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Ways you can turn ‘Food Day’ into an all-year celebration

Posted by -- October 21, 2014

Group of young cooking a meal

This Friday marks the 4th annual celebration dubbed “Food Day.”

Founded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, this edible and educational event hopes to get people to start eating “real.”

On October 24, Food Day activities around the country hope to make it a day when you “resolve” to create changes in not only in your diet, but also to “take action to solve food-related problems” at home and all around the U.S. A chance to “push for improved food policies.”

That’s a great idea, but it’s quite a challenge. After all, it’s hard enough to think about a nutritious and home-cooked dinner when you get home from work and also have to deal with everything else that goes into your day.

So we want to offer up some ideas to make this your “food year” instead. A way to mark the beginning of a true revolution in your daily eating habits.

  • Make setting aside time to cook as important as watching that favorite TV show. Pick a day that works best for you and you can have “at the ready” what you need for a “real” dinner for most of the week.
  • Prep ingredients for meals – things like onions, red or green peppers, veggies and other things that can go in a stir fry, or recipe – before you need them. Store in glass or BPA-free containers and you’ll have made a giant step in faster and easier cooking.
  • Stop buying fake bread and make your own. The easy way to do that is to get a bread machine. When these devices first came out, they cost a fortune. Now, you can get them for just a little “bread.” They are easy to use, can be programed ahead of time, and will allow you to get whole grains into your diet and high fructose corn syrup and other additives out. Plus, nothing smells better than home-baked bread.
  • Resist the urge to get ersatz frozen foods with toxic ingredients. If you must go the frozen-dinner route on some days, do it by visiting the organic frozen food section of your supermarket. Amy’s brand food products, for example, are made with some darn good ingredients.
  • Shop at your local farmers market. Sure, you can get veggies at the supermarket, but there’s something about a farmers market that makes you want to cook!
  • Get a crock pot. It may be the the wedding gift that most often ends up in the closet, but it’s a really useful device if you want to have a homemade meal waiting for you.
  • Stock up on your pantry. No, that’s not something only found in an English manor home (along with the butler and maid), but a way to have the ingredients you need to cook a good meal always ready to use. Having a well-stocked pantry is the opposite of opening all your cupboards and fridge looking for something – anything you can cook up.

So yes, celebrate Food Day on the 24th. And then do whatever you need to make it your food year.

Trust us, you’ll never go back to the way you used to eat.

 

New research reveals effect of ‘high fructose’ that could act as disease trigger

Posted by -- October 16, 2014

cornfructose

The scientific evidence that fructose may be hazardous to our health just seems to keep on mounting.

By that, we don’t mean the fructose found naturally in fruit, where it’s mitigated by fiber, or the fructose that’s bound with an equal amount of glucose in sucrose, or table sugar. No, we’re talking specifically about the free-floating fructose in the cheap and widely used sugar substitute high fructose corn syrup.

Past studies have already shown links between HFCS and obesity, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and heart problems – all indicators of metabolic disease –as well as pancreatic cancer and other problems.  Now a new one conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers has found that fructose “may have a particularly deleterious effect on health,” according to one its lead authors – and revealed what may be a key reason.

“If you feed animals or people higher-than-normal amounts of fructose, they become obese, less responsive to the key actions of insulin and develop fatty liver disease and abnormal blood lipid levels. All of these increase the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” noted Dr. Mark Herman, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.

And recent analysis of soft drinks sweetened with HFCS have found they do indeed contain higher-than-normal amounts of fructose – higher, even than the 55 to 45 percent fructose to glucose ratio that HFCS is supposed to have. Some products, in fact, reportedly use a 90 percent fructose formula.

Now the Harvard team has discovered a previously unknown biological effect of fructose that they believe may help explain why excessive fructose consumption can lead to serious health issues for many people.

What the researchers found is that blood levels of the hormone fibroblast growth factor 21, or FGF21, which helps regulate the accumulation of fat, undergo a rapid and acute elevation following fructose ingestion – a particularly significant revelation in light of previous findings by the study’s other lead author that raised FGF21 levels in both humans and animals are associated with obesity, insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Their conclusion was based on a study involving 21 adult subjects, about half of whom were lean and fit and the rest suffering from obesity and at high risk for diabetes.  At various times, they were given either 75 grams of glucose, the same amount of fructose or a mixture of the two to drink.

Fructose reaction: off the charts

In all subjects, the glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and into fat and muscle tissues and converted into energy with the help of insulin, had no immediate effect on levels of FGF21, with only mild changes detected three or four hours later. But the fructose, which is absorbed directly by the liver, resulting in a rise in triglycerides that can lead to problems such as diabetes and heart disease, also caused levels of the hormone to sharply increase by 400 percent on average within just two hours of being consumed.

