Archive for June, 2014

Are you adding a powerful pesticide to your morning coffee?

Posted by -- June 26, 2014



A new study has concluded that a “novel, effective, and human safe approach for insect pest control” might be in the offing. And that should sound like good news.

But what might make it seem somewhat less so – even perhaps a bit disturbing – is the fact that a lot of us are already ingesting this supposedly ”safe” alternative  pesticide.  And not as a residue, either, but in the form of a no-cal sweetener – one we sprinkle on foods and beverages and can find already added to juice and other items by food manufacturers.

It’s Cargill’s Truvia®, a seemingly benign and healthy product described on its website as having “natural, great-tasting sweetness born from the leaves of the stevia plant.” But it’s not the relatively small amount of stevia found in Truvia that apparently possesses pest-control potential.  The thing that does is identified in the name of the study, which appears this month in the online publication PLOS ONE: “Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide.”

Followers of this blog might recall that last year, Truvia was the subject of a couple of lawsuits claiming that the erythritol it contained wasn’t the “simple, natural ingredient “found in fruits like grapes and pears,” as it was being described, but rather one “derived from corn starch in a patented process.” (At least one of those cases – a class-action suit – has reportedly since been settled, with some adjustments made to the label.)

Now comes news that researchers from Philadelphia’s Drexel University, engaged in what appear to have been some very meticulously conducted experiments, have found that feeding Truvia and erythritol to fruit flies shortened their lives considerably, as well as impeding their “motor skills.”

They determined this after comparing both the flies’ longevity and climbing ability with those of control groups whose diets consisted of various kinds of sweeteners, natural and synthetic,“nutritive” and “non-nutritive.” But the only one that really seemed to ‘zap’ the flies was the Truvia – and the more of it they got, the faster they succumbed.

Don’t blame stevia

A further comparison of Truvia results with those of another product, Pure Via, indicated that “stevia plant extract was not the toxic element in these sweeteners.” Although both contain stevia, Pure Via uses dextrose as its “bulk component,” while Truvia uses erythritol. This is especially interesting is light of the attempts by the Food and Drug Administration a few years back to keep stevia off the market by labeling it an “unsafe food additive,” even though it had been thoroughly tested for safety in Japan, and has been used for centuries without any adverse reactions ever being associated with it.

This particular study, however, was not intended to cast doubt on the safety of either erythritol or Truvia, as the FDA once did with stevia. In fact, it notes how a “large body of literature has shown that erythritol consumption by humans is very well tolerated and indeed, large amounts of both erythritol and Truvia are being consumed by humans every day throughout the world.”

The purpose instead seems to be reflected in the suggestion that it may possibly offer a solution to the “large worldwide need and demand for environmentally safe and effective insecticides.”And perhaps it will – although as the authors note in their conclusion, “Further study will be required to determine if erythritol is toxic to other insect species.”

What we would ask, however, is whether “further study” is also indicated to determine whether or not it may be toxic to humans in light of this new data, despite all that “literature” that says it isn’t.

The Truvia website claims the product is “safe for all individuals” — even those with irritable bowel syndrome — and that “nearly everyone will be able to use Truvia® natural sweetener in their diet with no problems,” except for perhaps “a few who are extremely sensitive.” But a casual Internet search reveals that consumers have reported suffering a variety of adverse reactions to Truvia, including gastrointestinal distress, migraine headaches, dizziness, rashes, extreme fatigue, mouth sores, and pains in the head, neck and shoulders, and that such symptoms disappeared shortly after they stopped using the sweetener.

Apart from simple allergies, might such individuals be responding to whatever it is about the erythritol in Truvia that singularly sent the fruit flies in that study into an early death spiral?  The researchers themselves acknowledge that their work “did not address the physiological or molecular mechanisms of erythritol toxicity.” Given what we now can deduce – that it seems to interfere with some vital survival mechanism for at least one living organism  — isn’t that something someone perhaps should be doing, along with indexing the instances of those adverse effects?

Maybe what Truvia is really meant to be is a swatter, rather than a sweetener.

