Posted by Linda Bonvie -- March 6, 2014
What if we told you that two closely-related preservatives, commonly-added to scores of processed foods (many of them for kids), are banned in Japan and most European countries; have been found to alter brain chemistry in mice when they are exposed prenatally; that one is listed as a carcinogen by the state of California, and that by adding these chemicals to its list of “eliminated” ingredients, the Feingold Diet success rate for treating kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) almost doubled!
Well, listen up, because this pair of preservatives, commonly added to our food for the sole purpose of extending its shelf life to increase manufacturers’ profits, are the next unnecessary, harmful ingredients we urge you avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign,
Number 8: BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoulene)
Sometimes we get so used to seeing certain ingredients listed on labels that it seems they must be OK. Such is the case with BHT and BHA, which are used in scores of products, such as cereals, snack foods, chewing gum, pies, cakes, processed meats and even beer. These industrial preservatives are also sprayed onto the lining of food packages.
BHA and BHT, which are actually made from coal tar or petroleum, have been the focus of behavioral and health concerns for decades, although the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow the use of these industrial anti-oxidants in food products (as well as medicines and cosmetics).
Over 30 years ago studies found that after pregnant mice were fed BHT and BHA, their offspring were born with altered brain chemistry. According to the researchers, “the affected mice weighed less, slept less and fought more than normal controls.” On top of that, BHA is considered a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization and listed as a carcinogen in California.
While there are many cereals available that don’t contain these or any other chemical preservatives for that matter (including organic varieties), one of the biggest producers of breakfast cereal, Kellogg’s, is also one of the bigger users of BHT, which we found in practically every Kellogg’s cereal we looked at – including its cornerstone product, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
A brand is only as good as its ingredients
Fortunately, many shoppers are no longer willing to accept the presence of such unsavory additives simply because the products that harbor them are put out by “trusted” brands.
“I don’t understand why they use these toxic preservatives when there are alternatives,” noted one, New Jersey resident Dan Brown, who banished his kids’ favorite cereal, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, from the house when he learned about the harmful effects of the BHT it contains.
Brown, a stay-at-home dad and professional musician, who says his family goes through “a lot of cereal,” was so angry with what he read about BHT and BHA, that he wrote Kellogg’s, saying he had found another brand that was cheaper “without BHT and other additives and chemicals,” telling the company, “I am sorry that you feel that you have to poison me and my family to make a profit on your food; maybe you should rethink your business plan…”
One company that seems to have carefully considered its business plan is Mom’s Best Cereals. Based in Minneapolis, this four-generation family-owned business makes 10 cereals containing no high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or artificial flavors or preservatives such as BHA or BHT. Now ranked third in sales in the U.S. ready-to-eat cereal market, Mom’s Best has managed to win over consumers such as Brown, who have ditched the big-brand cereals such as Kellogg’s and General Mills for ones containing better ingredients.
“Once you learn what’s really in these products, you can’t go back, especially when you’re feeding it to your kids. For manufacturers to put harmful ingredients in food marketed to kids just blows my mind,” says Brown, whose advice to other parents is to “read the label, no matter how hard that can be when you’re shopping, especially shopping with kids. But you’ve got to do it.”
Stay tuned as we continue our countdown of the top ten ingredients to avoid including a soda additive that’s also used as a flame retardant, a known carcinogen that is still in baked goods in the U.S. because it helps food manufacturers make more money and a very common flavoring additive that kills brain cells.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- March 4, 2014
If you’ve been half-listening to the news the past few months, you might be under the impression that the FDA has tackled this trans fat problem once and for all. Finally, it seemed this killer was being reigned in and outlawed. (Whew, that’s one less thing to be checking labels for.)
Well, one day that may be true. But for now, it’s still in food. Lots of foods. So even though things sound promising, for this Read Your Labels Day 2014, trans fat are still very much on the list!
Top ten additives to avoid: Number 9, trans fat (as in partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that if people in the U.S. cut this stuff out of their diets it would prevent over 20,000 heart attacks and more than 7,000 deaths a year from coronary disease, while a study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated the heart-damaging toll from this ingredient is over 200,000 “events” a year.
The best part of banishing this heart-disease-promoting ingredient from your menu is that you won’t miss it one iota. But in order to do so, you need to ignore both claims that a product doesn’t have any and what appears on the “Nutrition Facts” label, and go directly to the list of ingredients.
By now everyone – doctors, registered dieticians, government authorities, health officials – everyone agrees that trans fats are really, really bad for you. Not only do they increase LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, but they decrease your “good” HDL cholesterol. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, studies have shown that people with the highest blood levels of trans fats are at much greater risk of developing certain cancers. So why are there still trans fats in processed foods?
One reason is that partially hydrogenated oils containing trans fats are cheaper and easier for food manufacturers to use. But the main advantage these highly processed oils provide to the food industry is the way they keep pastries, breads, cookies, crackers and other baked goods from going rancid, allowing them to remain on store shelves longer than they ordinarily would. In other words, they increase a product’s “shelf life” even while quite possibly shortening the life of the consumer who buys it.
Besides bakery items, this industrially-created oil can often be found in frozen or refrigerated products such as French fries, pizza, dough, pies and cakes as well as in many of the items served in restaurants, including fried foods, pies, cakes and salad dressings.
Now you might think that checking the Nutrition Facts label, which has required trans fat labeling since 2006, would be the easiest way to avoid this artery-clogging substance. Think again. Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations allow manufacturers to claim there are “zero trans fats” on the Nutrition Facts label as long as the amount is under 0.5 grams per serving (an amount that varies from product to product and is usually much less than you think). Let’s say you eat three servings of a food that claims to have zero trans fats, but in fact has 0.4 – just under the amount required to be labeled. Without realizing it, you’ve just consumed 1.6. grams of trans fats (or more, if your portion size was bigger than what the serving size is on the label).
