: the Taste that Kills that reactions in the young can range from mild dyslexia to ‘outbursts of uncontrollable anger.”)

oldbay4In fact, McCormick & Co. features a recording on its consumer affairs line that it is “aware of special allergies and intolerances” to 11 ingredients that include “monosodium glutamate or MSG.”

Not that Herr’s is totally oblivious to such health issues. The front of its “Old Bay” bag, for instance, notes that the chips are “gluten free” (an acknowledgment that some consumers may be sensitive to gluten) and have zero grams of trans fats. But the fact that it contains monosodium glutamate is something you can only learn by scrutinizing the list of ingredients on the back.

And even if you turn the package around, what your eye will likely be drawn to is not the ingredients listing sandwiched between the Nutrition Facts label and the Product Guarantee” but a graphics-decorated blurb on the right side, signed by company President Ed Herr, telling unwary consumers how “(f)or more than 30 years now Herr’s has been seasoning fresh-cut potato chips with the classic blend of heat, sweet and savory known as Old Bay,” and briefly describing the seasoning’s history. And directly beneath that you’ll find a “recipe idea” for “Delicious Herr’s Old Bay Potato Chip Crab Cakes,” with nary a clue that its health-sounding components will include monosodium glutamate.

 

‘An entirely different product’

But according to Phil Bernas, the vice president for quality assurance at Herr’s, there’s nothing about the presentation of this product that hasn’t been thoroughly scrutinized and approved by McCormick. And it’s McCormick, not Herr’s, that “makes the total seasoning package” that goes into Old Bay Potato Chips, with his company being responsible only for the “base product” of sliced potatoes and some added salt, he told Food Identity Theft.

“This is a formulation that came out quite a few years ago and hasn’t been touched since,” he said. “The package design is one they encouraged us to have … they thought it was great for us to promote the product and promote Old Bay at the same time.” But he acknowledges that what the Old Bay Chips are seasoned with is “an entirely different product” than the Old Bay Seasoning sold in supermarkets. (We were unable to verify all this with McCormick by deadline time, although we did manage to reach a communications official there who promised to “look into it.”)

Not that Bernas is particularly concerned about the use of monosodium glutamate in an item that portrays itself as simply being seasoned with Old Bay. Like many people in the food industry, he‘s reassured by the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has declared it (and many other harmful additives) to be “generally regarded as safe,” or GRAS. “I can say it’s come under scrutiny by the FDA and there’s no scientific basis that the symptoms people claim are tied to MSG are caused by MSG,” he said, brushing aside a mountain of both scientific and anecdotal evidence to the oldbay3contrary.” The only thing the FDA requires is that we label it.”

He did, however, note that “our company and other companies are looking at ways to eliminate MSG, particularly in new products,” but “what has been harder is (getting rid of it in) products that have been tremendously successful and are difficult to reformulate. This product is very successful, particularly in major markets where old Bay Seasoning is popular.”

He’s also not worried that unwary consumers will buy it on the assumption that the ingredients are the same ones found in regular Old Bay Seasoning, contending that anyone who might be especially sensitive to MSG would be inclined to check the ingredients before using it.

And, yes, we would agree that you should scrutinize the ingredients of any processed food before you buy it.  But in era of busy schedules and fast-paced shopping, it’s easy to be fooled by a product that appears identical to something you think you’re already familiar with   And where monosodium glutamate is concerned, as many unwary people have learned the hard way, the results can be positively frightening.

(For more information on the effects of monosodium glutamate, see my review of Adrienne Samuels’ book The Man Who Sued the FDA.)

How much was the First Lady on target about HFCS? Let us count the ways

Posted by -- April 24, 2014

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The occasion was a White House Easter Egg Roll, but it was a rhetorical egg thrown by First Lady Michelle Obama that got the most attention – and seemed to have ruffled a few feathers in the corn refiners’ coop.

“Our bodies don’t know what to do with high fructose corn syrup – and don’t need it,”the First Lady told chef Marc Murphy, who serves as a judge on The Food Network’s “Chopped.”

But while Mrs. Obama’s off-the-cuff remark buffed her image among many consumers as a champion for healthy living, it seems to have incensed John Bode, the Corn Refiners Association’s militant new president and CEO. While claiming to “applaud” her “commendable work to educate the public about nutrition and healthy diets,” Bode contended, “It is most unfortunate that she was misinformed about how the body processes caloric sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup.”