“This tells us that fructose actively regulates FGF21 in humans,” noted Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, the study’s co-author. “We were totally surprised by this dramatic effect because, to date, there has been no way of assessing the body’s acute metabolic response to fructose ingestion.”

Perhaps even more significant, the rise in hormone levels was much more pronounced in the obese participants, which the research team thought might be resulting in increased resistance to the hormone’s effectiveness. And there were variations reported in the other subjects as well, all of which Dr. Herman said suggested that “different people for whatever reasons have differences in their fructose metabolism.”

The bottom line here is that there’s a huge difference between sucrose, or table sugar, which people consumed for all those years without problems like obesity and diabetes getting out of control, and high fructose corn syrup, whose relatively short time in the marketplace has corresponded to a huge escalation in such concerns. And the more apparent it becomes that something is amiss, the more science is bringing us closer to an understanding of the key role that difference has played in the proliferation of these problems.

And yet, the idea continues to persist among some journalists and health professionals that there is no real distinction between sugar and HFCS. In fact, the day after an account of this latest research was featured in The New York Times, a Salon article critical of Pepsi’s attempts to market supposedly healthier new soda, noted that “a major selling point is that the drink lacks high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) … Nutritionists, however, point out that HFCS isn’t really any less healthy than sugar – it just sounds less natural.”

Really? Well, whoever those “nutritionists” are, both they and the writers who parrot their beliefs sound less and less credible – and knowledgeable — with each new scientific study.

FDA booster ‘alliance’ includes lobbies for the very industries it regulates

Posted by -- October 14, 2014

By BILL BONVIE

(Bill Bonvie is the author of Repeat Offenders, a newly released collection of 50 previously published essays, one of which,“Industry in the FDA’s corner,” served as the basis for this blog.)

fdaIf you’ve ever wondered why the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow so many ingredients that may be hazardous to our health to continue to be used in food products, at least part of the answer might lie in an unpublicized relationship that exists between the regulatory agency and many of those it regulates.

And I’m not just engaging in mere speculation when I say that. I’m talking about an actual alliance dedicated to making sure the FDA gets a sufficient share of the fiscal pie.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of the “Alliance for a Stronger FDA.” Most people in this country probably haven’t. In fact, I myself hadn’t until three-and-a-half years ago when, in the course of an Internet search, I accidentally stumbled on the website for this organization, whose goals are to assure that the FDA has “sufficient funds and resources to protect patients and consumers” and to “maintain public confidence and trust” in the agency.

And I must admit I was quite taken back to find that its membership included not only former FDA directors and Health and Human Services secretaries, along with dozens of nonprofits, but a number of trade associations and companies representing the very industries the FDA is supposed to be monitoring – a situation that’s still pretty much the same as it was then.

Among those trade associations currently listed on the membership roster are the American Bakers Association, the American Frozen Food Institute, the American Spice Trade Association, the Independent Bakers Association, the National Fisheries Institute, the Pet Food Institute, the Produce Marketing Association, the Snack Food Association, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. (It also originally included the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but that’s no longer listed.) As for the member companies, they read pretty much like a who’s who of the pharmaceutical industry.

But then, that’s completely in accord with the Alliance’s grand design, which is to encourage membership from “a broad spectrum of organizations that are affected or regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” – including “trade associations that represent industries regulated by the FDA.”

Finding the group’s website (http://strengthenFDA.org) made me wonder exactly what would motivate such support for a regulatory body by those it’s intended to oversee. My curiosity resulted in a phone interview I was able to get with Steve Grossman, who served as the Alliance’s deputy executive director (and still does).

“All FDA stakeholders want a strong, consistent, predictable deadline-meeting FDA,” explained Grossman, whose background includes having served as deputy assistant secretary for health under the Reagan Administration. “Everybody who is overseen by the FDA benefits when the agency is seen as strong and competent and a gold standard for the world.”

While Grossman acknowledged that “on any given day, every one of these companies has a complaint about something the FDA is doing,” still “they understand that their concerns won’t be made better by the agency’s having fewer resources,” including staff. One reason, he noted, is that a regulatory body that lacks people qualified to “investigate the science and run the lab tests” is prone to “make the most conservative decisions because it doesn’t want to do anything wrong.” Another is that U.S. industries export a lot of products, which makes it especially important to have a “strong FDA that’s recognized worldwide as being a leader in science and regulation.”

I also asked Grossman about the ‘revolving door’ that has allowed FDA officials to either go to or come from regulated industries. He responded that the Alliance is narrowly focused on making sure the FDA isn’t starved for funds and does not involve itself in staffing issues.