A well-rounded zero
Some manufacturers play the zero trans fat game with an interesting twist in logic. Pillsbury’s refrigerated pizza crust product, for example, that contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil has a happy label statement in a yellow circle of “0g Trans Fat.” But next to the hydrogenated oil is a little asterisk that sends us to a note at the bottom of the ingredient list that says, “adds a trivial amount of trans fat.” So is it zero or is it “trivial?” And what exactly is Pillsbury’s idea of trivial? The only thing we know for sure is it’s under 0.5 grams per serving or they couldn’t put that big zero on the package.
(One of the more interesting facts about trans fats is that at one time they were considered healthier than the saturated fats found in dairy products such as butter or in meat. Then in the 1990s researchers started identifying the adverse health effects of consuming trans fats, but by this time they were entrenched in the food supply, and it has only been recently that food manufacturers have begun removing them to some degree.)
Trans fat-free zones?
In 2007, New York City Mayor Bloomberg followed through with his phaseout of trans fats in the city’s restaurants by banning them from serving foods containing over 0.5 grams. But that prohibition carries the exact same “zero trans fats” labeling loophole that the FDA has allowed in supermarket foods. So while the New York City “ban,” along with similar ones in places like Philadelphia and Boston may have reduced the amount of trans fats consumed by restaurant patrons, it by no means has banned them, as a much smaller city is now attempting to do.
On January 1st, the Boston suburb of Chelsea, Massachusetts was poised to be the first city in the nation to have a complete ban on trans fats in packaged and restaurant foods sold there. Not the 0.5 grams allowed in Boston and other locations, but nada – absolutely zero.
Unfortunately, this groundbreaking achievement was postponed, perhaps due to heavy pressure from industry, especially the National Restaurant Association, whose representative was quoted as saying the group was “encouraged” by the delay, which will “allow the industry to provide additional perspective.”
The Chelsea ban, which will be reconsidered by the city’s board of health later this month, would certainly be a strong message to “industry,” to get off the corporate couch and stop selling foods that considerably reduce a consumer’s “shelf life.”
But why wait, when you can institute your own trans fat ban right in your own home? All it will require is a moment to read the ingredient label before you allow a product to enter.
Coming next: the carcinogenic additive in your chips and cereal.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- February 27, 2014
If there’s one piece of advice you keep hearing from us, it’s that reading the ingredients label is the only way to really find out what’s in a processed food. Not the nutrition facts label, not the front of the package, and certainly not the advertising copy.
To encourage this time-honored way to actually know what you’re eating (or considering consuming), Citizens for Health has declared Friday April 11, 2014 (4/11) as the 2nd Annual National “Read Your Labels Day” to encourage American families to get the “411” on what’s in the foods and beverages they buy.
If you only read ingredients occasionally, we’d like to get you into the habit of doing it all the time. If you seldom or never do, now’s as good a time to start as any. To get you going, we will be listing our top ten ingredients to avoid – and the reasons for doing so – in this and upcoming blogs. We think once you see some of the things that are actually in processed food products, you’ll become a regular ingredients checker before deciding to purchase and eat any of them.
Number 10 : artificial colors – and why you should shun them
The synthetic hues you’ll see on food and beverage ingredient labels include Red #40, Red #3, Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Green #3. But you don’t need to memorize all those before you shop for food – all you have to remember is that any product whose ingredients include colors accompanied by numbers or “lakes” should be left on the shelf.
The entire history of artificial colors has been colored by controversy. While they may make products appear more attractive, they represent just the kind of chemical additives we should delete from our diets – something that’s especially true for kids. But then, the fact that so many supposedly “harmless” coloring agents have been found to be otherwise is hardly surprising when you consider their origins and backgrounds. Many of the older dyes were made from coal tar – a thick, black liquid derived from, well, coal. (Now, does that sound like anything you’d like to ingest?) Some are still in use today, while many newer ones are petroleum extracts. They may also contain measurable amounts of toxic contaminants, such as lead, mercury and arsenic.
The carcinogenic coloring Red Dye Number 2, for example, was in use until 1976, when it was booted off the “approved” list by the Food and Drug Administration, along with Violet Number 1. Then there’s the curious case of Red # 3, which was banned from use in cosmetics and externally applied drugs after the FDA found it caused thyroid cancer in rats, but strangely enough, its use in food items has continued to be allowed. But why wait for an often decades-delayed “official” decision, when you’re free to ban anything you like from your own home at any time?
The artificial color-hyperactivity link
Perhaps the most compelling reason to avoid artificial colors is the connection that’s been made between fake food dyes and hyperactivity in kids.
In 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest submitted a petition to the FDA to ban nine such food colorings and in the interim to require a package warning label on foods containing them that they “cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.”
The FDA responded by convening a Food Advisory Committee in 2011 (after receiving almost 8,000 comments on the topic), which concluded there was not enough evidence to take regulatory action.
While the FDA might not have been convinced, the same can’t be said of European regulatory officials. Since 2010, they’ve required foods that contain these unnatural hues to carry a warning label stating that consumption “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
In fact, the link between food dyes (and certain other ingredients, as well as foods themselves) and behavioral problems in kids has been known for quite a while. It goes back to the 1970s when the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a California pediatrician and pioneer in the field of allergy and immunology, discovered the connection between what we eat and how it affects the way we feel and act. Since then, the Feingold Center he founded has helped scores of kids with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder by eliminating certain additives from their diets – all without resorting to drugs such as Ritalin.
