Archive for December, 2014

A year of revelations revisited: the best of Food Identity Theft from 2014

Posted by -- December 30, 2014

Daily food ingredients that most people eat


Here at Food Identity Theft, we like to think of ourselves first and foremost as a news source. And just like the network news programs, we’d like to bid farewell to 2014 with a “year in review” of what we consider to be some of the most noteworthy stories we’ve covered (or broken) over the past year.

Oozing into detention

The first was one we reported last January – the fact that so-called “chicken ooze” had become a prison menu staple (which came to our attention when nearly 34,000 pounds of this “pink slime’ counterpart headed for a detention facility were recalled for bacterial contamination by Tyson Foods). This led us to ask why “anyone not doing time for a crime should want to voluntarily ingest the inferior and ‘institutional’ sort of junk food that’s routinely dished out to prisoners as part of their punishment.”

The following month, we tackled the common misidentification by the media of the widely used laboratory sweetener high fructose corn syrup with regular corn syrup, a much older product that, unlike HFCS, contains no fructose, and the misapprehension this tended to produce. We also noted how this had compounded the level of confusion created by the already misleading idea that HFCS is a form of “sugar.”

girlscout_cookiesDemerits for Girl Scout Cookies 

In March, we took on Girl Scout Cookies, highly popular commodities used to raise money for scouting activities that, unfortunately, all too often contain some very unhealthy ingredients – particularly artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oil that the Food and Drug Administration had proposed phasing out as a cause of thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.

That same month, we also revealed how the “phantom sweetener” Sweetmyx had become available to an unsuspecting public as a food and beverage additive, despite never having been approved by the FDA – and with unknown health effects.   And we did a “reality check” on the FDA’s newly proposed Nutrition Facts label.

An Old Bay-Seasoned Subterfugeoldbay1

April gave us one of our biggest “exclusives” yet – the expose of a dangerous deception involving the addition of the neurotoxic flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate to Herr’s Old Bay Seasoned Potato Chips, a product that many consumers might assume contained nothing more than the innocuous herbs and spices of Old Bay Seasoning.  We also revealed the shocking truth about the newly confirmed link between aluminum, which is an ingredient in various food products, and Alzheimer’s.

In May, we talked about how the neurotoxic synthetic sweetener aspartame was about to be disguised under a new product label and how the hype about HFCS offered on the website of the Corn Refiners Association somehow ended up as an “article” penned by a dietician in a supposedly reputable daily newspaper.  We wound up the month with a critical analysis by Citizens for Health Board Chair Jim Turner of the newly released movie, Fed Up, detailing both its merits and what it failed to tell us.

Label fables

June was a particularly eventful month at Food Identity Theft, which included a disclosure of a new study showing far higher levels of health-damaging fructose in HFCS-laced beverages than FDA regulations permitted (and the Corn refiners Association claimed).

We also talked about various other ways in which food labeling claims can be designed to deceive and came out with a “sequel” to our April “scoop” on Herr’s Old Bay-Seasoned Potato Chips, truviashowing how other Herr’s Old Bay Seasoned snack food items were also being laced with health-endangering monosodium glutamate.  In a subsequent blog, we discussed the implications of a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling cracking down on just such misleading label claims.

Finally, we revealed how Truvia, Cargill’s supposed “stevia-based” sweetener, and its actual main component had been found to shorten the lives of fruit flies and impede their motor skills.

We’ll be posting a review of the year’s second half worth of blogs on New Year’s Eve. Stay tuned.

The Night St. Nick Didn’t Show Up

Posted by -- December 24, 2014

cookies_santaBy LINDA and BILL BONVIE

‘twas the night before Christmas
and all through the land
folks were eating food
that should have been banned.

The stockings were filled
with fake flavors and dyes
while deadly trans fats lurked
in the crusts of the pies.

And visions of sugarplums
were turned really gross
by high fructose corn syrup
in place of sucrose.

And MSG provided
a flavor enhancer
with all kinds of ‘side effects’
(perhaps even cancer).