The Alliance’s membership roster, however, was a source of some concern to Jim Turner, board chair of Citizens for Health, consumer advocate attorney and author of “The Chemical Feast,” the Nader Study Group report on food protection and the FDA, whom I contacted after speaking with Grossman. “It always makes me nervous,” he responded, “when I see a private organization with influential former government officials as members working together with regulated companies to ‘strengthen’ the power of the regulating agency that controls their marketing rules.”

Not that there’s any proof such memberships unduly influence any of the FDA’s actions – or, for that matter, its hesitancy to take them, as in the case of its proposed phase-out of artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oil which seems to have been put on hold after being denounced by various food industry spokespersons.

But they don’t especially help, either when it comes to the business of maintaining “public confidence and trust” in the FDA, or of cementing its reputation as “a gold standard for the world.”

Repeat Offenders is now available in paperback or Ebook editions at Barnes and Noble.

‘Beware of imitations’ warns this family baking company, whose ‘treats’ include a witches’ brew of imitation ingredients

Posted by -- October 9, 2014

debbiesnacks

By BILL BONVIE

If the presence of pumpkins on doorsteps isn’t enough of a reminder that Halloween is fast approaching, all those packages decorated with pumpkin and goblin graphics on display in your local supermarket certainly should be.

But might the makers of some of those seasonal treats actually be out to trick you into buying little dietary devils in a wholesome “Little Debbie” disguise?

Yes, Virginia, there is a “Little Debbie.” According to the copy on a package of Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights, she’s actually Debbie McKee-Fowler, the granddaughter of the founder of McKee Foods of Collegedale, Tenn. There’s even a Shirley Temple-like photo of her taken in 1963 wearing her straw hat and serving a platter of Swiss rolls as her beaming mother and grandfather look on.

And there’s a homespun message that accompanies that lovely little picture – a letter “From Our Family to Yours” that’s signed by the now mature Little Debbie herself. And here’s how it reads:
“At McKee Foods, our recipe for success has always been to provide the best quality products at a good value. My grandfather began his tradition over 60 years ago and our family has remained true to his vision.”

But here’s where it gets really interesting:

debbiesnacks2“Recently, more imitation products have turned up on grocery shelves.  We hope that you do not confuse them with our products. When you see my picture on a box of snack cakes, you can be sure that our family’s pride and tradition have gone into the baking.”

Now that certainly sounded reassuring to us here at Food Identity Theft. But just to check up on that claim, we took a peek at the adjacent list of ingredients in those Pumpkin Delights, which are described as individually wrapped soft-filled cookies. And we were a bit taken aback — or perhaps aghast would be more like it — at the witches’ brew of additives we found.

Talk about scary!

The very first thing on the list was “enriched bleached flour” – which is not the kind you might associate with the “best quality products.” And then came the second: partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil with TBHQ to preserve flavor.

Yes, you heard right — the artery-clogging source of trans fat that the Food and Drug Administration proposed phasing out after estimating that it causes 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year (although none is listed due to the .5 gram ”trans fat loophole”), with an added petroleum-based preservative thrown in for good measure. In fact, as we reported a few years ago in Chemical-Free Kids: The Organic Sequel, “serious symptoms, such as vomiting, delirium and collapse, have reportedly resulted from consuming just one gram of TBHQ.” (Of course, we hope that those Pumpkin Delights less than that amount).

And, then, further down the list of ingredients, there it is – the high fructose corn syrup. You know, the laboratory sweetener that’s first on our list of additives to be avoided – the one that various studies have linked to the current obesity and diabetes epidemics, as well as to ailments like pancreatic cancer and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

That’s not to say that the ingredients were all bad. There are also things like sugar, pumpkin puree, dairy butter and eggs. But along with the artificial flavors, the combo of harmful additives was enough to make us think we were actually looking at one of those “imitation products.”

And the Pumpkin Delights weren’t the only Little Debbie Halloween-themed items that filled us with dread.

There were also the little Debbie Fall Party Cakes, which, besides the partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil with TBHQ, contain an artificial color (Yellow #6) and aluminum in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate – you know, the toxic metal that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. And the Little Debbie Bat Brownies, with the same PHO-TBHQ combo and sodium aluminum phosphate, along with high fructose corn syrup, caramel color (a suspected carcinogen) and another artificial dye, Red #40, plus artificial flavor. (The package, however, does feature “bat facts” from the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.)

So here’s a suggestion for Debbie McKee-Fowler. If you really want the company your grandfather founded to be known for the best quality products that won’t be confused with “imitations,” get them to drop the imitation ingredients and only use the real, old-fashioned kind – like sugar, eggs and butter. Then when we see the smiling picture of you as a little girl on the package, we’ll know what’s inside really reflects the “pride and tradition” of your family business – and is something we can recommend to our readers, whether for Halloween or any other occasion.