He further claimed that “(y)ears of scientific research have shown that the body metabolizes high fructose corn syrup similar to table sugar and honey,” adding, “Moderation and the right caloric balance are key to a healthy lifestyle.”

So was the First Lady “misinformed”? Not according to the research teams for some of the nation’s leading universities and health facilities who have, in fact, done “years of scientific research” on the differences between HFCS and other “caloric sweeteners,” such as natural honey and sugar (which HFCS has replaced in numerous processed foods).

And if you check out some of these studies, it looks like the First Lady was right on the mark with what researchers have been saying.

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.”
  • Another study done in 2010 at Princeton University found that rats with access to high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.  Long-term consumption of HFCS also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides – findings the researchers said sheds light on factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.
  • A Yale University study in 2013 published in 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.
  • A 2013 study done by the University of Southern California compared the average availability of high fructose corn syrup to rates of diabetes in 43 countries, about half of which had little or no HFCS in their food supply.  The researchers found that countries using HFCS had rates of diabetes that were about 20 percent higher than countries that didn’t use the sweetener in processed foods. Those differences remained even after researchers took into account data for differences in body size, population and wealth.
  • A 2011 University of California at Davis study that examined 48 adults between the ages of 18 and 40 found that those 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, which have been shown to be indicators of increased risk for heart disease.
  • A 2010 study by the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA found that pancreatic cancer cells love fructose. The researchers said fructose activates a key cellular pathway that helps the cancer to grow more quickly and that “cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation.”

That’s not all, folks. But it’s enough to prove that Michelle Obama was in no way “misinformed” when she made that comment. And neither are the increasing numbers of consumers who have come to realize that high fructose corn syrup has no place in a healthy diet — despite the claims of the chief lobbyist for those who are trying to squeeze as much profit as possible out of it before the food industry ends its ill-advised experiment with this test-tube additive.

And that’s why we at Food Identity Theft want amounts of HFCS in food products clearly labeled.

 

A food-industry giant’s ‘stunning about-face’ demonstrates the power of consumer indignation

Posted by -- April 22, 2014

By BILL BONVIE

Who would have believed that a major food company would actually issue an abject apology to its customers for having initiated a policy that angered many of them – and announced that it was immediately trashing the whole idea?

general_millsBut that’s what one just did, in what The New York Times called “a stunning about-face.”

The contrite corporation was none other than food-industry giant General Mills, which has posted a prominent notice on its website that it has “listened” to consumer complaints over an arbitration clause that got a lot of people’s dander up when they realized they might be, in effect, signing away their right to sue the company.

While claiming that the legal terminology involved had been “misunderstood,” General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas, noted in an email over the weekend that it was being removed from company sites and that “we have reverted back to our prior legal terms, which contain no mention of arbitration.”

Kirstie Foster, director of external communications for the Minneapolis-based agribusiness behemoth, went even further. “On behalf of our company and our brands,” she stated in a message to consumers on the company’s official website, “we would also like to apologize. We’re sorry we even started down this path. And we do hope you’ll accept our apology.”

And, while noting that the offending terms had never been enforced, nor would they be, are now null and void, she added that “we never imagined this reaction” to arbitration clauses that  “are common in all sorts of consumer contracts, and “don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim.”

Will bad food ingredients be the next to go?

If nothing else, this reversal proves that nothing moves companies to reform their way of doing business so much as consumer indignation – particularly in an age when it can be so visibly expressed via social media.

And in the same manner, if enough customers were to vent their dissatisfaction with food ingredients that are “common” in all sorts of products, but that can adversely affect their families’ health, it’s a good bet we’d see action on that front as well.

In fact, the effectiveness of “consumer power’ in swaying such policies is becoming more and more apparent – just one example being the increasing number of products that now have “no high fructose corn syrup” prominently displayed on their packaging. (And I’m sure you can immediately think of others.)

As Paul Argenti, a  corporate communications professor at Dartmouth College, pointed out to The Wall Street Journal, this episode demonstrates how social media have provided consumers with new powers to punish companies for policies that arouse their anger, even if such policies are perfectly legal. And the response ” shows a kind of growth at corporations — they can change their mind and that’s a good thing for everyone.”

That’s not to say that complaints about ingredients won’t meet with a certain amount of industry resistance. This often takes the form of thinly disguised public-relations ploys, using so-called “experts” to reassure you that various additives have not been proven to pose any health threats, much as was once done with cigarettes (as hard as that now is to believe).