When the jolly old elf
That all awaited
instead left a message
none had anticipated.

And it said, “If you all insist
on making yourselves sick,
you can do it without me,
Sincerely, old St. Nick.”

When they got over their shock
they all suddenly understood
that the guy in the red suit
was looking out for their good

And those yucky ingredients
really needed to go
if they again wanted to hear
his hearty “ho,ho, ho!”

So into the garbage
those toxic foods flew
with New Year’s resolutions
to not buy them anew.

And before very long
the message got across
to the makers of the products
that were now being tossed

And who responded by scrapping
all additives unfit
For human consumption,

And as a result
of being put ‘on their mettle’
everyone in the land
was in much better fettle

When St. Nick returned
the following year
to once again spread
some holiday cheer

And they heard him exclaim
As he drove out of sight
“Healthy Christmas to all
And to all a good night!”

Colorful holiday ‘goodies’ can conceal some pretty bad ingredients

Posted by -- December 23, 2014

cakemixChristmas is here again — along with all those colorfully packaged “goodies” that are really “baddies” in disguise.

And once again, we here at Food Identity Theft have taken it upon ourselves to scout the supermarket for products that could turn what should be a happy occasion into one that could be hazardous to your health.

Let’s start with that classic holiday favorite, fruitcake.

We all know the fruitcake is the butt of a lot of jokes, but it’s what most commercial fruitcakes contain that would be laughable — that is, if it were funny.  That’s certainly true of two versions we found being displayed to entice holiday food shoppers — Village Square Fruit Cake and TastyKake Fruit Kake.

Both are similarly packaged and have similar ingredients– including such dietary grinches as partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils (sources of those artery-clogging trans fats that the Food and Drug Administration acknowledges are responsible for approximately 7,000 heart disease fatalities a year); high fructose corn syrup, (HFCS), the laboratory sweetener that various studies have linked to obesity, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, heart problems and other health issues; the petroleum-based preservative TBHQ (just one gram of which has resulted in vomiting, delirium and collapse), and the artificial color Red 40, another petro-derivative linked to hyperactivity in children as well as to allergic reactions such as hives and facial swelling, and which has reportedly damaged the DNA of mice.

Making a “homemade” cake won’t be much better if you’re using some of those special holiday cake mixes that come in festively decorated boxes, like Duncan Hines Holiday Velvets Cake Mix. It seems those vivid hues are actually created by a combo of Red 40 and two other hyperactivity-inducing synthetic dyes, Yellow 5, or tartrazine (which is known to be an asthma trigger as well as having been linked to blurred vision, migraines, anxiety and fatigue) and Blue 1, or brilliant blue, which a recent study found can enter the bloodstream via the digestive tract. And that’s not to mention the aluminum it contains in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate – a heavy metal that has recently been linked to early onset Alzheimer’s.

Then there’s Pillsbury Holiday Funfetti Cake Mix, which besides pudding and candy bits, also gives you a whole bevy of harmful additives that, in addition to sodium aluminum phosphate, TBHQ, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or soybean oil and “lakes of four artificial colors, includes sodium caseinate, a form of MSG (that is, free glutamic acid) that can cause sensitive individuals to suffer a whole variety of symptoms, including migraines.

Our list of top holiday treats that we recommend removing from your shopping list also includes Smucker’s Toppings, all of which are sweetened with HFCS. In addition, the company’s chocolate fudge topping includes partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oil, while its caramel, butterscotch, strawberry and pineapple toppings are colored with various synthetic hues.

Finally, there’s this “classic” candy item, which now actually comes in a brightly bound holiday volume you might be inclined to buy without a second thought simply because the product is so familiar (and even nostalgic).  But the Life Savers in that Hard Candy Sweet Storybook contains both HFCS and all three of the aforementioned artificial colors.