Which right now, it’s most decidedly not.

How bad soda ingredients are offsetting beer’s health benefits

Posted by -- October 7, 2014

budbeerJust when you might have thought that drinking beer was good for your heart (in moderation, that is), at least one major brewery has found a way of making it a lot less healthy while making it appear to be even more so.

And they’ve managed to do it by using the same devious marketing techniques that are utilized in selling processed foods and beverages designed for kids – along with the same kinds of unwholesome ingredients that are routinely added to such products, including high fructose corn syrup.

But first, a little bit about the benefits of beer in its relatively unadulterated state. While red wine has long been touted as a kind of cardio-health drink, recent research has found that beer can be even better for us. Italian researchers, for example, have found moderate beer drinkers to have a 42 percent lower risk of heart disease than non-drinkers.

That may be due to what Dutch researchers discovered when they did a study of 11 healthy men between the ages of 44 and 59, giving them wine, beer, gin and water with their evening meal for three-week periods. The beer, they determined, produced a 30 percent increase a vitamin B6 levels in their blood as the wine and gin, which was sufficient to prevent any increase in their levels of the amino acid metabolite homocysteine, a known cause of coronary artery disease. By contrast, wine and gin consumption did cause homocysteine levels to rise enough to produce a 10 to 20 percent increase in heart disease risk.

Studies have also found beer to have other health benefits as well – like lowering blood pressure, according to Harvard researchers, and a Finnish finding that a bottle a day resulted in a 40 percent decrease in a man’s risk of developing kidney stones.

In addition to all that, moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a significantly lower likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes in another Dutch study of 38,000 male health professionals.

An adult version of the ‘fruit fraud’ con

So what could be the harm in giving your brewski an added ‘health kick’ by flavoring it with healthy fruit essences like lime, strawberry and mango? Nothing, presumably, if those were the actual things being added, and nothing else.

But in the case of Budweiser’s flavored light beers, such as Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita, Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita, Bud Light Lime Mang-O-Rita, Bud Light Lime Raz-Ber-Rita and Bud Light Lime Apple-Ahhh-Rita, what’s being added is more like the stuff found in distinctly unhealthy soft drinks.

Most notably, all of the above contain high fructose corn syrup, the cheap, unnatural sweetening agent that various studies form leading universities and medical facilities have linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as problems like pancreatic cancer and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

The extra ingredients also found in these ‘beer coolers’ include the artificial sweetener sucralose, which has been linked to diabetes in humans as well as other health problems and caramel color, a suspected carcinogen, as well as artificial flavor and artificial colors. Nor is there any indication of anything resembling actual fruit or fruit juice being added. For instance, the Straw-Ber-Rita, which is described as combining “the amazing taste of a strawberry margarita with the refreshment of Bud Light Lime” and has strawberries depicted on its can, makes no mention of either strawberries or lime in its list of ingredients – just things like citric acid, sodium citrate, dextrose syrup and natural and artificial flavors (in addition to the HFCS).

That info, by the way, comes from the website tapintoyourbeer.com” which calls itself “a guide to responsibly enjoy our quality beers,” which you may only share “with your friends of legal drinking age” (and just to be sure you are, it keeps asking you to confirm your date of birth, as well as the country where you reside and the language you speak). Credit for that goes to Vani Hari, a.k.a. the “Food Babe,” who managed to collect 43,000 signatures on an online petition that convinced the Anheiser-Busch brewing company to publicly reveal the ingredients in its products, even though such disclosure is not required by law.

So if you’re a beer drinker, you can feel good about the newly discovered health benefits of “real” beer consumed in moderation. But, just like with products aimed at kids, be wary of label hype and deceptive graphics that are designed to fool you into thinking that you’re getting the added advantages of healthy fruits, when in fact, all you’re really getting are some distinctly unhealthy additives.

Soda makers roll out ‘Mixify’ campaign as first phase of calorie-cutting plan

Posted by -- October 2, 2014

mixify

 

If there’s one thing for which you can’t fault the soft-drink industry these days, it’s procrastination.

While the nation’s three largest soda manufacturers – Coke, Pepsi and the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group – may have given themselves until the year 2025 to reduce individual consumption of “beverage calories” by 20 percent, they seem to have wasted no time in getting that effort off and running.

In fact, no sooner had this corporate trio announced its long-range plan at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative last week (described in our previous blog), than they rolled out what appears to be the first phase of the plan – a slickly designed commercial campaign on both the airwaves and the Internet whose apparent target audience consists of teenagers, the biggest consumers of their products.

