Author Archive

Are today’s painted, tainted foods putting kids on the road to Ritalin?

Posted by -- September 11, 2014

colors

A new number has just been released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that should set off flashing red, yellow and blue warning lights for food shoppers throughout the land.

The FDA now estimates that at least 96 percent of children aged 2-5 years are being exposed to at least four artificial colors in food products – FD&C Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1.

What that means is that the great majority of America’s kids –especially those of preschool and kindergarten age — are now being fed foods that are tainted by virtue of being painted.

Perhaps you never thought of the use of synthetic food dyes in quite that way. But to “taint” can be defined as “to modify by or as by a trace of something offensive or deleterious.” In other words, to add a very small amount of a substance that can be harmful or “injurious to health.”

And that’s how many experts now view the artificial hues that are used to “pretty up” so many processed foods by making these nutrient-deficient products appear more colorful.

In fact, one of their primary concerns about these additives is how they may be affecting children – a worry supported by research. A few years ago, studies were performed at Yale University’s Department of Pediatric Neurology to determine the effects of five common synthetic food dyes on baby rats. Only unlike experiments that have used excessive amounts of substances in question, these used the equivalent of the “real world” exposures our kids have to these dyes. And the results were alarming – the rats became hyperactive and showed diminished learning ability.

Nor is this an effect that has been confined to lab rats. Not long ago, a British study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, which found that artificial food dyes increased hyperactivity in children, prompted the American Academy of Pediatricians to acknowledge a link between their consumption and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and to recommend parents try removing them from the diet of a child who suffers from the condition.

In other words, the road to Ritalin could well be paved with all those FD&C’s you see listed among the ingredients of today’s processed food products.

Fake colors versus true hues

But hyperactivity isn’t the only health problem that these fake hues are associated with. Red dye No. 40, a petroleum derivative and the most commonly used artificial color, has been known to cause allergic reactions such as hives and swelling around the mouth, and is a suspected carcinogen. Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) has been linked to chromosomal damage and may cause allergic reactions and migraines. Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow), currently banned in Norway and Sweden, can cause gastrointestinal distress, swelling of the skin, nettle rash and migraines, and may also be carcinogenic.  And Blue No. 1, or “brilliant blue,” which has been banned in France and Finland, may trigger asthma, low blood pressure, hives and other allergic reactions. (It also caused serious complications and death in hospital patients when used in feeding tube solutions several years ago.)

The irony is that the “true colors” of foods – those that nature intended — not only make them look more appealing, but actually show that they’re rich in certain vital nutrients.

The red in a tomato, for example, indicates the presence of lycopene – a powerful antioxidant also found in red-tinged commodities like watermelon, sweet red peppers and pink grapefruit, which helps ward off heart disease and also is believed to lower the risk of prostate and breast cancer.  The yellow color of veggies and fruits such as squash, pineapple and bananas is due to carotenoids and bioflavonoids, which also provides strong antioxidant properties that benefit your heart, vision, digestive and immune systems, and also are a great source of vitamin C. And the substances that give foods like blueberries, blackberries, pomegranates, plums and eggplant their ‘true blue hue’ help prevent both heart disease and cancer.

Given the many health benefits of the variety of vivid colors Mother Nature has imparted to our foods, the idea of buying foods disguised with unhealthy, counterfeit colors – in other words, that have been both painted and tainted –should be enough to make every consumer who’s not between the ages of two and five cringe.

Revisiting the upside and downside of FED UP (before you watch it at home)

Posted by -- September 9, 2014

fedup_movieSeeing that the movie FED UP is being made available starting today for home viewing on Blu-Ray and DVD, we thought this would be the perfect time to rerun Citizens for Health Board Chair James S. Turner’s review.

“Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong,” claim the film’s promoters in hyping FED UP as  “the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see.” While not disagreeing with that premise, Turner also has some reservations about the correctness of some of this movie’s key assertions — as well as its omissions.

So, whether you’re reading it here for the first time or reading it again, here’s what he had to say about this film.

 

FED UP: How what should have been an important movie missed the mark

By James S. Turner,

Board Chair, Citizens for Health

FED UP, a fast-paced documentary co-produced and narrated by ABC News icon Katie Couric, effectively presents repeated food industry actions taken against the best interest of children.The film deserves kudos for reporting how, by combining powerful lobbying of government with profit- maximizing strategies, the food business undermines the health of children and families and how the obesity and diabetes epidemics have followed in the wake of repeated food-industry market-building initiatives.