A little knowledge can make food labeling claims a lot less confusing

Posted by -- June 24, 2014



An article in The Wall Street Journal Monday headlined “The Gluten-Free Craze: Is It Healthy” makes an interesting point about food manufacturers trying to get in on a health craze that actually only affects a small minority of consumers.

In reality, the only people who need be concerned about gluten, the article points out, are those with celiac disease – a condition affecting less than one percent of the population – although, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, another 18 million Americans suffer from “gluten sensitivity” that may cause feelings of discomfort.  Yet “gluten-free” claims have proliferated, and have been a driving force in the sales of many products, including some that never even contained gluten.

And that, some experts charge, could be causing consumers to make choices that aren’t necessarily in their best interest – for example, by buying “gluten-free” items that actually have fewer nutrients than their gluten-containing counterparts.

Of course, “gluten-free” is only one of a number of health claims used on product labels, as the article also points out.  Here at Food Identity Theft, our job is to help consumers sort them all out, identifying those that are actually “part of the solution” to food-related problems and others that are problematic in themselves.

A good example of the latter are trans-fat free labels,” which the Journal notes are being used on products such as milk, “even though milk never contained the artificial kind of trans fats that clog arteries.”

But that’s not the real problem with “zero trans fat” claims, which, as we’ve so often pointed out, can be genuinely deceptive, since the Food and Drug Administration gave food companies a loophole big enough to drive a trans-fat truck through by allowing anything below 0.5 grams to be rounded out to “zero.”  And that can add up to a significant daily intake of trans fat, which the FDA now admits causes about 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year.

Of course, the problem will be eventually solved should the FDA’s proposed phase-out of partially hydrogenated oil (PHO), the main source of dietary trans fat, eventually take effect.  But until that time, no “trans-fat free” claims, including those found on the Nutrition Facts Panel, can be assumed to be accurate.  Consumers must instead check the actual ingredients for the presence of those tell-tale PHOs.

Then there are those “No MSG” declarations, which most people would take to mean that the product contains no monosodium glutamate, the flavor enhancer that some experts consider neurotoxic, and to which many people suffer a whole range of adverse reactions. But that often merely disguises the presence of “disguised MSG” in the form of ingredients such as hydrolyzed protein, sodium caseinate and autolyzed yeast, which are other forms of free glutamic acid that can have similar effects.

“No sugar” claims, of course, can be even more spurious, since what they usually mean is that the product contains some type of artificial sweetener — usually aspartame, a source of countless adverse reaction complaints ranging from migraines to seizures to vision problems (and which, like MSG, has been labeled by neuroscientists as an ‘excitotoxin” capable of exciting certain brain cells to death, especially in children and adolescents.) Perversely, aspartame also has a particularly debilitating effect on a relatively small group of people who suffer from a condition called PKU, and is supposed to carry a warning to that effect.  But both its presence and the accompanying warnings have become all but imperceptible in many products since NutraSweet lost its patent on this controversial chemical sweetener and it went generic.

A claim worth celebrating

One claim that the Journal compares to “gluten-free” in the way it has resonated with many consumers is “no high fructose corn syrup,” with products so labeled having “jumped 45% in the past four years, to $921 million.” But there’s a big difference between the two, in the fact that HFCS, a caloric laboratory sweetener, is a product that may negatively impact most, if not all consumers, since it’s been linked by studies from various prestigious universities and medical institutions to such health problems as obesity, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and heart problems (something missed by the writer of the Journal article, who erroneously attempted to equate the “deleterious effects” of HFCS with those of cane sugar and agave nectar.)

If anything, the facts that, as the Journal points out, more than a third of U.S. adults are obese, that diabetes has risen sharply in recent years and that we now eat over 450 more calories daily than 40 years ago may well be related to the proliferation of HFCS in processed foods over the past two or three decades, despite its growing unpopularity with consumers.

The article also quotes food historian Abigail Carroll’s observation that “Food corporations have figured out how to adapt their foods to become solutions to health problems and at the same time capitalize on the confusion itself.”

But all it takes to dispel that confusion is a little knowledge – of the real effects of various widely used food additives (like those on our “top ten to be avoided” list) and whether or not they’re listed on the ingredients label.  Oh, and of any effects that certain foods or ingredients might have on you personally, such as whether you’re unable to assimilate, or especially sensitive to, something like gluten.  That helps, too.