The newly launched program is called “Mixify,” described as “a new project from America’s beverage companies that’s all about making balance easier. Because even if your body is feeling less like a temple and more like— say, a truck stop—balancing the calories that you eat and drink with the calories you burn is key to finding the right mix to keep you feeling like the majestic creature that you are.” Its website also contains “Tips, tools and inspiration to help find a balance that’s right for you” and to “share your mix with mymixify,” the term used in the website’s address.

But why the “my” added to “mixify”?  One reason, of course, is because it’s always more effective to personalize this sort of campaign. But there’s obviously another as well – the fact that the name “Mixify” is already in use at the website mixify.com, where it’s described as “a never-ending electronic music festival where DJs stream live to fans around the world.” It’s even got its own app that allows you to chat 24 hours a day with DJs and other attendees.

So right from the get-go, the ingredients of a ‘Mixify mixup’ are already in the mix.

And we couldn’t help wondering — was this identical identity accidental, which would seem to indicate a failure on the part of the creative team behind it to do fundamental research, since the music-based “Mixify” site was launched back in late 2012 with accompanying media hype? Or was it deliberately meant to use a term that’s already familiar to many teens, and perhaps even confuse them into thinking there’s somehow a connection?

Whichever the case, the new name – the one being used by the makers of carbonated beverages – also has a “TM” designation next to it, meaning a trade mark application is already in the works. So don’t be surprised if you should hear that the name “Mixify” has become the subject of a copyright dispute in the near future (unless, of course, that issue has already been settled behind the scenes).

‘Those little buggers matter’

Such concerns aside, however, the newly introduced site has all the elements talked about in the announcement for the calorie-cutting initiative.  For example, on its :Find Your Mixify” page, it offers the following “Realtalk: Coke, Dr Pepper and Pepsi understand that balancing your mix of foods, drinks and physical activities can get a little tricky. And since our products can play a part in that equation, we’ve teamed up to help make it easier to find a balanced mix that feels oh so right.”

It then goes on to provide advice about how to “stay active” (“Chase a wild animal. Dance till it hurts.”)   and “mind your mix” on days that you might just spend on the couch, and various “resources” such as the U.S., Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov, the “Smart Snack Calculator” from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (one of the initiative’s sponsoring organizations), and the Calorie Control Council’s calorie calculator.

Besides this calorie coalition, it also offers the services of a panel of unnamed experts who know “what’s up,” ranging “from nutritionists and dieticians to coaches and athletes,” all of whom are “standing by to make dreams come true and answer all your balance inquiries,” complete with several sample questions and answers.   And then there are “tips and tools,” which include advice to “get real about calories – because those little buggers matter.”

Something else that matters even more than calories, however, is the continued presence of the obesity-and-diabetes promoting artificial sweetener high fructose corn syrup in carbonated beverages. And rather than chasing wild animals or dancing till it hurts, the best way to “get real” about that — no matter what age you are — is to keep the products containing it from playing a part in your “equation.”

Once you do that, the calories will most likely take care of themselves.  And you can limit whatever “mixifying” you do to music festivals.

Plan to reduce ‘calorie consumption’ of soda raises questions about methods

Posted by -- September 30, 2014

soda

It’s no secret that the soft-drink industry is experiencing some hard times.

And now the purveyors of what used to be known as “soda pop” are desperately seeking new ways to convince American consumers not to dispense with these body-and-brain-ravaging beverages – especially with the drumbeat of negative publicity they’ve been getting in the media of late.

But they have a plan in place they hope will reverse that trend and restore the popularity of their flagship products, as well as head off proposals in both Congress and local jurisdictions to impose new taxes on them.

While part of the plan has been openly announced by the nation’s three biggest carbonated beverage companies — Pepsi, Coke and the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group — at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the way in which it will be implemented is still a secret. But what we couldn’t help noticing was how the attention was diverted from the real culprits that have caused soft drinks to become such unhealthy products and focused on another one instead.

1957 ad for 7Up

1957 ad for 7Up — without HFCS

What the trio of soda manufacturers pledged, in an agreement with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, was to cut a whopping one-fifth of the beverage calories that each person consumes by the year 2025.  Nowhere, however, was there any mention of eliminating the high fructose corn syrup that has come to replace sugar (and is often confused with sugar) in these so-called “sugary drinks,” but which has a far different metabolic effect that major studies have linked to the present epidemics of obesity and diabetes, as well as other ailments like pancreatic cancer.

Nor, for that matter, was there any reference to recent research that found consumption of diet soda containing artificial sweeteners might also be contributing to the onset of type 2 diabetes by interfering with gut bacteria.

The initiative, has also been characterized by conflicting descriptions of what it will involve.

According to initial news accounts, there won’t be any real attempt to reduce the caloric content of the beverages themselves, but merely measures such as reductions in container sizes and promotion of bottled water sales and “calorie awareness.”