But there’s a lot that’s missing here – and some aspects of this movie that are genuinely misleading. And that’s why, as a depiction of where we currently are as a society coping with the results of a food industry largely run amok, FED UP leaves one with the feeling of a missed opportunity.

Here is the story.

In 1981, his first year as president, Ronald Reagan, lobbied heavily by the food industry, cut $1.8 billion from the school-lunch program.  Across the country schools sold their cooking equipment and replaced their in-school cooked meals with fast food from companies like McDonald’s. Simultaneously, junk food began turning up as secondary products in gas stations, office supply stores, movie theatres, and other non-food businesses as well as on supermarket shelves.  Both childhood and adult obesity and diabetes rose in direct proportion to the spread of this business model.

The film describes food industry manipulation of well-intended reforms. The food business turned such initiatives into ways to sell more junk. It spun efforts to stem the tide of disease and disability spread by the commercial debasement of food into sales slogans.  The late Sen. George McGovern, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in the 1960s and ‘70s and an advocate of nutritional dietary guidelines, is shown lamenting food lobbyists redoing his reforms into key parts of their disease-spreading business promotions.

Bemused power brokers address the camera.  The Agriculture Secretary calls ketchup a vegetable in law but not in his house; a former FDA commissioner, who says humanity’s future is at stake, worries about decisions made—or not—during his tenure; courts block befuddled billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s limits on supersize fast-food drinks; consumer and scientist advocates, investigative journalists, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Tom Harkin, and former President Bill Clinton are shown impotently griping into the mike about powerlessness.  Angst grips the witnesses.

A different angst, in narratives from children suffering the alleged harms of modern food, punctuates the power-broker bewilderment. The food these kids eat presents heart-wrenching choices—teasing, lost friends, surgery, hiding. The plight of these children attests to the fact that abstract food debates affect real lives.  As Manohla Dargis’s New York Times review notes, “…their participation can feel borderline exploitative.”  Viewers can make that call.  The narratives are powerful.

Using reflective interviews with real players and films from as long as 50 years ago, FED UP weaves these themes—impotent powerbrokers, “powerful” children;  home/community grown and cooked food versus factory food;  industrial versus natural ingredients—into a story. The 1960s villainized fat. The 1970s created flavorless, fat-free food. 1980s food manufacturers used sweetness (called “sugar” or “sugary” consistently throughout the film) to make the defatted, flavor-depleted foods palatable.

Filling two-thirds of Washington, DC’s E Street Cinema’s smallest theatre, the audience laughed, chortled, and even gasped at key points and gave a heartfelt round of applause at the end of the film.It also seemed that fewer- than-usual snack boxes and beverage containers littered the empty house at show’s end.Kudos for eleven bucks well spent, and a good time had by all – or at least a gratifying one of duty done.

Caveat: As The Times’ Dargis points out, the film is filled with “sugary” cartoon villains, including “Big Sugar”. Problem:  the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that Americans consumed the same amount of sugar per capita in 2009 (latest figures) as they did in 1909—no sugar explosion here.  Ninety-five percent of “sugary sodas,” contain no sugar.  Many “bad” foods like Oreos contain no sugar.  High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), often with excess fructose, sweetens themPerhaps “Big Syrup” would be a better name for the villain in this movie.

Consumers more savvy than reformers

Ironically, FED UP shows the food industry undercutting the last generation’s food reformers, then joins in undercutting today’s reformers. It does this by embracing the Corn Refiners Association’s $100 million advertising fable that brands all caloric sweeteners as being both identical and “sugar.” When research showed obesity and diabetes rising with HFCS sales, its sales dropped, showing that the public, a good food-fight ally, understands a lot more than it is given credit for. When The CRA asked the FDA to rename HFCS “corn sugar.” The latter, with 30,000 public comments against it, refused.   Nonetheless, the CRA continued to step up its all-sugar-is-the-same routine.

The CRA persisted with ads calling HFCS “sugar”. Now FED UP leads today’s food reformers in spreading the industry group’s false “sugary” tale.  It lumps all sweeteners together and calls them “sugar”. At the same time it argues that all calories are not the same.  It knows that there are different kinds of fats.  But when it comes to sweeteners, they are all identical and they are all “sugar”.  In his blog “5 reasons HFCS will kill you,” Mark Hyman, an on-camera expert in the movie, quotes Harry Truman as saying “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” Fed UP, unfortunately, joins the CRA in confusing the issue.