A Supreme Court ruling makes misleading food labeling a risky proposition

Posted by -- June 19, 2014



In my previous blog, which talked about the misrepresentation of Old Bay Seasoning in a line of Herr’s “Old Bay Seasoned” snack foods containing monosodium glutamate (which is not an ingredient in Old Bay itself), I concluded with the following statement:

“Technically, of course, they may have fulfilled the requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration that monosodium glutamate need only be listed among the ingredients.  But there’s no getting around the implication that ‘Old Bay Seasoned’ means seasoned with Old Bay – not an ‘entirely different product’ that could be hazardous to your health and brain.”

Now, it looks like that idea may have gotten some legal validation – from no less than the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case at issue is one in which the juice manufacturer POM has sued the Cocoa-Cola Company, alleging that the label of Coke subsidiary Minute Maid’s “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” beverage is misleading, since the product is actually 99 percent apple and grape juice.

Last week, the high court ruled 8-0 that Pom can proceed with its lawsuit. According to the Associated Press, “(l)ower courts had ruled in favor of Coke because the label conforms to the law and to Food and Drug Administration rules. But the Supreme Court reversed, finding that the juice label may technically comply with FDA rules but may still mislead consumers for different reasons.”


In other words, from here on in, it may not be quite enough for food companies to use the fact they’re following narrow FDA criteria as an excuse for attempting to fool the public. They may well have to start becoming a lot more honest in labeling practices (and that’s one of those rare points on which all the justices present, conservative and liberal, concurred).

And that should be a be a real source of concern to all those Big Food brands that have been playing fast and loose with the facts of what their products actually contain, as opposed to how they’re being represented. Hopefully, lawyers for these companies will start advising their marketing departments and ad agencies that they’ll be on pretty thin ice from now on if they think simply adhering to FDA edicts, like listing an ingredient on the back, puts them in the clear to hoodwink consumers.

Or as Pom’s parent company said of the decision, it “will translate into higher assurance for consumers that the labels on beverage and food are accurate.”

Fitting right in with FIT’s mission

This ruling comes as an especially significant – and encouraging – development to us here at Food Identity Theft (and our sponsor, Citizens for Health), as one of our jobs since this blog began has been to keep you apprised of the various ways in which products are often misrepresented. These include some examples that are very similar to Minute Maid’s giving an exaggerated impression of the amount of pomegranate juice its drink blend contained – such as products that use the term “blueberry” in their name that actually have little or no blueberries.

While such misrepresentations amount to consumer rip-offs – and often divert customers away from buying more beneficial items that live up to their label claims, as Pom has alleged —  other instances of misleading labeling and promotion, such as the one involving the “Old Bay Flavored” snacks, can put the health of unsuspecting consumers at risk.

So might this ruling “open the door to more litigation against food makers for deceptive labeling,” as the AP account asserts? We hope so. The prospect that food companies will think twice from now on before they engage in such practices is a positive outcome for shoppers faced with the daunting task of having to analyze products before they buy them.

So is the idea that, as Claudia Vetesi, a San Francisco attorney specializing in false advertising class action lawsuits put it, an increase in “business to business litigation” over food labeling may well resuIt.

In other words, Big Food may now have to answer to someone other than federal regulators.

Two new ‘Old Bay Seasoned’ snacks arrive — with same hazardous additive

Posted by -- June 17, 2014



A Food Identity Theft Exclusive


It’s a case of a dangerous deception having taken on a whole new dimension.

Back in April, we first warned you how the name and image of Old Bay Seasoning, a brand long trusted for the integrity of its ingredients, was being misrepresented by another product, Herr’s Old Bay Seasoned Potato Chips, which contain an additive — the neurotoxic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate – that can cause some people to suffer extremely adverse reactions.

We also revealed how this classic example of what we mean by “food identity theft”  involved not only Herr’s, but McCormick & Co., the spice manufacturer that acquired Old Bay nearly a quarter century ago, and that we discovered was supplying Herr’s with the “seasoning package” for the chips in question.