But that’s not what was indicated by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi in an interview with PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff.   The company, Nooyi said is “looking at reformulations, fundamental investment in R&D to search for new ingredients, new sweeteners, so people can still get a great experience in a beverage, but at a much lower calorie.”

New ingredients? New sweeteners?  What might she mean by that, exactly?

The two tricksters waiting in the wings

One distinct possibility is that such “reformulations” will include the addition of Sweetmyx, the “phantom flavoring agent” that we reported back in March would be “making its debut in beverages manufactured by Pepsi” and would probably be represented as simply an “‘artificial flavor’ or perhaps an ‘artificial sweetener,’ with the only other clue to its presence being a magical reduction in calories.”

As we noted at that time, the claim by the additive’s manufacturer, Senomyx, Inc. that it was granted generally recognized as safe, or GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration, was disputed by that agency. It turned out to have been given that designation by a “third party organization,” the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, in keeping with a 1997 proposed rule that would have allowed GRAS declarations to be made on a voluntary basis, but was never finalized.

What we also pointed out is that all we know about Sweetmyx is that it’s a “sweetener enhancer” that tricks your taste buds into perceiving a sweet flavor that’s really not there, and that it could well turn out to be another “excitotoxin” like aspartame that could cause neurons to self-destruct.

There’s also another possibility – that a reduction in calories could be achieved by the addition of HFCS-90, the form of high fructose corn syrup that’s 90 percent fructose and has been described by a leading manufacturer, Archer Daniels Midland, as the “ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.” (In fact, PepsiCo already owns a patent on a method of using it to produce a reduced-calorie beverage.)

While the FDA supposedly does not permit HFCS formulations to be more than 55 percent fructose, industry claims that HFCS-90 has been used with the agency’s knowledge for decades.

The use of HFCS-90, in fact, it what primarily spurred our sponsoring organization, Citizens for Health, to file a petition with the FDA to require that precise amounts of fructose in products that contain HFCS be labeled. (Read and sign that petition here.)

Whether the soft-drink industry is now contemplating using either or both of these methods to achieve that promised 20 percent reduction in calories over the next decade remains to be seen. But if it is, what American Beverage Association President Susan Neely has predicted will be “the single largest voluntary effort by an industry to help fight obesity” could conceivably even end up making the obesity epidemic worse than it already is.

As for the “calorie awareness” part, however – well, that’s already the focus of a newly launched, full-fledged campaign, which we’ll be talking about in our next blog. Stay tuned.

Another university study on ‘food fears’ appears – funded by guess who?

Posted by -- September 25, 2014

hfcssurvey

By BILL BONVIE

The Corn Refiners Association has once again turned to academia to provide its increasingly beleaguered but still highly profitable product, high fructose corn syrup, with a new cloak of scholarly respectability.

The lobbying group, representing major HFCS manufacturers, has seen fit to fund yet another university “study” – this one designed to show just how unfounded all those “food fears” that seem to be resulting in HFCS being dropped as an ingredient in various products really are.

Only this time, the people it hopes to educate are food company executives who might be under the impression that consumers would rather not have this cheap laboratory sweetener, which scientific research from other universities has linked to such health problems as obesity, diabetes and pancreatic cancer, in the processed food and beverages they purchase.

Does that business about “food fears” related to HFCS sound a bit familiar? If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, it should.

Back in July, we reported on how Professor Brian Wansink, the head of Cornell University’s “Applied Economics and Management Department” with a Ph.D. in food psychology and consumer behavior, had produced a 40-page CRA-funded paper on “food fears that are ingredient-based, focusing on the case of high-fructose corn syrup” and was based on “results of a national phone survey of 1,008 U.S. mothers.” Despite the fact that this “study” consisted strictly of marketing rather than scientific research, it received quite a bit of publicity, not only in the form of newspaper headlines but on the Today Show.

Perhaps encouraged by all that media hype, and with HFCS getting an increasingly bad rap from real researchers and dropped as an ingredient in more and more products, the CRA seems to be turning the approach of forming alliances with paid academic mercenaries into a strategy.

The result of its latest such partnership is what’s being called a “technical/white paper” entitled “Battle of the Buzz: Food Fears vs. Fact in the Digital Age,” prepared by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and” supported by a grant from the Corn Refiners Association.”

After examining some120 news outlets covering scientific research on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from 2004 to 2013, what the authors of this paper concluded is that news outlets may be misleading consumers by failing to present a balanced “review of science.”

To support that notion, the CMPA has summarized 11 examples of “research, presentations and articles” that have been either been published in scientific or medical journals or delivered before various professional groups, along with their “HFCS sentiment.” It identified six as “negative” toward the sweetener while five were “positive.” And to further show how “unbalanced” the coverage has been, the paper includes a chart showing how the media had utterly failed to be influenced by a 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) conclusion that HFCS and sucrose are equal in their metabolic effects – in fact, actually “arguing against their findings.” (Not mentioned, of course is the fact that AND is an organization largely aligned with and funded by the food industry.)