It’s all very simple when you think about it. To help sell food products that are highly processed, manufacturers have doused them with cosmetics – a whole bevy of chemicals to make them seem more appealing. But despite assurances that these substances are harmless, a little knowledge of their checkered history should be enough to make them unwelcome in your home.
Stay tuned for the next additive to avoid – hint – this heart-harming ingredient can be “hidden” on the nutrition facts label. We’ll tell you what to look for to keep this unnecessary and dangerous ingredient out of your diet.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- February 25, 2014
By BILL BONVIE
The misinformation muddle over exactly what high fructose corn syrup is – and isn’t – seems to have reached an exasperating new level these days, as yet another erroneous designation for this laboratory-created sweetener is increasingly circulated by media.
It’s certainly been confusing enough to see various news organizations – as well as researchers and politicians – insist on using terms like “sugary drinks” and “sugar-sweetened beverages” in referring to products that contained not an iota of actual sugar, but a whole lot of HFCS.
And things were made even more misleading by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) campaign to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” – a proposed name change ultimately rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA ruled both that HFCS is not sugar, and also that the name “corn sugar” was already taken by a substance known as dextrose.
But now the confusion has been further compounded – in fact, entered a whole new dimension – with the repeated use of the misnomer “corn syrup” by various news organizations in describing this industrial additive.But, you might ask, isn’t “corn syrup” simply an abbreviated term for “high fructose corn syrup”? The answer is most decidedly not.
Corn syrup, as it turns out, has been around for ages – it’s a common commodity you can buy in just about any supermarket, and is used as an ingredient in certain homemade confections – pecan pie, for example. It’s also occasionally listed as an ingredient in various products.
High fructose corn syrup, by contrast, has only been in use since the 1980s, when it was introduced into soft drinks and processed foods as a cheaper replacement for sugar (or sucrose). And it’s never been marketed in retail outlets to consumers – it’s only available to food processors (and beekeepers).
Oh, and one other thing. Traditional corn syrup is 100 percent glucose, and contains no fructose. On the other hand, high fructose corn syrup has quite a bit. While it supposedly consists of a ratio of 55 percent fructose to 45 percent glucose, amounts of fructose have been found in HFCS beverages to be higher. One brand of HFCS is advertised as containing 90 percent fructose. And fructose, as you’re probably aware, is now considered by many scientists and health experts to be the principal bad actor among caloric sweeteners in promoting obesity and illness.
Now, defenders of HFCS like to point out that fruit contains fructose and that sugar is a half glucose half-fructose combo. But the fructose in fruit is bound in with the fiber and other components, and the two components of sugar are also chemically bound together, whereas in HFCS they are not, making the fructose much more easily absorbed.
So when it comes to both uses and health concerns, there is a huge amount of difference between high fructose corn syrup and plain, kitchen-variety corn syrup. But that hasn’t stopped both reporters and headline writers (who are also copy editors, and whose job also involves correcting such mistakes) from repeatedly using the term” corn syrup” when HFCS is what they’re really talking about.
In fact, even columnists have joined the ranks of the befuddled – such as the one in Connecticut who noted how his family had used corn syrup back when he was a kid, and who couldn’t for the life of him understand what all the current controversy was about.
Now, admittedly, having two products that sound so much alike can easily lend itself to confusion – just as can the FDA’s lumping together of all caloric sweetening agents as “sugars” (plural) can cause anyone writing or talking about this subject to think that means the same thing as “sugar” (singular). And of course, all those uses of the now officially verboten term “corn sugar” in the CRA’s “Sweet Surprise” advertising and public relations blitz to try to convince us that HFCS is not only natural, but safe (in spite of many researchers’ conclusions to the contrary) haven’t helped dispel the fog.
But, with a little help from this blog, you as a conscientious consumer need not be confused or confounded about the true identity of high fructose corn syrup. First of all, it’s neither “sugar” nor “corn sugar” – and the soft drinks and other beverages in which it has become a substitute for sugar are neither “sugary” not “sugar-sweetened”. Second, it’s not your mother’s (and grandmother’s) “corn syrup.” It’s in a category all of its own – and not anything you can pick up on your next trip to the supermarket, except as an ingredient in (still) far too many processed products.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- February 20, 2014
April 11th is that day we hope you’ll join the campaign to “take back our food.” That’s when Citizens for Health will sponsor its second annual Read Your Labels Day—a day set aside for recognizing and exposing the health risks of the toxic additives found in the ingredients of everyday food products.
We invite all our readers to take photos of products containing these awful ingredients and share them on Facebook or Instagram (using the hashtag #ReadYourLabels). And tell your friends – because by “going viral,’ we hope to hold the manufacturers of these adulterated products accountable – and to influence them to start removing these health hazards from the foods we eat and feed our families every day (as the Food and Drug Administration now wants to do with partially hydrogenated oils, which are responsible for just about all the added trans fat in our diet).
So once again, here’s the list of the top 10 food additives to avoid – with more details to follow on why each one should be avoided:
1. High fructose corn syrup
3. Hydrolyzed protein
4. Autolyzed yeast
5. Monososium glutamate
6. Potassium bromate
7. Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO
8. BHA and BHT
9. Trans fats
10. Artificial colors
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- February 18, 2014
By LINDA BONVIE, Food Identity Theft editor
In an age when it’s not unusual for consumer petitions and outrage to cause big food manufacturers to remove ingredients, when the “informed” consumer is becoming more the norm than not, and easy access to dietary supplements is a “given,” it may be difficult for those too young to recall the original campaigns calling for safer and healthier products to realize how dramatically things have evolved over the last four decades.