And that’s something we can’t emphasize enough — just because something seems “traditional” doesn’t mean it’s the same as it once might have been in Christmases past. Which is why before you buy any brightly decorated  “goodies” — even those you remember from your childhood – you should always first look for that list of ingredients usually found on the side of the package and check it twice. It’s one way you help assure yourself and your family of a healthy holiday season.

Foundation’s lawsuit against the FDA reveals risks of a diet high in soy

Posted by -- December 18, 2014

courtHere at Food Identity Theft, we’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to making our readers aware of the health risks caused by a number of common food additives, almost all of which are considered to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (with the exception of brominated vegetable oil).  These include synthetic sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup and aspartame, neurotoxic flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate and related forms of free glutamic acid, and deadly trans fats that are said to be responsible for an estimated 7,000 annual heart disease fatalities.

Today, however, we’d like to discuss the problems associated with a supposedly “healthy” food ingredient that’s an actual food source, rather than just an additive –and that is arousing increasing concern because of the large number of processed products of which it’s an integral part.

We’re referring to soy.

Like corn, soy seems to be everywhere in our food supply. And a lot of consumers may still be under the impression that it’s a heart-healthy plant protein (remember the “tofu turkey”?), based on an FDA assessment to that effect made 15 years ago — a “final rule” that allowed foods containing soy protein to make advertising and labeling claims that 25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.

In the years since, an increasing number of experts have challenged that conventional wisdom about the alleged health benefits of soy. But one group, the Weston A. Price Foundation, whose self-described mission involves disseminating accurate, science-based information on diet and health, has taken such concerns a couple steps further.

First, back in August 2008, the group filed a citizen petition “based on the large body of scientific evidence that fails to support the soy protein health claim permitted by the FDA’s Final Rule,” and that raised “scientific evidence showing that soy protein consumption may have adverse health consequences, due to the presence of antinutrients, including protease inhibitors, phytates, lectins, saponins and oxalates, as well as phytoestrogens, in soy protein.

“To prevent consumers from continuing to be misled about the connection between soy protein and heart health,” that petition requested revocation of the FDA’s Final Rule, according to a news release issued by the Foundation.  But the FDA failed to answer that petition and has continued to ignore it, despite a rule that within 180 days the agency must either approve or deny the petition, or provide a tentative response indicating why it has been unable to reach a decision.

Finally, this week, the Foundation ran out of patience, and filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that seeks to compel the FDA to provide a substantive response to the Citizen Petition that has remained in limbo for the past six years.

Prisoners sue over soy

But there’s a bit more to the story than that.  For in the interim, the Foundation has seen for to sponsor another lawsuit has been instituted over soy used in food – this one filed by prisoners in Illinois who are claiming that the large amount of soy in their diet constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the eighth amendment, as well as a denial of their fourteenth amendment rights to due process.

Consuming excessive amounts of soy (which the plaintiffs claims was used to save money) are alleged to have resulted in a variety of ailments that included chronic gastrointestinal problems and pain, vomiting after eating, passing out, heart palpitations, rashes, acne, insomnia, panic attacks, depression and symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as low body temperature (feeling cold all the time), brain fog, fatigue, weight gain, frequent infections and thyroid disease.

Now, should you think such claims were being invented by convicts with too much time on their hands, they’ve been supported by several prominent experts, including Dr.David Brownstein, a physician, who maintained that the amount of soy fed to the plaintiffs was responsible for causing their health problems, including gastrointestinal distress and bowel dysfunction, vitamin deficiencies and  thyroid disorders, and toxicologist Mike Fitzpatrick, PhD, who pointed out that the phytoestrogens in soy depress thyroid function and cause endocrine disruption, and that a mere 50 grams of soy can cause thyroid problems, including thyroid cancer.

Another expert witness, laboratory analysis expert William Shaw, noted that soy protein has the highest oxalate level of any known food and that the prisoners were receiving hundreds of milligrams of oxalates per day. “According to Shaw, virtually all of the plaintiffs’ health problems can be explained by their high-oxalate diet. The toxicity of oxalates is well established; oxalates can deposit sharp crystals not only in the kidneys, but in virtually every tissue and organ of the body, including joints, heart, blood vessels, teeth, gums, eyes, skin, brain, nerves, thyroid and thymus glands. Oxalates also block the absorption of many essential minerals, leading to malnutrition.”