Dr. Lichter lectures the media

Also prominently featured (in capital letters) is a quote from the CMPA’s president and cofounder, S. Robert Lichter: “The media still hasn’t gotten the messages from scientists that HFCS is essentially no different from any other nutritive sweetener. Overall, the coverage placed news values above scientific values.”

Now, you might wonder, is Dr. Lichter a scientist himself? Well, that depends on how you regard a “political scientist.” According to Sourcewatch.org, he’s a paid contributor to the Fox News Channel who in the mid-1980s held the DeWitt Wallace Chair in Mass Communication at the American Enterprise Institute, which is described as “an extremely influential, pro-business think tank.”

So, perhaps it should come as no surprise that this “white paper” partly consist of a rehash of the Cornell marketing survey by Dr. Wansink. Or that it’s “key insights” include claims that consumers are being influenced by “false controversy” to “say they avoid specific food ingredients.” And that such “reported ingredient avoidance influences food and beverage manufacturers to make unnecessary changes to formulations and marketing strategies.”

It’s that last “key insight,” in fact, that is really the point of this whole supposed “study” – the message that both the CMPA  and its sponsor, the CRA, hope to get across to food manufacturers that there’s really no need to go changing any more of those “formulations” to exclude the high fructose corn syrup that they now contain.

It’s just fortunate that in reality, industry doesn’t determine what constitutes a “balanced view of science” (if such a thing even exists) – and that increasing numbers of consumers are coming to understand that some “food fears” are justified, and that their purchasing power is what ultimately determines how products are formulated.

And that they’re not nearly as gullible or misinformed as bought-and-paid for pseudo-scholars are trying to make them out to be

New evidence shows artificial sweeteners are actually ‘part of the problem’

Posted by -- September 23, 2014

dietpepsiIn our last blog, we talked about new scientific findings on the health effects of high fructose corn syrup. An experiment involving 22 healthy college students showed that two weeks of regular soft drink consumption accompanied by relative inactivity started to immediately generate risk factors for heart disease, inflammation and diabetes. And that to counteract them, a lot of exercise (the equivalent of walking at least six miles a day) was required.

But what about just switching to diet drinks laced with those zero-calorie artificial sweeteners? Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier?

Sure it would. Whether it would accomplish anything, however (other than putting your health and quite possibly your brain at risk), now seems even less likely than it did before.

For some time, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that consumption of such sweeteners as a way of controlling weight may actually be counterproductive. Recent studies have shown that they can actually create a craving for high–calorie foods by decreasing levels of the “reward chemical” dopamine, and actually seem to promote obesity.

Now, new research out of Israel points to artificial sweeteners as likely culprits in the development of “obesity-related metabolic conditions,” such as type 2 diabetes, by interfering with our internal ecosystem of gut bacteria, which is an essential part of the body’s mechanism for regulating blood sugar.

And while exercise didn’t seem to be a factor in this study, it conclusions may not be the kind that can be just “walked off.”

The study, as reported in the journal Nature, found that that the three most widely used non-caloric synthetic sweeteners — saccharin, sucra­lose and aspartame — actually raised blood sugar levels in mice by creating increased glucose intolerance. No such effect was observed in mice either drinking water by itself or water with plain sugar added to it, whether fed normal chow or a high-fat diet.

Humans were also part of the research, including nearly 400 non-diabetic individuals who were involved in comparative tests.  The researchers found those who consumed artificial sweeteners to have significantly altered gut bacteria, along with signs of glucose intolerance and raised blood sugar levels similar to the results found in the mice.

A long-overdue ‘reassessment’

“Our findings suggest that non-caloric artificial sweeteners may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic that they themselves were intended to fight, “noted the lead author, Dr. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who added that the results had convinced him to stop using artificial sweeteners in his coffee.

That’s what the writer of an accompanying commentary, Cathryn R. Nagler, a professor of pathology at the University of Chicago, thinks other users of these sugar substitutes should be moved to do as well.  “What the study suggests is we should step back and reassess our extensive use of artificial sweeteners,” she said.

Of course, regular readers of this blog know that there are other good reasons to “reassess” our use of these chemicals. Aspartame, which is found in most diet products, has been the subject of thousands of consumer adverse reaction complaints, ranging from seizures to migraines to temporary blindness (which is why airline pilots are discouraged from drinking diet sodas). It is also considered by many experts to be a neurotoxin – or more specifically, an “excitotoxin” due to its ability to literally excite certain brain cells to death, especially in children and the elderly.