To get a better perspective on what’s been accomplished and what has yet to be, as well as the role that Citizens for Health (CFH) has played in enabling consumers to make informed choices, I spoke with CFH board chair and food consumer activist James S. Turner, a partner in the Washington D.C. law firm of Swankin & Turner.
Turner, author of the landmark 1970 book, The Chemical Feast: the Nader report on food protection at the FDA and co-author of a follow-up book, Making Your Own Baby Food and more recently, Voice of the People: the Transpartisan Imperative in American Life, was one of the original “Nader’s Raiders,” a group of graduate, medical, and law, students who, working with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, investigated and ultimately changed many policies and gave new life to investigative journalism in the 1960s and ’70s.
Turner recounted his first meeting with Nader after a nine-month attempt to get an audience with him, sparked by a law-school assignment in 1966 to study Nader and his role in bringing about auto-safety reforms. Although Nader at the time was known only as a critic of the auto industry (having authored the book Unsafe at Any Speed), Turner realized as the class progressed that he was much more — that he was someone who “was actually arguing for corporate responsibility.” Starting with their meeting in March of 1968, he used his growing knowledge of food issues (inspired by the birth of his son Chris in 1966) as the basis for a whole new collaboration with Nader, one that culminated is Turner’s authoring The Chemical Feast.
FIT: You call yourself a food consumer activist. How did you get into that line of work and do you find it satisfying?
TURNER: Absolutely satisfying. I started out in 1968 investigating food additives, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
In 1969, my 25-student Nader team (mostly from law and medical schools) went to the Food and Drug Administration to focus on food additives, including the artificial sweetener cyclamate, which after a review the FDA took off the list of chemicals that are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for addition to food. As a result of the cyclamate manufacturers having been unable to prove the product’s safety to the satisfaction of the FDA, it has remained off the market ever since.
In 1975 I helped get a warning placed on saccharine, another synthetic sweetener, and from 1974 to 1981 I worked with the scientists who persuaded an FDA Public Board of Inquiry that aspartame (NutraSweet) needed more research before it could be marketed. However, Reagan’s newly appointed FDA commissioner reversed the board in July of 1981. Donald Rumsfeld, president of the Company seeking Aspartame/NutraSweet approval served on Reagan’s presidential transition team, had found the new commissioner among doctors who worked at the Defense Department in the mid-1970s when he was secretary, and decided not to redo research his company had done on the sweetener, which the FDA had found flawed.
In 1976 I worked with Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire to help protect consumer access to dietary supplements with the passage of the 1976 Proxmire Act, and again in1994 as part of CFH, campaigned for the successful passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). The part I’ve played in all of these issues and many more is one I’ve found very gratifying
FIT: What was the issue with cyclamate?
TURNER: When I first advised Nader “let’s do food,” I pointed out that food would exemplify the same things he was talking about in cars. And sure enough, we found that just like the car market, where the mantra was “safety doesn’t sell,” the food industry said nutrition didn’t sell. With cars, they sold design and prestige, while in the food industry the focus was on convenience, and, of course, sweetness. An excellent example has been the reliance on artificial sweeteners. When the 1938 Food and Drug Act was passed, there were a number of things that needed to be addressed further. To this end, Congress appointed a Select Committee to Investigate the Use of Chemicals in Food and Cosmetics (1950-52) which came up with several major amendments: Three of these were the Pesticide Act of 1954, the Food Additive Act of 1958, and the Color Additive Act of 1960.
These acts each created a regulatory mechanism for the additive they were addressing. The Food Additive Act, for example, said no food additive could be put into the food supply until it had been proven to be safe by the food industry. So industry had to turn in data to the FDA that would show “this is safe.” There were several exceptions, one being the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list. In the 1958 Food Additives Act there was this GRAS list exception, and the idea was that if no scientists raised questions about an additive, then it was GRAS. They put out a list of about 100 or so chemicals to the scientific community asking, “Do you think these qualify as GRAS?” Virtually all the scientists who responded on cyclamate said no, but the FDA allowed it on the GRAS list anyway.
When we sent our students out we added the GRAS list as a subject that should be looked at. We talked to everybody we could find at the agency, and one of the things we uncovered was the cyclamate story. And the evidence was building up that not only shouldn’t it be on the GRAS list, but it was inherently dangerous and likely shouldn’t be used in the food supply at all. That’s how we got involved with it.
Due to our investigation into cyclamate, one night two network news programs led with that story and it developed into a big firestorm. Within a week the FDA announced plans to remove cyclamate from the GRAS list, and that launched all this public awareness of what we were doing. That’s the opening story in The Chemical Feast.
FIT: Have you been involved in similar efforts with other questionable sweeteners?
TURNER: Yes, both saccharine and aspartame. When I got involved with saccharine, I did not think banning it was a good idea based on the law and science, but I thought a warning was. Ultimately, Congress adopted a warning and that warning was on the saccharine packages until 2000, when it was ‘pardoned’ by President Clinton at the end of his term with a law he signed erasing the warning.
FIT: How did you get involved with aspartame?
TURNER: I became involved with a group of scientists led by Dr. John Olney, from Washington University in St. Louis who were investigating the addition of MSG to baby food.
Dr. Olney was doing studies on various kinds of food additives to determine whether they might be among the causes of mental retardation. He had an assay that he used to show when the brain is being damaged by a chemical. MSG was one such substance, as was aspartic acid, one of two amino acids in aspartame, which caused the same kind of brain damage in animals that MSG did.
In 1970 we started looking into NutraSweet (the brand name under which aspartame was first marketed). When the FDA approved it in 1974, we objected and the agency granted us a hearing before a Public Board of Inquiry which stopped the marketing of NutraSweet until the end of the hearing.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan was elected president, and he placed Donald Rumsfeld, the president of Searle, the drug company that originally made NutraSweet, on his transition team. Rumsfeld facilitated the appointment of the new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, who quickly overturned the ruling not to allow NutraSweet to be marketed. So that which had been won by a scientific process was lost to a political process.