But what we didn’t know at the time was that those chips, whose bag features a depiction of MSG-free Old Bay Seasoning, were only the initial offering in a bogus Old Bay snack product line. Since then, two new “Old Bay” products have arrived in our local supermarket –Herr’s Old Bay Seasoned Popcorn and Cheese Curls, both of which also list monosodium glutamate among their ingredients.

In fact, they’ve even got an Old Bay snack display that’s topped by a cardboard crab and blow-up of the iconic blue, yellow and red Old Bay canister — just to reinforce the impression that the products underneath are flavored with many people’s favorite seasoning, the one described at its website as a “unique blend” of spices and herbs that’s “still produced to its original exacting standards.” And that’s not the only location where we found these snack foods on display, both companies having gone ahead with a high-powered point-of-purchase marketing campaign apparently aimed at the 4th of July picnic crowd.

Now, while it may be true that the presence of pure MSG (as opposed to forms of free glutamic acid with other names) is often found in snack foods, what makes this campaign particularly devious is the assumption many people might make that the seasoning they’re topped with is the same familiar MSG-free product they’re used to sprinkling on seafood and other dishes.

The danger of ‘a little flavor enhancer’

Nor is popcorn a snack to which MSG is ordinarily added – in fact, neither Herr’s Original Popcorn nor Herr’s Light Popcorn contain any – and that might make people especially apt to presume there’s none in Old Bay Seasoned Popcorn. Both those factors could easily cause MSG-sensitive individuals (and there are quite a few of them) to suffer adverse reactions, some serious enough to land them in the ER, such as seizures and atrial fibrillation. And that’s not to mention the damaging effects that some neuroscientists say this “excitotoxin” can have on brain cells, especially in children and older people who don’t have a fully functioning blood-brain barrier.

A call to Herr’s confirmed what I suspected – that the popcorn and cheese curls are indeed newly minted products, as opposed to the potato chips, whose formulation, according to a Herr’s executive, was introduced a number of years ago and “hasn’t been touched since.” The person with whom I spoke also repeated what I was originally told about the potato chips – that “what we’ve learned at Herr’s through research and development in taste tests is that customers actually prefer the flavor of the product with a little flavor enhancer that the MSG is used for.”

Well, of course, they would – especially if the taste test subjects don’t know that “a little flavor enhancer” has been added, and that it’s monosodium glutamate.

What this really all amounts to is a kind of doubly deceptive method of marketing these snack foods. First, it creates the impression that they’re flavored with Old Bay Seasoning, when they’re actually seasoned with “an entirely different product” – a fact acknowledged to me by Phil Bernas, the vice president for quality assurance at Herr’s, when I interviewed him for my first blog on this subject. And then the items are made to seemingly taste even better than one might expect of something seasoned with Old Bay by adding monosodium glutamate.

Technically, of course, they may have fulfilled the requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration that monosodium glutamate need only be listed among the ingredients.  But there’s no getting around the implication that “Old Bay Seasoned” means seasoned with Old Bay – not an “entirely different product” that could be hazardous to your health and brain.

Misguided ‘war on sugar’ obscures role of real health culprit

Posted by -- June 12, 2014

Cookies under a metallic locked cageBy BILL BONVIE and LINDA BONVIE

Remember the war on fat?  It was only a few years ago when any sort of fat was widely viewed as the enemy of good health, and people were encouraged by doctors, nutritionists and consumer watchdog groups (like the “Food Police”) to purge fat in any form from their diet.

One result, of course, was that millions of consumers switched to “low-fat” or “no-fat” products that were laced with various harmful additives, such as neurotoxic flavor enhancers, to compensate for their basic lack of taste.

Today, it’s becoming ever more apparent that this all-inclusive elimination of dietary fat (particularly saturated fat) was a huge mistake.  We now know that, like bacteria in our ‘inner ecosystem’, some types of fat are not only beneficial, but essential to maintaining a healthy metabolism (although that information has yet to be fully incorporated into nutritional policies and conveyed to many consumers). Old-fashioned butter, for example, has recently been exonerated as a heart-healthy fat after people were warned for decades to stay away from it, and even to substitute margarine, which actually contains artery-clogging trans fats.