Now, admittedly this can be a controversial topic. But regarding soy, the best advice we would offer our readers is that fermented soy products, such as tempeh, are probably a lot healthier than others – and that organic products containing soy ingredients are far preferable to conventional ones.

But even at best, soy is something that should certainly be consumed in “moderation.” Otherwise, you could conceivably find yourself eating a self-imposed diet similar to that of the Illinois prisoners who claim they have been subject to “cruel and unusual punishment.” And perhaps suffering many of the same reactions – although you may not be aware of the reasons why.

The ‘all-natural’ way to turn home cooking into a health hazard

Posted by -- December 16, 2014

accentA couple weeks ago, we talked about how the use of the adjective “natural” has been disappearing from the labels of processed foods containing ingredients that are anything but. This development seems to have corresponded with the settlements of lawsuits over the use of such misleading terminology – most recently one against General Mills for falsely describing its Nature Valley Granola Bars, Crispy Squares and Trail Mix Bars as “100 percent natural.”

But there is one product out there — not a food, actually, but rather a food additive — that continues to describe itself in this manner, even though it’s manufactured by means of a process that’s distinctly unnatural.  It’s the “all natural flavor enhancer” marketed as Accent, whose sole ingredient is listed as monosodium glutamate.

But the label hype doesn’t end there.  While a serving size, which is about 1/8 of a teaspoon, does contain 80 mg of sodium, Accent still claims to have “60% less sodium than salt” and to actually be “more healthful than salt.” The label also suggests it be used as a way of making “meats, poultry, vegetables, soups and salads taste better.” In other words, sprinkled on foods just like salt (and pepper) – and used on any number of them, perhaps well in excess of a typical “serving.”

Only this isn’t anything like salt, and it’s hardly what one would call “healthful.” It’s an additive long associated with a wide range of ill effects, many far more serious than the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” coined many years ago. These include headaches and migraines, nausea and vomiting, constricted airways, facial numbness and seizures, as noted at the website of the Epilepsy Foundation, as well as rapid heartbeat and atrial fibrillation — a fact cited by the American Heart Association. (Such symptoms, of course, may be especially pronounced in certain individuals who are acutely sensitive to this substance, as a good many people are.) And that’s not to mention its having caused liver inflammation in lab rats.

Monosodium glutamate (also known as MSG, a term that applies as well to other additives that also contain processed free glutamic acid, such as hydrolyzed protein and autolyzed yeast) is also considered an “excitotoxin,” so named because it can literally excite certain brain cells to death. That’s especially true of children, in whom such neurological damage may also cause aggressive behavior.

And in certain highly sensitive individuals, it can also result in Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, as is described in Adrienne Samuels’ book, The Man Who Sued the FDA, about the years-long health crisis suffered by her late husband Jack as a result of the MSG concealed in many processed foods.

Glutamic acid run amok

The reason such symptoms occur is that unlike the natural glutamic acid that is “bound” inside certain protein-rich foods, which is known as L-glutamic acid (and which the industry cites as “proof” that it’s harmless), monosodium glutamate consists mostly of a form known as D-glutamic acid that’s “free” – as in free to wreak havoc on your health. While the monosodium glutamate was originally extracted from seaweed when it was first discovered more than a century ago, according to the company’s website, “the glutamate in Accent is made from corn.”