And, of course, it requires a good deal more time and effort on the part of food processors like General Mills to revert to healthier formulations than it did to take down a policy statement — whether or not its implications were “misunderstood.”

That’s why it’s so important for consumers to be knowledgeable about the nature of the substances being added to the things they’re eating – to carefully read ingredient labels, to know which ones are objectionable, and to be able to rebut the reassurances of industry and its PR flaks that none of these things will really do you any harm.

In fact, that’s what we consider our primary role here at Food Identity Theft – to keep you informed of what’s going into the products on supermarket shelves, the shady background of some of the additives that have become so “common” in today’s processed foods, and what researchers have discovered about their long-term (and sometimes immediate) effects on health.

Armed with that kind of knowledge, if enough of you make your voices heard, it’s a good bet we’ll see a lot more than one “stunning about-face” by the food industry in the near future – and maybe even more in the way of apologies. And without having to resort to our right to sue.

Consumers have it right: HFCS isn’t just another form of sugar

Posted by -- April 17, 2014

pepsi_sugar

A proposed new law in California would require warning labels to be placed on soft drinks stating that “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

Unfortunately, what this bill does is to further blur the difference between “sugar,” which was used in soft drinks for many years, and “sugars,” which is Food and Drug Administration terminology for all caloric sweeteners – most notably high fructose corn syrup, which is now used in practically all the non-diet sodas now on the market.

It’s an important distinction. And it’s one that has already been clouded all too often by the use of the common misleading expression “sugary drinks.”

But those in the business do know the difference.

Take Pepsi.  It is now about to introduce a new line of soft drinks that are “made with real sugar,” representing a return to the days before HFCS started replacing actual sugar in most processed foods and beverages. No doubt, the company is hoping this move will help reverse the steady decline in soda sales we talked about in a blog last week.

Of course, what we’ve been hearing a lot lately from nutritionists, media, politicians (such as ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and the Corn Refiners Association,  is that “sugar is sugar.”

And we agree — sugar is indeed sugar.  But sugar isn’t high fructose corn syrup — either in actuality or in the way it’s defined by the Food and Drug Administration (even though, confusingly, both are classified as “added sugars”).

So when commentators try to tell you that this is merely a matter of perception and that you’re “deluded” and “misguided” if you think there’s any real difference, as one recently did, they’re flat out wrong. Because there’s a significant body of scientific research that contradicts their position. And it turns out that consumers, a majority of whom (that is, 58 percent) ranked HFCS as one of their top food safety concerns during a 2008 survey, are a lot smarter than they’re given credit for being.

And what really matters is that those consumers are increasingly using their purchasing power to show that the addition of a cheap, unnatural and (in the opinion of numerous experts) unhealthy sweetener to foods and beverages is something they’re no longer willing to unquestioningly accept.

How one risk factor leads to another

A number of studies, many done by leading universities, have already linked HFCS consumption to various health problems, from the obesity and diabetes epidemics (which didn’t exist before HFCS became a substitute for sugar in numerous products and was added to many others) to heart and kidney ailments, metabolic syndrome, the development of pancreatic cancer, memory and learning disabilities, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

That last association was made by University of Florida Division of Nephrology researchers, who concluded that that “the pathogenic mechanism underlying the development of NAFLD may be associated with excessive dietary fructose consumption.”

And now comes word of yet another study that in turn, links NAFLD with obesity and a high risk of heart disease – this one done at Saint Luke’s Health System’s Liver Disease Management Center in Kansas City, Mo.

When researchers in this study took upper-abdominal CT scans of nearly 400 patients, they found that those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were more likely to have coronary artery disease. The risks that poses, they concluded, was stronger than other more traditional risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.

Of course, the Corn Refiners Association and others who have tried to misrepresent HFCS as just another form of sugar (when they’re not touting it as a “natural” substance, which it also isn’t) will tell you that it contains the same amount of fructose as sugar does.  But, as we’ve often pointed out here at Food Identity Theft, that’s very often not the case, as high fructose corn syrup has been found have significantly higher amounts of fructose – which in some cases is as “excessive” as 90 percent (it wasn’t called “high fructose ” for nothing). In addition, the fructose and glucose of sugar are chemically bound together, in HFCS, they’re not – and many doctors and researchers consider that to be part of the problem.