Now, however, we seem to have substituted a new source of edible evil – sugar. Or, to be more precise, sugars. And, yes, there is a difference – although you’d never know it to listen to some media reports, politicians and dieticians.

“Sugar” is the common name for sucrose, derived from sugar cane or sugar beets, whereas “sugars” is the term used by the Food and Drug Administration to characterize all caloric sweeteners.  And while that may seem like splitting hairs, it’s contributed to a huge amount of confusion and misunderstanding, helping erroneously brand all such sweeteners as being identical – that is to say, equally harmful – and promoting the idea that we should shun them all just as we were once advised to avoid all fats.

This erroneous notion that “sugar is sugar,” which has been heavily promoted by the Corn Refiners Association in its attempts to make high fructose corn syrup seem just like another form of it, has been bandied about by various media and even in heavily hyped books. As a Huffington Post article on “Other names for sugar” proclaimed in 2012, “any sugar or full calorie sweetener affects the body in the same way. Some formulations (an apparent reference to HFCS) just have a worse reputation.”

Well, maybe not.

Just as all fats are not created equal, neither are all “sugars” (and please note that ‘s’ at the end). So let’s look a bit more closely at a few of the sweeteners that are now being simplistically lumped together and see whether these attempts to make them all seem equivalent hold water.

‘Sugars’ as healthy foods

Honey: (meaning real honey that still contains actual pollen, which you’re most likely to find at farmers markets). Often referred to as a “superfood,” honey has long been valued for the therapeutic benefits it offers, such as its ability to relieve coughs and colds naturally and as an antidote for allergies. Its attributes include being an antioxidant, as well as having antibacterial and antifungal properties which makes it an ideal natural salve to aid in the healing of wounds and burns.  In addition, fructose amounts can vary in honey, with some types, such as buckwheat honey, having less than others. It also has a low glycemic index, which means you won’t “crash” after eating it, and contains a number of essential “trace“ nutrients, including iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorous, manganese and selenium.

Maple syrup: Researchers have discovered some remarkable health benefits of this traditional natural sweetener, which is derived from the sap of maple trees. A recent University of Rhode Island study, led by a prominent medicinal plant specialist, for example, found that pure maple syrup contains more than 20 compounds that play various roles in keeping us fit and warding off disease.  Another study in Quebec found that maple syrup may be better than broccoli, blueberries, tomatoes and carrots in helping to prevent brain, prostate, and lung cancer.

According to the Journal of Medicinal Food, its high levels of phytohormone and abscisic acid may actually help ward off (rather than cause) diabetes by promoting the release of insulin and improve the insulin sensitivity of fat cells.

(A typical example of how this issue is misrepresented is a web site called “Authority Nutrition, an evidence-based approach,” that claims we should avoid maple syrup, despite the fact that it contains essential minerals and antioxidants, such as zinc and manganese, because it also contains sugar, which it calls the leading cause of health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. But the studies the author cites to back up this assertion both were on the effects of “sugar-sweetened beverages” – which, of course, aren’t sweetened with sugar at all, but HFCS.)

Sugar: Yes, it’s high in calories, and can contribute to weight gain if you overindulge (especially without working them off).  But sugar, or sucrose, is a natural substance that’s been produced and consumed for centuries. It consists of a ‘fixed 50-50 formula’ of glucose and fructose, chemically bonded together, that can be depended on to stay the same. Its least processed form, turbinado sugar, is easily available, and retains many of the essential minerals present in sugar cane, including potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.

While many critics have been quick to blame sugar for the explosion of diabetes (the rate of which has risen substantially in the past few years), the fact remains that the consumption rate of actual sugar is even lower now than it was a century ago. So some other factor must be at work to cause the current “epidemic” of diabetes in this country – a development that corresponds with the introduction and proliferation of something else in our food supply, namely….

high fructose corn syrup. Interestingly enough, this synthetic sweetener that was invented in a laboratory  was declared by the FDA last year to not be sugar. (This was when the agency rejected the CRA’s petition to have its name officially changed to ‘corn sugar.”) Yet its identity continues to be confused with that of sugar. But the fact remains that, despite growing consumer resistance, it is still in countless processed food products, making the idea that it can be consumed “in moderation” laughable. Meanwhile, HFCS and excessive fructose have been linked in studies done by prestigious institutions and universities to both diabetes and obesity, as well as other health problems, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and an increased risk of heart disease.