The MSG manufacturing process is described on the website of Eden Foods, which makes a line of MSG-free organic products, as one in which such bound glutamic acid “…is broken down or made ‘free of protein’ by various processes (hydrolyzed, autolyzed, modified or fermented with strong chemicals, acids, bacteria, or enzymes, which are often genetically modified) and refined to a white crystal powder that resembles salt or sugar.” It goes on to explain that:

This factory made version causes serious reactions. …When pure, manufactured, MSG is ingested a rapid effect occurs from the glutamate. This ‘free of protein’ glutamic acid, or glutamate unlike the naturally occurring ‘protein bound’ glutamate, is not attached to other amino acids. The normal digestive disassembly process does not happen because there are no ‘peptide’ bonds to slow the process. The sudden increase in free glutamic acid is then rapidly absorbed and can raise blood levels of glutamate eight to ten times causing toxicity.

What’s particularly alarming about the way Accent is marketed (complete with a graphic of various veggies and meats on its label) is that it represents an open invitation for any unwary shopper — especially one trying to cut down on salt — to buy it and add it to all kinds of home-cooked dishes that might ordinarily be healthier than the many processed and frozen convenience foods now available.

And, if served with one or more of the various snack foods that are also laced with monosodium glutamate and other forms of MSG (such as the Herr’s Old Bay snacks previously discussed in this blog, which many people may not realize contain it), that could be a real potential health disaster in the making for that person’s family and dinner guests.

Which is why going to someone’s house for a home-cooked meal might end up being just as hazardous to your health (if not more so) as anything that comes from your supermarket’s frozen-food shelf. And which is also why now might be the time to warn family members and friends about the dangers of this supposedly “natural” and healthful” salt substitute.

Hershey’s considers ditching HFCS – but media manage to muddle the story

Posted by -- December 11, 2014


One of the Hershey’s products that contains HFCS

Sometimes, we can’t help feeling that consumers are, on the whole, better informed about issues affecting their health than some of the “expert sources” relied on by the media,

This past week, for example, various news organizations including the Associated Press, ABC News, and the Chicago Tribune trumpeted the news:  Hershey’s, the 120-year-old chocolate icon, announced its intention to review and reconsider its use of the industrial sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in its popular syrups and several other products.

The fact that Hershey’s may become the latest company – as well as one of the largest — to ditch HFCS and revert to actual sugar should have been a fairly easy story for a professional journalist to factually report.  But unfortunately the media missed the mark on key aspects of it.

The Associated Press story, which was used by other media, including ABC News and the Huffington Post, reflects how easily reporters can be misled. It began its coverage by quoting Will Papa, Hershey’s chief research and development officer, that the company is “moving more toward sugar” because “we take into account what consumers want. And consumers are telling us between the two, they prefer sugar.”

So far, so good. But then the industry spin machine immediately kicked in.

Instead of using the long-accepted way of presenting a news story involving anything controversial – that is, presenting pros and cons from various sources — the article quotes only those whose position is that HFCS in products is really not a problem. It then uses these one-sided opinions to claims that while many people say they avoid HFCS because it has gained a bad reputation for fueling weight gain and diabetes, “health experts says there’s not enough evidence to conclude it’s any worse than regular sugar.” (Here’s a pointer on reading such stories.  Whenever an article involving science says “not enough evidence,” that’s usually opinion rather than fact, and a good indicator you’re being misled.)

It then notes that the American Medical Association has maintained “there’s not enough evidence to specifically restrict the use of high-fructose corn syrup.” But restricting the use of HFCS was never the issue. The issue is that large amounts of HFCS—larger than the rules permit or the labels say—are routinely used by food companies and that a number of scientific studies have concluded this is hazardous to our health. It also fails to notes that “fructose” is the problem, as are the amounts of it used in HFCS. (When fructose is free and unbound, as it is in high fructose corn syrup, it goes directly to the liver, causing a number of potential health problems, according to many scientists.)

The article also notes that “The Center for Science in the Public Interest, has said that there’s no evidence that the sweetener is any worse nutritionally than sugar” – a statement that also overlooks significant scientific research and testimony to the contrary.  It is one thing for CSPI to be unconvinced by the evidence that exists.  It is quite another to write the negative evidence out of the equation altogether, which again misleads consumers (as well as companies reading this).

News or CRA propaganda?