But there is even more to that story: Back in 1981, skirting FDA doubts, HFCS began its ascent to becoming America’s dominant caloric sweetener. In that same year  Ronald Reagan’s newly appointed FDA commissioner blocked a Public Board of Inquiry ban on aspartame (NutraSweet), making that chemical the top non-caloric sweetener.  In clinical trials, NutraSweet use preceded female weight gain.  Donald Rumsfeld, NutraSweet company president, served on President Reagan’s transition team.   That team chose the Reagan Administration’s FDA commissioner, a former consultant to the Defense Department during Rumsfeld’s term as Secretary of Defense in the Ford Administration. That commissioner overturned the ban on Rumsfeld’s billion-dollar artificial sweetener.

The 1981 sweetener events reinforce the film’s message:  Food is political.  That message is “not subtle,” says Mark Bittman, the provocative New York Times Food Politics writer, celebrity cook-at-home chef, and FED UP performer/endorser. Caveat:  politics is subtle and subtlety matters.  Grasping political subtleties helps turn isolated consumers into effective activists.  Some food companies spin the public with false ads, industrial sweeteners, and fake flavors, colors, and textures.  Our health suffers. Informed FED UP watchers can counter this manipulation by remembering the correlation between rising obesity/diabetes rates and HFCS sales. Time, research, and markets will tell how much this correlation matters.

The talking heads in this movie know the HFCS story. They say in blogs, interviews, and court documents that they believe HFCS adds to obesity and diabetes and is digested differently from real sugar.   Dr.  Hyman calls HFCS a “killer” and advises consuming sugar in moderation but avoiding HFCS totally. Another scientist shown told a court that the body metabolizes HFCS in dangerously different ways than it does sugar.  Surprisingly, very little of this information, which might soften a mother’s candy-versus-a-child’s-health choice, finds its way into Fed UP, and then only peripherally to its main focus on “sugary” villains.

Another subtlety: Sometimes a food company is not a complete villain. For example, companies as diverse as Subway, Pepsi, Chick-fil-A, Wal-Mart’s Wild Oats, and Whole Foods all identify HFCS as an “unwanted ingredient” in some or all of their products.  Board rooms and store aisles offer good food-fight venues. HFCS manufacturers set up their food company clients as targets by calling HFCS “sugar.” One judge dismissed a diabetic child’s case against HFCS makers, saying that they did not put the HFCS into food, food companies did.  Some food sellers might ally themselves with food reformers in their own self-interest before the lawsuits start targeting them, as the judge’s ruling suggests.

In another subtlety, FED UP shows the US Secretary of Agriculture disputing his own agency’s vegetable definition. When a person occupies a power seat, the power resides in the seat at least as much as in the person.  This subtlety complicates our food problem. President Clinton signed a law eliminating the warnings on saccharine, itself tagged as a weight promoter by some researchers.  An adviser to the former FDA commissioner featured in FED UP defended Monsanto’s NutraSweet —weight gain studies and all—on CBS’s 60 Minutes, then joined Monsanto as an in-house scientist.  On the Today show, Katie Couric hosted Monsanto touting NutraSweet. People in power seats perform virtually oblivious to the effects of their acts and virtually powerless to act differently.

What didn’t make the cut                                                                                     

In 1970 I wrote The Chemical Feast: The Nader Report on Food Protection at FDA on industrial food.  During the next 30 years a coalition of natural, organic, and health-food manufacturers, stores and consumers promoted natural food as a consumer choice.  That coalition blocked the Federal Trade Commission’s attempt to ban the words “natural,” “organic,” and “health” from food products.  It stopped excessive FDA limits on consumer access to vitamin and mineral supplements.  It got Congress to allow previously banned health claims for food and to pass the Organic Food Production Act.

These efforts to integrate the natural and industrial food sectors are part of the rest of the story that didn’t make it into this “expose” of the food industry.

On its second weekend, FED UP was featured at 55 theatres in 19 markets and placed 27th for weekend revenue with a respectable $3,346 gross per screen.  But its relatively small audience and mixed reviews seem to destine it, as one reviewer suggested, for likely rerelease as a TV special.

One reviewer, Baylen Linnekin at Reason.com, describes “What Fed UP Gets Wrong About the Food Industry,” saying that the film “ claims to shine a critical light on the food industry and the ‘obesity epidemic’” but “ignores the real culprit,” government subsidies for farmers and food companies.  At Eater National (www.eater.com), Paula Forbes says “The Sugary Outrage of Fed UP Doesn’t Go Far Enough…,” referring to the movie as  “one of those bracing documentaries that gins up alternating feelings of despair, rage, and impotence.”