FIT: What is the focus of Citizens for Health?
TURNER: Basically it is choice, information, redress and safety that comprise our fundamental approach, because those are the consumer rights that President Kennedy envisioned in 1962 in a message to Congress. Those four things are what Kennedy said were the inherent rights of consumers in the marketplace.
CFH began by working hard for passage of The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994, which passed Congress overwhelmingly. CFH coordinated a campaign that generated well over one million letters, which still remains the largest number of letters written to Congress on any single issue. The idea was to stop the FDA from blocking access to information about vitamins, minerals, amino acids and certain other dietary supplements.
CFH believes that provided with proper information, consumers can make sound choices and intelligently comment on and participate in marketplace decisions. Once that that process is run fairly, CFH believes, safer, healthier, and more nutritious and effective products will ultimately emerge.
FIT: Who are CFH’s allies?
TURNER: We’re work with a wide variety of groups and individuals, and in our campaigns we ally ourselves with business interests that share our goals. In the campaign for DSHEA in 1994 we worked very closely with the retail natural food industry. In fact the president and founder of CFH was a health-food store owner who was also the president of the trade association for that industry. He felt that the trade association wasn’t doing enough in the public interest, so if he could create a consumer group that worked with the same issues, consumer interests would better be served.
That was the philosophy CFH was created with and why and how we got involved promoting DSHEA. When organic food came under attack in 1999 we worked very closely with the Organic Trade Association as well. CFH has conducted several information campaigns on alternative sweetener issues, and recently we’ve also received funding from the Sugar Association individual consumers, bequests and foundations.
FIT: Why is high fructose corn syrup such an important issue for CHF?
TURNER: We’ve always found artificial sweeteners to be a particularly egregious example of how the entire food system works. The thing about synthetic sweeteners is that they offer no real benefits that justify the risks involved in ingesting them, beyond the argument that using the non-caloric ones to sweeten food or beverages help keep weight off. But scientists are increasingly concerned that man-made, non-caloric sweeteners contribute to the problem of weight gain rather than helping address it. With HFCS, however, there isn’t even that specious rationale. It became ubiquitous in our food supply because, as a result of advancements in technology, it can be processed cheaply, allowing the food industry to save money by substituting HFCS for sugar. In an effort to cloak HFCS as healthy, industry has spent a lot of money trying to portray it as “natural” to consumers. But the fact is, none of the HFCS formulations are found in nature and HFCS did not exist until scientists patented a process to synthesize it from starch—any starch –,and this is done by using advanced technology to change the starch at the molecular level.
There has been a great deal of data emanating from all kinds of different scientific sources about the effects of HFCS consumption. The CFH’s role is to let the public know about this information, as well as the disinformation it’s getting from the corn processors.
We want to promote awareness that scientists believe that HFCS is different from natural sugar, that sugar consumption has remained relatively constant over the last 100 years, that paralleling the rise in HFCS consumption has been a huge increase in diabetes and obesity (and bottled water sales to ensure that everybody understands that correlation is not causation). We want the public to know that FDA has not approved HFCS containing more than 55 percent fructose, but many products have well above 55 percent all the way up to 90 percent fructose. We believe consumers should be aware of these facts and that the corn industry is attempting to hide them.
We are not arguing that HFCS has caused health problems; what we’re saying is that scientists are concerned about the prevalence of HFCS in our food supply. And, if a fair market is to live up to its word that it allows informed consumers to choose the best products available, it is very important for the public and regulators to know what those scientists have said and to take that into consideration. That’s the dynamics of CFH, to enable people to make informed choices.
Also, even though the FDA says that 55 percent fructose in HFCS is the maximum amount it considers to be GRAS, the Corn Refiners Association has continued to say that much higher doses are allowed by the agency.
The HFCS process is a gold-plated example of how a business model is created, – i.e., let’s sell a sweetener to the food industry and then make up arguments that diverge from the core issues.
FIT: How can consumers make the biggest impact on the food supply?
TURNER: Without a doubt by the way they buy. More and more people are making buying choices based on what they learn, and those are often quite different from what the food industry would like them to do. It is through such collective purchasing decisions that reforms come about. Harmful additives are removed by manufacturers, and wholesome and organic products are made more readily available when consumers demand these choices.
Editor’s s note: The following sources offer further reading on the health implications of HFCS use:
Ed. [L. Cantley, Cancer, metabolism, fructose, artificial sweeteners, and going cold turkey on sugar, BMC Biology 2014, 12:8; S. Swithers, Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Cell Press (2013).] Ed, See, e.g. Global Public Health (2012) 1-10, High fructose corn syrup and diabetes prevalence: A global perspective, Goran, Ventura, Ulijaszekb; Eur J Nutr (2012) 51:445–454; Metabolic and behavioural effects of sucrose and fructose/glucose drinks in the rat, Sheludiakova, Rooney, Boakes; Metabolism Clinical and Experimental 61 (2012) 641-651, Effects of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose on the pharmacokinetics of fructose and acute metabolic and hemodynamic responses in healthy subjects, Le, Frye, Rivard, Cheng, McFann, Segal, Johnson, Johnson; Eur J Nutr. (2010) 49:1–9, Comparison of free fructose and glucose to sucrose in the ability to cause fatty liver, Sánchez-Lozada, Mu, Roncal, Sautin, Abdelmalek, Reungjui, Le, Nakagawa, Lan, Yu, Johnson; Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 97 (2010) 101–106, High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels, Bocarsly, Powell, Avena, Hoebel; Experimental Biology and Medicine 234 (2009) 651-661, The type of caloric sweetener added to water influences weight gain, fat mass, and reproduction in growing Sprague-Dawley female rats, Light, Tsanzi, Gigliotti, Morgan, Tou.],
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- February 6, 2014
BY BILL BONVIE
Ever get the feeling that there’s no real coordination between the scientists and researchers who are dealing with the same basic issues? Or that they somehow fail to take each other’s work into account?