But perhaps the worst aspect of the AP story was its extensive use of the Corn Refiners Association as a source, reflecting how the CRA takes every opportunity to mislead reporters on the subject. In fact, much of it reads like a press release put out by the CRA in response to the Hershey’s statements, with several paragraphs devoted to the corn refiners’ standard talking points, including quotes from CRA President Jack Bode and the results of a market research survey the group had commissioned purporting to show that two-thirds of consumers think “moderation” is more important than types of sweeteners.  (Of course, the fact that “moderation” is nearly impossible when it comes to the widespread use of HFCS was never brought up.)

Then there’s the Chicago Tribune, which repeats an all-too-common media misidentification of high fructose corn syrup in both its story and headline as simply “corn syrup,” a much older ingredient that contains no fructose, but which can also be found in Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup — a mistake that’s no doubt pleasing to the CRA, which has been trying for some time to drop “high fructose” from the name. ( In fact, we discussed this common misidentification in a blog back in February.  And while a Hershey’s spokesman specifically refers to “high fructose corn syrup” in the second paragraph, the story refers twice more to the wrong product, first noting that “the move … comes at a critical time for the makers of corn syrup, which have been facing more scrutiny from public health officials and nutrition experts and falling demand in the United States.”

At least the Tribune got that latter part right – even if it did show pictures of Hershey’s chocolate bars (which don’t contain any HFCS).

The point is that increasingly over the past decade, consumers have been actively avoiding products containing HFCS – and with good reasons for doing so.  This widespread and accelerating change in public perception has prompted a desperate last-ditch effort by the CRA to save its sinking sweetener – and seizing every opportunity to use the news media for that purpose is all part of the strategy. Reporters, who should know better, need to stop relying on trade groups such as the CRA as their primary sources of information.

Consumers already have – and in that sense, are a lot more savvy.

Packaged bread brands hedging their bets when it comes to HFCS

Posted by -- December 9, 2014

nutellaBread. It’s as old as civilization, and so fundamental to our diets that it’s long been used as a synonym for food itself – reflected in such sayings as “without bread all is misery,” by British journalist William Cobbett, or the Russian proverb  “with a piece of bread in your hand you’ll find paradise under a pine tree.”

Real bread enthusiasts, of course, usually bake their own, which has been made a lot easier by the availability of bread machines.  Or if they don’t have time, they probably opt for special artisan breads offered by private or in-store bakeries.

But for most consumers, the bread of choice is probably one of those sliced and packaged loaves found in the bread aisles of supermarkets. So it’s hardly surprising that the leading manufacturers of such products attempt to appeal to the traditional sense of comfort that bread conveys by making them look and sound as homespun and natural as possible.

Take Pepperidge Farm “Farmhouse” breads. “The bakers at Pepperidge Farm have been making great tasting breads for over 70 years…breads baked with care, using the perfect combination of wholesome, flavorful ingredients,” reads the copy on the package, which also includes the assurance that it’s American Heart Association Certified and meets the organizations “criteria for heart healthy food.”

But how “wholesome” and “heart healthy” can a product be that contains high fructose corn syrup, the cheap laboratory sweetener that various studies at leading universities have linked to obesity, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease … and, yes, heart disease? (For example, a University of California at Davis study which examined 48 adults between the ages of 18 and 40 and 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.”)

And those aren’t the only Pepperidge Farm bread products with HFCS. It can also be found in the company’s “Swirl” breads and in its “Bakery Classics” 100% Whole Wheat Hamburger Rolls that are described as “timeless and without pretense” and that “stand for quality with premium ingredients perfectly orchestrated with a baker’s touch.”

But oddly enough, if you look at the Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Oatmeal Bread, displayed prominently on the package is the message that it provides “100% of your day’s worth of whole grain with No High Fructose Corn Syrup.”

It would appear, then, that this company is well aware that a large and growing number of consumers are rejecting any products with HFCS, but hedging its bets in deciding whether to drop it – and advertise the fact – or allow it to quietly remain as a listed ingredient.