Oh, and one more thing. Dr. John Helzburg, who helped lead this latest study, noted in a press release that “(i)f current trends continue”, the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease “is expected to increase to 40 percent of the population by 2020.”

But whether those trends continue may well depend on how many more food and beverage companies decide to listen to their customers and make a serious effort to get this disease-linked laboratory sweetener being falsely represented as “sugar” out of our food supply.

 

Does this toxic metal, now linked to Alzheimer’s, belong in anyone’s diet?

Posted by -- April 15, 2014

By BILL BONVIE

opening a canAsk people what they’re most afraid of when it comes to their health, and they’ll probably tell you it’s the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s.

Yet, many of us regularly consume things containing an ingredient that’s now been positively linked to that dreaded, mind-robbing disease.

In fact, you might very well be doing so yourself and not be aware of it. Because the ingredient in question can be found in a whole bevy of processed foods, ranging from frozen fish to frozen pizza to commercial cake mixes, not to mention certain over-the-counter drugs.

It’s aluminum.

For many years, this toxic metal has been regarded by many health experts as a possible perpetrator in the fast growing number of Alzheimer’s cases after turning up in the brains of some who have succumbed to the disease.  But we were always told there was never enough “proof” of its involvement – especially given that the victims were mostly older people and no direct ‘cause-and-effect’ association was ever clearly established.

But now there’s much stronger evidence – strong enough to move aluminum from something regarded with suspicion into the category of an official “suspect”.

The breakthrough came when researchers from England’s Keele University examined the brain of an industrial worker who had died of early onset Alzheimer’s following eight years of regular occupational exposure to aluminum sulfate dust. Prior to his diagnosis, the man, whose medical history showed no indication of the disease, complained of tiredness, headaches and mouth ulcers, then began to develop memory problems and depression.

Following his death several years later, a neuropathological examination confirmed that he had advance stage Alzheimer’s disease.  “There then followed the most comprehensive investigation ever of the aluminium (the British spelling) content of the frontal lobe of a single individual with 49 different tissue samples being measured for aluminium,” according to a UK health website.

The examination found the amount of aluminum in the victim’s brain to be at least four times higher than might be expected for someone his age. “Overall, these results suggest very strongly that occupational exposure … contributed significantly to the untimely death of this individual with Alzheimer’s disease,” noted Keele Professor Chris Exley.

In other words, a direct link between Alzheimer’s and aluminum exposure was finally made.

A little aluminum with that?

Of course, the chances are you’re not regularly breathing in aluminum dust in your workplace. So should this concern you?

The answer is yes — because aluminum, as many product ingredients labels will tell you, is something you’re apt to be consuming on a regular basis. The number of everyday foods to which it’s routinely added include such items as:

  • Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Duncan Hines cake mixes, all of which contain sodium aluminum phosphate;
  • Gorton’s Fish Tenders and Fish Sticks, which also lists sodium aluminum phosphate as an ingredient in its baking powder;
  • DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza, which does likewise.
  • Clabber Girl Baking Powder, which can add sodium aluminum phosphate to your homemade cakes and pies (as opposed to such brans as Argo and Rumsford, whose labels note that they’re “aluminum free.”

And you may be getting it from other food-related sources as well: aluminum foil, if you use it to wrap meats, fish and other items during cooking, and aluminum cookware (which should be replaced with newer ceramic varieties).

In addition, if you suffer from indigestion, a number of the antacids now on the market contain aluminum compounds as either active or inactive ingredients — which is why you should check those labels, too.

Of course, the amounts of aluminum you’re absorbing into your bloodstream from food and other sources aren’t apt to be anything like the airborne levels to which the unfortunate British worker was exposed.

But knowing that this toxic metal can accumulate in brain tissue, and is now considered a likely culprit instead of just a ‘substance of interest’ in the development of Alzheimer’s, do you really want to be ingesting it – especially when you don’t have to?

Here’s the top ten to avoid. Get ready for “Read Your Labels Day” tomorrow!

Posted by -- April 10, 2014

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Tomorrow is the second annual “Read Your Labels Day,” and in case you missed any of the top ten food additives to avoid, here they all are.

This is the rogue’s gallery of unnecessary and health-damaging ingredients that turn up in so many products — what they are, where you’re most likely to find them, and why you should keep them out of your diet.

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.