When the real facts are examined, it becomes clear that neither “sugar” nor “sugars” are the cause of our current health problems that they’ve been made out to be, any more than “fat” was. The real culprit is rather a laboratory concoction that’s been masquerading as sugar – and up to now, has been getting away with sugar-coating its image.

New research on drinks finds super high fructose levels

Posted by -- June 10, 2014

sodasThe Corn Refiners Association’s long-held position that very little difference exists between high fructose corn syrup and sugar has just been blown out of the water by some damning new research.

For years, a mantra led by the CRA has held that natural sugar, or sucrose, and HFCS have nearly the same ratio of glucose to fructose, the component now widely viewed among experts as hazardous to our health. Whereas sugar contains a 50-50 fructose-glucose ratio, HFCS was said to have a 55-45 ratio, which the CRA maintained was practically the same (although it actually represents 10 percent more fructose, not 5 percent).

Now an extensive study just published in the Journal Nutrition has repudiated that claim, at least insofar as HFCS-sweetened beverages are concerned.

Led by Dr. Michael Goran of the University of Southern California, the research team, which analyzed some 34 widely consumed non-diet soft drinks and juices, including Coke and Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Sprite and Mountain Dew, concluded that their actual ratio of fructose to glucose is 60/40 – that is, 50 percent more fructose than glucose. And those results were consistent in evaluations done by three separate laboratories using three different methods to obtain them.

“We found what ends up being consumed in these beverages is neither natural sugar nor HFCS, but instead a fructose-intense concoction that could increase one’s risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease,” said Dr. Goran, who serves as director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) at the Keck School of Medicine.

“The human body isn’t designed to process this form of sugar at such high level,” Goran maintained, pointing out that “Unlike glucose, which serves as fuel for the body, fructose is processed almost entirely in the liver where it is converted to fat.”

Dr. Goran’s study provides Citizens for Health with powerful new evidence to back up the petition it submitted to the Food and Drug Administration back in 2012. That petition asks that the FDA take action against food and beverage manufacturers that use HFCS with fructose amounts above 55 percent (the highest amount the agency allows), and in the interim, to provide accurate label information revealing the actual fructose percentage in the HFCS formulation being used. (To read and comment on this petition at the FDA, click here.)

The need for such measures was also supported by an earlier study co-authored by Dr. Goran that revealed how high fructose corn syrup may add an “additional contributing factor” to the development of diabetes. At the time, Goran contended that the 10 percent higher fructose level permitted by the supposed 55/45 ratio was enough to constitute an added risk factor.

Also mentioned in the Citizens petition are blends with fructose levels of up to 90 percent in a form of the sweetener called HFCS 90. One brand called Cornsweet 90 is manufactured by Archer Daniels Midland.

Back then, Goran told Food Identity Theft that the petition “makes perfect sense given the broad use of high fructose corn syrup in our food supply,” adding that “consumers need to be provided with accurate label information, especially with regards to fructose content.”

Sugar-sweetened beverages also suspect

As it turns out, however, industry claims of how much actual fructose is in products containing HFCS aren’t the only ones now being challenged by the latest Goran-led study. The researchers also discovered discrepancies in the amount of fructose contained in beverages supposedly sweetened with sugar rather than HFCS.

The label on Pepsi Throwback, for instance, indicates it is made with real sugar, yet the analysis showed that it contains more than 50 percent fructose. Higher fructose concentrations than those indicated on the label were also found in Sierra Mist, Gatorade and Mexican Coca-Cola, which all supposedly are sweetened with sucrose, raising the possibility that that they might also contained “hidden” levels of HFCS.

“Given that Americans drink 45 gallons of soda a year, it’s important for us to have a more accurate understanding of what we’re actually drinking, including specific label information on the types of sugars,” Goran noted.

A report on the study from UCS noted that Americans consume more HFCS per capita than the inhabitants of any other nation, and that consumption has doubled over the last three decades., corresponding to a tripling of diabetes rates during the same period.