Similar ambiguity can be seen when one examines the packaged breads put out by Stroehmann, another commercial baking company that tries to give off a homey image. The message on it’s “Dutch Country” 100% Whole Wheat, for example, while talking about how it compares to other foods in vitamins and calcium and proudly proclaiming that “Whole wheat is our first ingredient,” never mentions that high fructose corn syrup is their third.  On the other hand, Stroehmann Honey Wheat bread lets you know right up front that it’s “made with real honey and NO high fructose corn syrup.”

Of the three bread brands that make a point of appealing to consumers looking for a relatively inexpensive “natural” appearing bread, the Arnold Baking Co. is the one that most deserves the award for sincerity – and consistency, in that every one of its products makes a point of having “no high fructose corn syrup.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep saying it again – if you wish to avoid HFCS (and a whole bunch of other atrocious additives), you often can’t depend on the brand. You need to look carefully at the ingredients label before you buy bread or any other form of processed food.

What’s in a name? A lot, when the name is ‘fructose’ and the product it’s in claims to have ‘no HFCS’

Posted by -- December 4, 2014


chexIf you’re trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup — as well you should be — one of the products you’d probably gravitate to is General Mills Vanilla Chex with natural vanilla flavor and “no high fructose corn syrup” (one of several additives it claims not to contain on the front of the box).

But before you buy it, confident that it will help protect your family against the various health problems like diabetes and obesity that studies have linked to all that ‘free fructose’ in HFCS, you might also want to check out the list of actual ingredients on the side of the package.

Because one of the things you’ll find on that list is “fructose” – a term that, according to the Corn Refiners Association, is now used to describe something previously known as HFCS-90, meaning that it is 90 percent fructose, as contrasted with regular HFCS, which contains either 42 or 55 percent.

Here’s what the CRA’s website,, has to say on the subject under the section on “high fructose corn syrups” (something brought to our attention just this week by “Food Babe” Vani Hari):

“A third product, HFCS-90, is sometimes used in natural and ‘light’ foods, where very little is needed to provide sweetness. Syrups with 90% fructose will not state high fructose corn syrup on the label, they will state ‘fructose’ or ‘fructose syrup’.”

And that’s something we here at Food Identity Theft find very, very interesting – the reason being that HFCS-90 is a product that our sponsoring organization, Citizens for Health, has been concerned about for quite some time.

In fact, this past August, CFA amended a petition it had originally submitted back in 2012 to the Food and Drug Administration asking that labeling be required specifying the amounts of fructose in products containing HFCS.  The petition was revised to include a request that food companies be notified that “any product containing HFCS sweetener with more than 55% fructose is considered to be adulterated” under federal regulations and “cannot be sold in interstate commerce.”

That petition has received more than 10,000 favorable comments – and only one dissenting one, from the CRA itself, which, as we noted in a subsequent blog, cited outdated data used as the basis for the FDA’s original designation of HFCS as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), and erroneously maintained that there were no limits placed by the agency on the amount of fructose HFCS can contain.chex2

“Our food should not have HFCS with a fructose concentration above 55%,” CFH maintained, adding that if a food company wishes to use a higher amount than that, it must file a food additive petition for the amount it seeks to use and at all times “identify the percent of fructose in HFCS that it is using.”

Apparently, however, the corn refiners had a different idea, simply eliminating the high fructose corn syrup designation for the laboratory sweetener that’s nine-tenths fructose and calling it what it really is: fructose. And that’s how a processed-food product like Vanilla Chex that contains “fructose,” a substance that, according to the corn refiners, used to be called HFCS-90, can now declare itself to be high fructose corn syrup-free.

It’s also why you can safely assume that, until proven otherwise, any product that lists “fructose” as an ingredient actually contains an illicit form of high fructose corn syrup – one with way too high an amount of fructose to allow it to be formally recognized as HFCS.

A growing presence in processed foods

But the cereal aisle isn’t the only place where you’re apt to find products apparently containing the sweetener formerly known as HFCS-90, as a spot check of our local supermarket revealed. In fact, the word “fructose” seems to be popping up with increasing frequency on lists of ingredients for various processed foods.