Slumping soda sales reflect growing wariness of harmful sweeteners

Posted by -- April 8, 2014

dietpepsi

By BILL BONVIE

Are Americans waking up to what’s actually in the food and beverages they’re buying?

An important indication that such awareness is finally getting through to the public came last week in a report that soda sales, both regular and diet — and especially the latter — are in a substantial slump. “Soda losing its grip on America,” is the way it was headlined by ABC News, which noted that sales figures show a three percent decline, with those for diet soda double that, representing “hundreds of millions of fewer bottles” consumed. Nor did this “seismic change, ”as ABC termed it, just come about – it’s been going on for quite some time, with Americans now drinking 20 percent fewer carbonated soft drinks than in 1998, according to the report.

What makes this especially encouraging news is that the message finally seems to be hitting home that both varieties of soft drinks are among the worst products currently on the market from a health standpoint.

Caloric sodas – you know, the ones usually misidentified by nutritionists, politicians and reporters as “sugary drinks” – are probably the leading source of the unnatural sweetener high fructose corn syrup, which as we have so often pointed out, shouldn’t be confused with “sugar” (meaning sucrose) – and which is first on our list of the “top ten food additives to avoid.”

As for “diet sodas” (or any type of “diet” drink or product, for that matter), they’re infused with the artificial sweetener aspartame, a notorious neurotoxin and threat to brain cells whose ‘rap sheet’ includes many thousands of cases of adverse reactions, along with studies linking it to brain tumors in rodents and grand mal seizures in rhesus monkeys.  In fact, aspartame is number 2 on our list of worst additives — an ingredient we refer to as the “diet devil in disguise” because it is often misrepresented as a healthy non-caloric alternative to sugar (or HFCS). And the bad news about it just keeps coming, with a new University of Iowa study having found that women who drink just two diet sodas a day have a significantly higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.

What all this adds up to is that neither of these laboratory-created ingredients should be a part of anyone’s diet. Yet the American beverage industry has been putting them in its carbonated drinks for a good many years – and in so doing, has been wreaking havoc on our collective health in ways that are both obvious and invisible.

Consumers catching on to toxic additive risks

In addition to research pointing to HFCS as a likely culprit in the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes (which correspond with its having replaced sugar in soda and many other products for purely economic reasons), different studies conducted over the past few years have linked this cheap laboratory concoction to increased risks of heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, kidney disease and pancreatic cancer.

As the public has become more aware of these potential health problems, increasing numbers of consumers have made a point of avoiding HFCS, despite a campaign by the Corn Refiners Association to misrepresent it as a natural product “made from corn” and even rename it “corn sugar.” But while it’s been removed from some processed foods, it has remained as an ingredient of most regular soft drinks, which may help account for their rapid decline in popularity.

If diet soda sales are showing an even greater drop, that may well have a lot to do with the fact that more and more people are becoming knowledgeable about aspartame’s dangers, despite attempts by industry, the Food and Drug Administration and even the media to stifle such concern by making it appear benign. (ABC News, for example, notes in the print version of its recent story that Americans “don’t seem to be convinced that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are safe, even though there is no scientific evidence that they cause any harm” – a statement many experts would dispute.)

The new level of consumer awareness that may be largely responsible for pushing down soda sales was perhaps best summed up by Robert Banks, a Washington, D.C. resident who told ABC News: “I have been trying to eliminate high fructose corn syrup, so soda is the number one culprit. Once I stopped drinking sodas I began to lose weight, which reinforced my desire to drink water. I thought about diet soda, but I recently heard studies that indicate artificial sweeteners aren’t healthy.”

No doubt, a lot of other people are coming to the same conclusions. The response of the beverage industry has been to diversify into products other than sodas, perhaps blaming the fact that they’re losing their “fizz” with the public on campaigns waged against these so-called “sugary drinks” by politicians and nutritionists.

But what both the industry and its critics may not realize is that consumers are becoming increasingly savvy – and the real reasons they’re increasingly turning their backs on Coke, Pepsi and all their carbonated cousins have to do with the fact that, for a long time now, they’ve been anything but “sugary.”

New study gives a clean bill of heart health to a condemned commodity

Posted by -- April 3, 2014

butter

 

By BILL BONVIE

Heard about the astonishing new health-food discovery?

It’s something that can “significantly” reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a new study out from Britain’s University of Cambridge.

And it’s something that can be easily used in any meal of the day — as a spread on your morning toast, in sandwiches, or in cooking.