‘Research’ like this only proves industry’s belief it can pull one over on us

Posted by -- June 5, 2014

Recently, I came upon a greeting card I couldn’t resist buying. The front panel read, “Four out of five experts agree that having a birthday is better than being mauled by a bear,” with an accompanying cartoon of four white-coated individuals identified by yellow tags as “Expert 1,” “Expert 2,” “Expert 3” and “Expert 4.”  
When you open the card, you find “Expert 5” – a white-coated bear saying “I need to do more testing,” under the words, “The fifth expert isn’t convinced.”
It was a spot-on spoof of those so-called studies that are funded by various industries in an attempt to convince the public that certain products or additives are safe or beneficial after independent research has clearly shown them to be anything but.   
A good example is a recent study that made the news – one that, contrary to the conclusions of various other researchers, found that consumption of diet soda does result in weight loss after all.
This particular study, which was published in the journal Obesity and funded by – surprise, surprise – the American Beverage Association, divided some 300 adult diet-soda drinkers, whose average weight was 200 pounds, into two groups: those who were allowed to continue drinking their artificially sweetened beverages, and those who had to give it up and only drink water.
At the end of 12 weeks, the participants restricted to water had lost an average of nine pounds, while the diet soda drinkers had lost an average of 13 pounds –which supposedly proved that non-caloric synthetic sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose do help fight obesity.
Or did it?
According to a rather well-balanced report by CNN, the subjects drinking only water would likely have compensated by consuming more calories from other sources (something even one of the study’s designers said “makes sense.”)
The study also was far too short in duration to really prove anything, according to Susan Swithers, a professor of behavior neuroscience at Purdue University. Last year, Swithers authored a study that found that diet soda actually has a “counterintuitive effect” by sabotaging the way our bodies respond to caloric sweeteners. As a result, diet soda drinkers may be “at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
Other studies, including one published back in January by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, have also concluded that people who habitually down diet soft drinks are apt to consume more in the way of calories than those who don’t. And the likelihood of gaining, rather than losing weight may be the least of the problems associated with regularly imbibing artificially sweetened beverages.  
A recent study presented at an American College of Cardiology conference, for example, found that women who drank two or more diet sodas daily were at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. And, as has been noted before in this blog, thousands of complaints about adverse reaction to aspartame, which many experts regard as neurotoxic, have been logged with the FDA and an the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, ranging from migraine headaches to seizures and temporary blindness.
Research on another commonly used artificial sweetener, sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda), done a year ago at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found that it had diabetes-promoting effects in human test subjects, despite the fact it has no calories and is categorized as a “nonutritive sweetener.” Sucralose has also been linked to gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, and been reported to cause migraines.
And then there’s this from Kristi Norton, one of the participants in the American Beverage Association-sponsored study who had to give up her diet soda for 12 weeks: “I feel like I could 1000% tell the benefit of drinking water only. I felt better, I had more energy, I felt healthier, I just generally felt way better. And I can feel the difference now when I drink a diet drink, I can feel this ‘heaviness’.”
All of which should be enough to make even those desperately seeking ways to lose weight realize that an artificially sweetened solution is no solution at all. Perhaps New York University nutrition professor and author Marion Nestle said it best when queried by The Boston Globe earlier this year: “My sweetener of choice is sugar. I just try to keep it to a minimum and rarely drink sweetened beverages. Artificial sweeteners are not on my dietary radar.”
When it comes to diet soda and other synthetically sweetened products, the ‘weight of the evidence’ clearly contradicts the bear in researcher’s clothing.  

Yes, you can have a delicious birthday cake that’s healthy, too

Posted by -- June 3, 2014




The other day, I mentioned to a friend that I would be baking my sister Linda an organic cake for her birthday. He made a wry face and, in a voice tinged with sarcasm, replied, “Boy, I’ll bet that will really be delicious!”

“Actually, it will,” I replied. And, despite the fact that I’m hardly what you’d call a pastry chef (or a chef of any sort), it actually turned out to be even more delicious than anticipated – in fact, about as good as it gets, cakewise (even if that does sound a bit like bragging).