A case in point is the latest research that’s received considerable coverage in the print media. Being called “the biggest study of its kind,” it was performed by a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and purports to show that too much sugar in our diet raises our risk of heart disease.
The only problem with this study is that it apparently makes no differentiation between “sugar” (as in sucrose, or common table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is mainly what the researchers involved are talking about when they use the word “sugar.”
In fact, nowhere in the rather extensive Associated Press account of the study does one find even any reference to HFCS — but that’s probably because the study itself doesn’t make such a distinction. (One paper’s website even accompanies the story with a depiction of sugar crystals.) Nor is it mentioned in the press release from JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association), which published the study.
And while the coverage quotes a number of experts on the subject in regard to the study’s conclusions, it fails to acknowledge that other research done at prestigious institutions has specifically linked HFCS consumption to potential heart problems, along with obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and other health issues.
So to try to obtain some clarification, I attempted to contact some of the people mentioned or quoted in the story.
One was the lead author, a Ph.D. at the CDC named Quanhe Yang, who I was unable to call directly .In fielding my request, however, Karen Hunter, an representative of the press office, told me that my questions were “way beyond the scope of CDC’s study, which looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) re sugar consumption (NHANES does not have detailed data related to different forms of added sugar) and NCHS mortality data. But CDC does not conduct clinical research and thus cannot answer your questions related to HFCS and heart disease. “
Hunter suggested, however, that I “might want to contact the American Heart Association to find out if they are aware of any research along these lines.”
So I did – or to be more specific, I got in touch with Rachel Johnson, a University of Vermont professor and head of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, and who was quoted in the article. Her suggestion was that I “ask the authors of the recent paper linking high intakes of added sugars with death from coronary heart disease why they did not separate out high fructose corn syrup.”
“As you likely know,” she added, “the authors did look at sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) separately.” (Ah, there it is again – those “sugar-sweetened beverages” that are actually almost all sweetened with HFCS, which I asked a researcher about for another recent blog, only to be told that particular terminology was used “in the literature.”)
Soft drinks: hard on the liver
If all of this seems to be going around in circles, I should note that after starting this blog, I was provided with some clarification by Laura Schmidt, a health policy specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study that appeared in Monday’s JAMA Internal Medicine.
As Schmidt explained it, NHANES wouldn’t allow the distinction between sugar and HFCS to be made because it’s “already challenging enough to get consumers to provide good data” on their dietary habits without further complicating the matter by asking them specifically about HFCS.
She did acknowledge, however, that HFCS probably comprises most of what’s being referred to as “sugar,” but is actually “sugars” in FDA terminology. A more accurate description, she noted, might be “added caloric sweeteners,” the consumption of which has greatly increased since HFCS became an intrinsic part of the American diet, while that of actual sugar itself has remained flat.
She further pointed out that fructose has been “singled out for a lot of aggressive research” because of the way its metabolized in the liver, driving high amounts of triglyceriardes into the bloodstream, and eventually resulting in fatty liver disease and damage to the organ that can resemble that caused by alcohol.
By contrast, Schmidt noted, the fructose in fruit itself doesn’t seem to cause any such problems, probably because it’s bound into the fiber that comes with it – although the jury is still out on whether the fructose content of fruit juice might also help bring about the kind of “metabolic syndrome” that can lead to all sorts of health issues.
Many of those concerns, in fact, have been linked to HFCS and high fructose consumption by those other studies I mentioned, including:
- A University of California at Davis study of adults between the ages of 18 and 40 that found that those who consumed high fructose corn syrup for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which have been shown to be indicators of increased risk for heart disease.
- A Georgia Health Sciences University study of 559 adolescents aged 14-18, who consume more fructose than any other age group, that linked such consumption with “multiple markers of cardiometabolic risk.”
- A University of Florida study that determined non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) may be associated with excessive dietary fructose consumption, and a Duke University Medical Center study that found HFCS consumption correlated with increased fibrosis severity in people with NAFLD.
- Another University of Florida study that concluded high fructose consumption can result in leptin resistance, a condition associated with weight gain and obesity.
- A University of Southern California study that showed countries using high-fructose corn syrup to have 20 percent higher diabetes rates than countries that didn’t add the sweetener to foods.
- A study by UCLA cancer researchers that found fructose can help promote the growth of pancreatic cancer.
And while none of these findings are reflected in the latest study from the CDC, as Schmidt observes, “What we do know is that the increase in the consumption of added sugars (as opposed to ‘sugar’) has been from high fructose corn syrup.”
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- February 4, 2014
BY BILL BONVIE
Maybe it should be called “CornSugarGate.”
And like most such affairs, the emails offer our best insight into what’s really happening behind the curtain. (Back in the old days, of course, it used to be written memos, but the principle is the same — someone writes a note to someone else involved in a plan to engage in some questionable activity, and it eventually becomes public, whether months or years later.)
In this case, the emails involved pertain to a plan by the Corn Refiners Association to convince the public that high fructose corn syrup, the laboratory sweetener still used in numerous processed foods, was a “natural” equivalent of sugar — in fact, a form of sugar. And what they indicate is that not everyone in the industry was convinced that promoting this proposition would be a particularly wise course of action.