And research done on sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (as we’ve previously noted)  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.

(As for saccharine, while the Food and Drug Administration has decided it is not a bladder cancer risk, as earlier research seemed to indicate, it still can cause allergic reactions in some people. But since it is really not used much anymore to sweeten processed foods or beverages, its consumption is now somewhat of a marginal issue at best.)

What is becoming more and more apparent, however, is that the great majority of soft drinks, whether regular or diet, are hazardous to our health – and that the addition of artificial sweeteners to food and beverages is not an effective way of avoiding obesity and diabetes, but is rather likely to be helping promote these “epidemics” as well as causing other health problems.

So does that mean that we need to forgo all sweetness in our diet? By no means. Thankfully, we still have old-fashioned, natural and genuinely “nutritive” sweeteners, like real sugar, honey, maple syrup and molasses available to us (or, for those who prefer a non-caloric product, stevia). And, unlike HFCS that has been clandestinely added to so many of our processed foods (including those that aren’t even supposed to be sweet), they can be used “in moderation.”

New evidence of ‘bodily harm’ from HFCS reinforces previous findings

Posted by -- September 18, 2014

sodaboy1-250x374The scientific evidence that high fructose corn syrup is indeed hazardous to our health just won’t stop coming, despite the best efforts of the corn refining industry to reassure us that it’s all nothing more than baseless Internet rumors.

The latest such findings were the result of a study (actually, a pair of studies) done by a team of researchers from various universities in New York, California, Missouri and Australia who specialize in such disciplines as exercise science, health, wellness  and nutrition, and featured in The New York Times.

The research team tested the effects of drinking what was considered an average American’s daily consumption of HFCS-laden soda on 22 “healthy college-age men and women” who were also asked to do either half or twice as much daily exercise as they normally would on alternating two-week schedules. The minimum expected of whichever group was doing more was 12,000 steps, or about six miles a day.

When results of the carefully controlled experiment were analyzed, the researchers found that just two weeks of soda consumption coupled with relative inactivity resulted in a significant increase in blood concentrations of dangerous very-low-density lipoproteins and a 116-percent increase in markers of bodily inflammation. There were also “clear signs of incipient insulin resistance, which is typically the first step toward Type 2 diabetes,” as the Times article noted.

And that’s pretty much in keeping with what previous research has shown, such as:

  • the 2011 study of 48 adults between the ages of 18 and 40 that found 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 were considered indicators of increased risk for heart disease;
  • the Georgia Health Sciences University study of 559 adolescents aged 14-18 conducted the same year, which found higher fructose consumption to be associated with multiple markers of cardiometabolic risk, and
  • a 2007 study funded by Rutgers University’s Center for Advanced Food Technology that revealed  “astonishingly high” levels of reactive carbonyls in soft drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) not found in those sweetened with sugar – evidence that such beverages could contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children.

The thousands of steps needed to offset the damage  

There was, however, a mitigating factor revealed by the latest research. Those “12,000 steps a day” seemed to counteract such adverse effects and bring cholesterol and blood sugar levels down to normal. But such findings, cautioned Dr. Amy Bidwell, who led the research, should not encourage people to consume large amounts of fructose on the assumption that all they have to do is go for a long walk. “I don’t want people to consider these results as a license to eat badly,” noted Bidwell, an assistant professor of exercise science at the State University of New York in Oswego. It’s more a matter of “if you are going to regularly consume fructose, be sure to get up and move around,” she said.

While that might be good advice, it’s also contingent on other considerations.

For one thing, it’s important to keep in mind that the subjects of this experiment were “healthy college-age men and women” who would probably have far less of a problem with walking six miles a day than many individuals who are neither as young nor as healthy (although even college students, who spend long hours in classrooms and on their computers, can easily fall into a rut of becoming sedentary).  There’s no getting around the fact that large numbers of people today – many of whom are habitual soda drinkers — lack either the physical ability or simply the time to devote to that level of activity, no matter how desirable it might be.

Then there’s the broader issue of the vast number of products other than soft drinks that still contain high fructose corn syrup, ranging from fruit juice to baked goods to frozen foods – the kinds of items to which no sweetener was ever added before the market became flooded with this cheap, synthetic sugar substitute.

That’s what makes consuming HFCS “in moderation,” as the Corn Refiners Association advises, such a difficult proposition when one’s diet consists mainly of processed foods.

Given that combination of factors, it would seem there’s more reason than ever to shun soda and other products that list HFCS as an ingredient – and opt for the growing number of items that now make a point of having “no high fructose corn syrup” (but watching out for other ingredients on our top ten list of additives to avoid as well).

Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be taking as many steps every day as you can – regardless of how healthy your diet is.