So what, exactly is this miracle food, and where can you buy it?

As it turns out, it’s available in the dairy case of any supermarket or grocery store.  It’s something called butter.
Yes, you heard me right – the same stuff that we’ve been warned to avoid for decades if we wanted to keep from becoming a heart disease statistic. In fact, we now know that the real threat to our heart health was posed by the very butter substitute we were originally advised to use (and that many people still do) – margarine, a major source of artery-clogging, heart-attack inducing trans fat.

The research on which this finding was based wasn’t just limited to one locale, In fact, it, involved a rather comprehensive analysis of some 72 studies with 600,000 participants in 18 countries. And what the investigators also found was that “total saturated fatty acid, whether measured in the diet or in the bloodstream as a biomarker, was not associated with coronary disease risk in the observational studies.” Nor was there any significant associations between consumption of total monounsaturated fatty acids, long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, consumption and cardiovascular risk.

So what does all this mean? According to the university’s press release, that “current evidence does not support guidelines which restrict the consumption of saturated fats in order to prevent heart disease.” There was also “insufficient support for guidelines which advocate the high consumption of polyunsaturated fats (such as omega 3 and omega 6) to reduce the risk of coronary disease.”

In other words, everything you’ve been told by doctors and health experts about the dangers of eating saturated fats, such as butter, was wrong.

But it’s not as if this is the first time that butter has been seen as a key to better health.  While mainstream groups like the American Heart Association continued to demonize it as a major risk factor, other, lesser known authorities were boosting its benefits – benefits they maintained went considerably beyond promoting heart health.

Back in the year 2000, for example, The Weston A. Price Foundation for Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts posted an article at its website on “Why Butter is Better,” which talked about the “disinformation campaign” that called naturally saturated fats from animal sources “the root cause of the current heart disease and cancer plague, with butter bearing “the brunt of the attack.” As a result, butter “all but disappeared from our tables, shunned as a miscreant.”

Such claims, the group said, “would come as a surprise to many people around the globe who have valued butter for its life-sustaining properties for millennia. When Dr. Weston Price studied native diets in the 1930’s he found that butter was a staple in the diets of many supremely healthy peoples.”

A sharp rise in heart disease, the Foundation pointed out, corresponded to the widespread replacement of butter with margarine – which should have exonerated butter as a cause.

Actually, the group noted, “butter contains many nutrients that protect us from heart disease.” These include vitamin A, of which butter is the most easily absorbed source, lecithin, which assists in the assimilation and metabolism of cholesterol, and artery-protecting antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium.

Butter’s other benefits, according to the Weston Price Foundation, include:
•    Strong cancer-fighting components, such as short-and medium-chain fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, and cholesterol that offers protection from colon cancer;
•    Properties that protect against gastro-intestinal infections;
•    Iodine that helps the thyroid gland to function properly;
•    Immune system support, protection against osteoporosis, and even prevention of tooth decay, and
•    Helping promote proper growth and development in kids.

The prosecution remains adamant

Even without all that, however, you’d think the latest mega-study would exonerate butter and convince the health establishment that it should be urging people to get butter back on their table ASAP.  But it doesn’t quite work out that way.

The American Heart Association, for instance, noted in a press release that while the study calls “established wisdom” into question, it “stands by its guidelines that saturated fats can hurt your heart while polyunsaturated fats may help it, with a representative quoted as saying that  it merely means “that we lack the data from controlled clinical trials that truly test this question of how much saturated fat is acceptable, so we must rely on existing science that suggests that saturated fat … tends to promote the formation of fatty plaques in the arteries.”

In fact, the AHA response that butter remains a culprit in heart disease sounds a lot like that of a prosecutor trying to keep someone he’s helped convict behind bars after the prisoner has been exonerated by DNA evidence. Just like the criminal justice system, the health establishment is always unready to admit it’s made a grave error.

Fortunately, you need not keep butter locked away from your family any longer – any more than you do eggs, another natural food which the purveyors of counterfeit commodities once also tried to hold responsible for the ills they’ve actually created.

And, like a lot of other foods, it’s always best to go organic with both butter and eggs.

But welcome back butter!

The number one food additive to avoid!

Posted by -- April 1, 2014

labelOur 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 two years 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.

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 start a healthy new trend. Stay tuned for more details and how you can participate now that you have the “411” on the top 10.