In fact, the missives that flew through cyberspace — among a half-million pages of material recently made public in connection with litigation and counter-litigation over the CRA’s ensuing “Sweet Surprise” campaign — sound as though at least one major player thought it would be a really, really bad idea.
Back in February, 2010, Archer Daniels-Midland spokesman David Weintraub, maintained in a “confidential” message under the subject line “Marketing Ploy” that “I think we’re unnecessarily asking for trouble by using the ‘natural’ language,” adding, “I don’t think we really gain much in the mind of the audience or customers and I think it provides a point to ridicule the ads and the industry comes off as being disingenuous.”
Continuing to express skepticism in a subsequent email, Weintraub referred to an ongoing attempt to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” — a change that was ultimately rejected by the Food and Drug Administration — as “dishonest and sneaky.”
‘Corn Con Confidential’?
In another interesting revelation, ex-CRA President Audrae Erickson, while defending the proposed promotion in a 2009 email, urged that “(CRA) sponsorship of this campaign remain confidential.” In other words, get the message out there, but hide the identity of the messenger — which, as I noted in a recent blog, is usually what folks in the public relations business do.
Of course, the CRA ‘s role in this effort is now anything but secret — in fact, it’s the “us” on the SweetSurprise.com website. But I can’t help wondering — just who did she have in mind as the “sponsor” of such a campaign, as far as the public was concerned — some “grass-roots organization whose identity was as contrived as the name “corn sugar,” perhaps? (Hey — political organizations disguise themselves all the time under folksy-type aliases.)
Such inside information, in any event, was disclosed late last month by NBC News Investigations, casting a long-overdue media spotlight on the making of the strategy behind the corn refiners’ attempts to (literally) sugar-coat a product that experts and a number of studies have linked to obesity, diabetes, fatty liver syndrome and cognitive problems, among others.
Also reported by NBC was the response of Stephen D’Amore, an attorney representing the HFCS manufacturers. “What the emails clearly show,” he’s quoted as saying, “is the corn refiners engaged in a rigorous internal discussion about the public relations aspects of what HFCS is called, while never wavering in their core belief that high fructose corn syrup is both natural and nutritionally equivalent to sugar.”
Well, perhaps they’re all true believers — even Weintraub, who is quoted as saying the “claim is true,” but shouldn’t be hyped to the public. As Upton Sinclair, whose landmark novel The Jungle helped spur the creation of the FDA, once famously observed, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
But, thankfully, we the consumers don’t have to share in their sentiments — particularly when our health and that of our families might well depend on our understanding the difference between fact and fabrication.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- January 30, 2014
BY BILL BONVIE
It’s happening again: they’re fiddling while Rome burns.
In this case, the ones doing the fiddling are the folks in charge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — and what they’re fiddling with (in fact, have been fiddling with for the past decade, as it turns out) is the “Nutrition Facts Label” (NFL) — the “information” label that the agency requires on all processed food packaging.
And what’s burning in the meantime? That would be the entire country, whose consumers the FDA is responsible for protecting from adulterated food, but whose collective health is being gradually, well, consumed by a nearly uncontrolled firestorm of harmful and toxic ingredients.
You’re no doubt familiar with the NFL, which provides information like the number of calories and the amounts of sodium, potassium, protein, carbs, various fats, fiber and “sugars” (not to be confused with “sugar”) in a typical serving of whatever is in the package, along with vitamins A and C and the minerals calcium and iron – all derived from corporate databases.
Well, according to an Associated Press story published last week, the NFL is now up for review, with an eye to making it easier for consumers to read and understand, and more reflective of the knowledge about nutrition that has evolved over the two decades since the nutrition panel was first introduced on packaging.
“It’s important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic,” is how Michael Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods (or “food czar,” as he’s often referred to), explained the rationale for this reevaluation, noting how both the “food environment” and “our dietary guidance” have changed in that time.
Indeed they have, but it’s sometimes hard to escape the impression that when it comes to changes of this sort, the FDA is way behind the curve.
Take the issue of trans fats, for example. For years, this artery-clogging additive, whose main purpose is to extend the shelf life of products, has been acknowledged by health experts to be a major cause of heart attacks. It wasn’t until late last year, however, that the FDA finally got around to proposing that partially hydrogenated oil, the primary source of added trans fats in our diet, be phased out.
But while trans fat was given its own NFL designation back in 2006, manufacturers are still being allowed to get away with listing a product as having “zero grams” of trans fat as a “nutrition fact” as long as it actually has less than 0.5 grams. Now, changing that to reflect the true amount of this killer additive (which is estimated to kill about 7,000 Americans a year) might actually be helpful to consumers – but until the new guidelines, which have been sent to the White House for review, are released by the FDA, we won’t know whether any such thing is on the agenda.
Grams, calories and portions on ‘critics’ choice’ list
And while the article mentions trans fat, eliminating this dangerously deceptive trans fat “loophole” wasn’t among the revisions cited as being suggested by nutritionists and health experts or being considered by the FDA. Instead, what most seemed to concern Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is the “roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with,” such as the panel’s use of grams to measure amounts, which he would like to see changed to teaspoons.
Then there’s the proposal (actually an “expected change”) that the number of calories be made more prominent, put forth by Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the country’s leading manufacturers of processed foods (and leading users of various undesirable additives). Still other suggestions involve better defining “portion” sizes, adding actual amounts of whole wheat and listing “sugars and syrups” separately that don’t occur naturally in foods, but are added during processing.
What, exactly, are “sugars?”