But at the same time, I well understood where this particular individual was coming from. Ever since we were old enough to understand the meaning of words, we’ve been fed a steady (and stealthy) diet of processed-food propaganda that the only things that taste good are those that aren’t particularly good for us – and the worse they are, the better they taste (an idea reinforced by the addition to many foods of neurotoxic flavor enhancers like MSG).

So it should come as no surprise that many people still think that a cake made from organic ingredients (which, by definition, would eliminate all those ‘unnatural’ additives one finds in conventional confections) would be unappealing to anyone with a sweet tooth.

But even some consumers who might know better – the ones who have become somewhat wary of what ‘regular’ food products contain and would like to give their families the benefit of a healthier diet – might be apt to believe that when it comes to special occasions like birthdays, they have only three options. They can either bake a cake from a standard mix, settle for one of the commercial concoctions conveniently placed in the refrigerated case of their supermarket, or buy a “custom-baked” cake from the store’s bakery section –none of which are particularly desirable in terms of ingredients.

If you think those are your only practical choices where birthday cake is concerned, however, I’m happy to tell you you’re wrong. In fact, all the fixings of a superb organic birthday cake – in terms of taste as well as ingredients – are probably available in the same supermarket where you’d ordinarily buy those additive-adulterated cakes or cake mixes. And if not, you’ll almost certainly find them at your local health-food store.

But how much of a difference will this make in the ‘caliber’ of your cake? Perhaps that should be put another way: how much can you really enjoy eating a cake – or, for that matter, serving it to your children or guests – when so many of its ingredients pose genuine hazards to your health and well-being?

First, let’s look at what you’ll find in a store-bought chocolate cake with vanilla frosting (the same type as my organic cake), starting with a Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Fudge 3-layer cake.  Listed among the numerous additives in this presumably healthier brand is partially hydrogenated oil, or PHO – the same artery-clogging ingredient that the Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged causes 7,000 deaths a year and has proposed phasing out as a result.

In fact, there’s enough PHO in this cake to amount to a whopping 2.5 grams of trans fat per single serving. And that’s in addition to high fructose corn syrup (our number-one ingredient to be avoided) and sodium caseinate, a form of free glutamic acid considered part of the ‘MSG family’ that can trigger a whole range of adverse effects in many people.

Next, let’s examine what you’ll get if you choose to bake a cake using one of the conventional supermarket cake mixes, such as Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate and Betty Crocker Butter Recipe Chocolate (both with vanilla frosting). Despite the control you might have over some ingredients, you’ll still be serving a cake laced with things like partially hydrogenated oil in both the cake and the icing (enough to register 1.5 grams of trans fat in the latter), aluminum (in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate), a substance which has now been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. and various artificial flavors and colors — although Duncan Hines does make a point of having “no high fructose corn syrup,” which is at least a step toward a healthier product.

Then, there’s your typical bakery cake, which is likely to be just as bad, if not worse, in terms of ingredients. An example is the golden fudge double layer cake offered by the bakery of our local supermarket, which contained two types of  partially hydrogenated oil and two artificial colors, along with HFCS and aluminum (in the form of acidic sodium aluminum phosphate).

Finally, let’s talk about our organic cake.  The cake and icing mixes, both made by Organics (that’s the name of the brand), contain none of the undesirable additives included in either the conventional mixes or the store-bought cakes — just things like organic cane sugar, organic wheat flour, organic cocoa powder, baking soda, organic cornstarch, organic vanilla flavor and sea salt.

To the cake mix I added two organic eggs and two-thirds of a cup of organic extra virgin coconut oil, which is now generally considered to be the most beneficial oil on the planet, then blended the icing mix with eight tablespoons of organic butter, which, as we noted in a recent blog, has now been fully reinstated as a ‘healthy fat’. Then I topped it off with a sprinkling of shredded, unsweetened coconut and some organic strawberries! And the results couldn’t be better in terms of taste.

But, as I commented earlier, there are still people out there who continue to think that a product made with organic ingredients must somehow be deficient in the taste department. My sister even encountered one who, when told she was eating organic birthday cake, responded that it sounded “scary”.

What I really find scary, however, is the idea that we must continue to let people eat cake (or any other food) that’s laced with health-destroying additives in order for them to enjoy it.