Take protein bars, for instance. It seems to have been added to just about all of the standard brands — including the entire line of Nature Valley Protein Chewy Bars, Quaker Protein Baked Bars and Kellogg’s Special K Protein Bars.

Another item where we found it was in a bag of sweet-chili-flavored Quaker Popped rice snacks (formerly “Quakes”). Described as a snack choice “you can feel good about,” the product also contains monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed protein and yeast extract, a trio of excitoxins that, taken together with the fructose, might easily qualify this Quaker product as one of the worst snack choices you could possibly make.

So if you’ve noticed that some product you bought contained “fructose” and were wondering what the manufacturer meant by that, now you know – that is, if the CRA can be taken at its word, Only instead of having to get FDA approval for a name change, as they failed to get last year for HFCS itself when they attempted to rename it “corn sugar,” the corn refiners have simply opted to call it “fructose.”

But don’t be fooled – that’s not the natural fructose found in fruit, which is bound together with fiber. Nor is it the fructose that’s bound with an equal amount of glucose to form sucrose, commonly known as sugar. It’s fructose that’s been converted from the glucose in corn through a complex process of enzymatic transformation – the kind that’s been identified by researchers as a chief culprit in obesity, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and a host of other health problems.

In other words, the same kind found in high fructose corn syrup – only in a much greater concentration.

Bill Bonvie is the author of “Repeat Offenders,” a collection of previously published essays now available at

Another settlement helps curtail bogus ‘natural’ claims – but a few still remain

Posted by -- December 2, 2014

When you read the ingredients it doesn't sound so

When you read the ingredients it doesn’t sound so “natural” after all.

For a long time the word “natural” was perhaps the most overhyped and ambiguous term to be used by the food industry. But it looks like that may be changing, despite the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to give it a clear-cut definition.

The latest indication of that is the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest against General Mills for misusing the term in describing its Nature Valley Granola Bars, Crispy Squares and Trail Mix Bars as “100 percent natural.” The company has now agreed to refrain from such terminology if those products contain such highly processed ingredients as high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup and dextrose monohydrate.

The settlement is one CSPI believes will help “nudge” the marketplace away from such ambiguous or shaky claims.  And, in fact, the strategy may be working, as indicated by a survey of our local supermarket where most uses of “natural” now seem to be limited to products that list no unnatural-sounding ingredients.

But there are still a few that might be regarded as misleading, as we noted last May in a blog prompted by another such settlement, in which Kellogg’s agreed to stop using such phrases as “all natural” and “nothing artificial” on various products in its Kashi and Bear Naked lines.

One is Minute Maid Premium fruit drinks, which has continued to display the words “100% Natural” on its cartons with the word “flavors” in smaller letters underneath. That might easily lead a customer to assume that it describes the entire product, when these drinks contain the very unnatural laboratory sweetener high fructose corn syrup.

But we did find one that might be considered a far more flagrant example of the misuse of “natural” – or to be more specific, “naturals.” That would be Del Monte Quality “fruit naturals” – the ones with no sugar added, like the red grapefruit variety “in artificially sweetened water.” According to the ingredients list, those synthetic sweeteners include both sucralose and acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K), an insufficiently tested substance containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen that can cause headaches, depression, mental confusion, nausea and vision problems, and affect the liver and kidneys.

As for sucralose (a.k.a.Splenda), as we reported here back in September, research done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that it had diabetes-promoting effects in human test subjects. It has also been linked to gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, and been reported to cause migraines.

But while it may seem obvious that something with artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup hardly qualifies as “natural,’ other uses of the word remain in a gray area – and it’s becoming more and more apparent that industry executives are becoming leery of them.

There is, however, one “all natural” claim being made on the label of a product available in your supermarket that you may find a bit shocking – along with another claim made on the same label.  We’ll be talking about that in an upcoming blog – stay tuned.