That last recommendation is another example of how the NFL has been – and continues to be — a source of confusion about a very important topic: in this case, the difference between “sugar” and “sugars.” While it may sound like splitting hairs, “sugar” is a specific substance, a granular one otherwise known as sucrose, which is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose, whereas “sugars” covers a lot of territory. Some are natural and others – such as high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS – distinctly not. And there is a world of difference between them, insofar as how they affect human health and metabolism.
But as long as the FDA is up for suggestions, we’d like to weigh in with one of our own: how about adding an “Ingredient Facts Panel” that would not only list the names of various ingredients and additives, as labels currently do, but the amount of each a product contains (especially fructose, which HFCS often contains in higher amounts than acknowledged) and some of the “side effects” that studies at reputable universities and institutions have found they can produce.
Something like that might go far in helping curtail the epidemic levels that health problems like obesity and diabetes have reached in recent years – not to mention various types of cancer and the mushrooming of conditions such as autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children (which experts have linked to various food additives). Especially given that, according to a U. S. Department of Agriculture study, a greater percentage of adults reported consulting the nutrition facts panel and “other claims” on food packages “always or most of the time” in 2009 and 2010 compared with two years earlier.
All of which isn’t to say that there isn’t room for improvement in the so-called “nutrition facts” now provided, which Washington-based nutrition consultant Tracy Fox calls “messy.” But it shouldn’t take 10 years to bring it about, while far more serious food issues remain not only unresolved, but apparently not even considered by the FDA.
For while the emperor Nero may have gotten a bad rap for “fiddling” while 70 percent of ancient Rome was consumed in a fire (he actually played a type of harp, and is said to have gone to extraordinary lengths to cope with the catastrophe), the FDA has indeed been fiddling for far too long in contemplating changes for a superficial label while allowing any number of harmful ingredients to destroy the health of countless individuals.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- January 23, 2014
BY BILL BONVIE
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know a little about how diet soda (whatever brand it might be) can be considered the opposite of ‘brain food’. Or, to be more specific, how the synthetic sweetener it almost always contains — aspartame – is capable of literally exciting brain cells to death, especially when ingested by children or the elderly whose blood-brain barrier may not be fully functional.
Of course, you don’t hear much in the conventional media about the risk that prominent neuroscientists have long said aspartame poses to brain health. That’s because too many of the people reporting on such issues simply tend to accept at face value the ill-conceived notion that diet soda is preferable to so-called “sugary drinks” (a common misnomer they use in describing beverages containing no actual sugar, but rather the obesity-promoting artificial sweetener high fructose corn syrup, which I’ll return to in a moment).
But there have been occasional news reports that diet sodas aren’t really helping people to keep the weight off. Now, a new study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University has come up with a reason for that – yet another way that the stuff used to sweeten diet soda (which is still mainly aspartame) can ‘mess with your mind’.
According to the study’s lead author, Sara Bleich, a PhD. and associate professor with the school’s Department of Health Policy and Management, the “(a)vailable evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners, which are present in high doses in diet beverages, are associated with a greater activation of reward centers in the brain which alter the reward a person experiences from sweet tastes.”
“Another way of thinking about this,” Bleich told Rodale News, “is that for diet beverage drinkers, the brain’s sweet sensors may no longer provide a reliable gauge of energy consumption.”
This appears to be further proof that consuming either regular or diet soft drinks can subject you to a ‘double whammy’ — that is, help to make you both fat and stupid (to put it crudely).
That’s because, as noted earlier, if you’re not imbibing an aspartame-laced diet soda, you’re probably drinking one containing high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS And according to studies done at Princeton University, Florida College of Medicine and Yale University, HFCS helps promote obesity three different ways. (In fact, the Yale research also relates the problem to brain function by noting that fructose – especially in the form of HFCS — may contribute to weight gain and obesity because it has minimal effect on brain regions that control appetite.)
In addition, a 2012 University of California rat study found that “a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information,” in the words of its lead author.
When ‘tradition’ trumps science
Apparently, however, when the focus of such research is something as imprecise as “diet soda,” rather than a specific additive such as aspartame or HFCS, things can tend to become a bit muddled.
It’s bad enough that the use of the collective term “artificial sweeteners” in the Johns Hopkins study deflects attention away from the continued presence of aspartame as a major-league troublemaker in diet products. But what can really be a major source of confusion is when the researchers themselves fail to make a distinction between sugar and HFCS.
Consider, for example, this statement from the conclusion in the study’s abstract: “Overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults and consume significantly more solid-food calories and a comparable total calories than overweight and obese adults who drink SSBs.” And what, exactly, are “SSBs”? Why, “sugar-sweetened beverages,” of course.
To try to determine once and for all why a drink sweetened with HFCS continues to be characterized as a “sugar-sweetened beverage” rather than a “sugar-free” one, I made a call to Professor Bleich and put the question directly to her — noting the fact that the Food and Drug Administration had specifically ruled last year that HFCS and sugar are two different things (in rejecting a Corn Refiners Association petition to change its name to “corn sugar.”)
“In the literature,” she replied, “It’s commonly referred to as SSBs — it is the standard definition.” And as to where that standard definition originated, she admitted she had no idea.
So there’s the answer — a “standard definition” from “the literature.” It’s a bit, I suppose, like “tradition” — whether or not it makes any sense, it’s how we’ve always done it and doesn’t have to change with the times. And if it’s accepted by academics and researchers, how can you expect reporters and politicians to stop referring to “sugary drinks”?
One thing that you may not find in the literature, however — but can still be found in a lot of people’s memory banks (assuming they haven’t been altered by ingesting HFCS) — is the fact that way back when no one had ever heard of either high fructose corn syrup or aspartame and the standard sweetener found in soft drinks was actual sugar, there was no “obesity epidemic.”