FED UP touches the real world upheaval in people’s lives created by the forces of food industrialization and how those people work to tame those forces.  Efforts to promote locally and home-grown food, including organic and natural food stores and farmers’ markets go on every day, as do successful campaigns to pressure food companies and regulators to reformulate and accurately label food products. Scores of activists work diligently and joyfully to improve the quality of our diet and our awareness of what we eat. But those people and their efforts didn’t make it into the film, nor did tools the audience could use to advance the cause of better food.

So while consumers may be largely “fed up” with denatured, industrial food, they are equally disillusioned with the feelings of “despair, rage, and impotence” this film leaves us with — even while it sadly misses the mark on so many nutritional nuances and encouraging trends and reforms.

James S. Turner is a Washington DC based attorney and author.  He served as special counsel to Senator George McGovern’s Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. He wrote The Chemical Feast: The Nader Report on Food Protection at the FDA; and co-wrote Making Your Own Baby Food and Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life.  He is Board Chair of Citizens for Health, a twenty year old consumer activist group one of whose projects, with the support of The Sugar Association, works to end consumer confusion about the differences between sugar and other sweeteners.

Consumer pressure gets a nasty additive out of two big brands

Posted by -- September 4, 2014

carrageenan1

Money talks.

That may be a worn-out and tired cliché, but it was never truer.

Just last week, WhiteWave Foods, the company that makes Horizon and Silk brands, announced it will be removing carrageenan from those products.

First, all Horizon flavored milks will give carrageenan the boot, followed next year by other Horizon organic products, such as eggnog, whipping cream, cottage cheese and sour cream.

As for Silk, by next year its soy and coconut beverages will be carrageenan free as well.

Now of course, the company still maintains carrageenan is safe. But consumer “feedback” told them “it was time to make a change.”

“Feedback” is a bit of an underestimate.

What really happened is a lot more than just some emails from customers.

First, an irate group of consumers led by popular food blogger Vani Hari – The Food Babe – started sounding the alarm about carrageenan in 2012. And last year the Cornucopia Institute issued a big report titled: Carrageenan, How a ‘natural’ food additive is making us sick.”  The Cornucopia report details all the scientific evidence that shows consuming this additive can do some nasty things to your health.

And then, last year Food Identity Theft added carrageenan to its list of top food additives to avoid, giving more press and consumer attention to the issue.

We also did an investigation into carrageenan in pet food, finding that our four-legged friends are no safer from this gut-wrenching additive than we are.

If you missed any of those reports, here’s why you want to avoid carrageenan, and why WhiteWave is probably happy to have washed its hands of it.

Experts have been questioning the use of this additive, the sole purpose of which is thickening foods and adding a good “mouth feel” as industry calls it, since the 1960s.

Derived from red seaweed, the carrageenan used by the food industry is called “food grade,” but it appears that this more edible-sounding version can turn into the potent inflammatory and carcinogenic “degraded” version in the human GI tract. (The “degraded” version is so strong it’s used to induce inflammation in laboratory animals to test anti-inflammatory drugs).

The Cornucopia Institute report showed how regular consumption of carrageenan can produce “prolonged and constant” inflammation, which is a “precursor to more serious disease.”

And one of the worst aspects of this is that even usually additive-free organic foods can contain carrageenan. All of which makes label-reading a must (on pet food, too) if you want to avoid it.

And thanks to all the attention it’s been getting lately, a whole lot of consumers want to avoid it.

While this is a great start, other “natural” sounding products still contain the additive, including Blue Diamond and Pacific brand Almond “milk,” Starbucks soy milk latte, numerous brands of yogurt and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

HFCS, another additive consumers want no part of

But the biggest consumer challenge, and success, is going on with the laboratory sweetener high fructose corn syrup

It seems like every week you hear of another brand that’s opting out of using this corn-derived, man-made sweetener, and bringing back real sugar.

That’s why you can find “NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP” on more product labels all the time, especially soft drinks – including the biggest brands, like Pepsi.

Remember – HFCS made its debut by being quietly added to these beverages in the 1970s. So maybe it will go out the same door it came in.

And when it does disappear from food and drinks entirely – and that day will come — we can all give ourselves a big collective pat on the back.

 

 

 

New ‘study’ finds trans fats still a threat (just as we’ve been telling you all along)

Posted by -- September 2, 2014

transfatspizza

 

To a lot of consumers, whether they heard it from local TV news anchors or National Public Public Radio, the news last Thursday must have come as a shockaroozi.

It seems that a new study not only has found that one in 10 processed foods still contain the partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) that the Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on nine months ago as a primary source of artery-clogging trans fats, but 84 percent of those products are labeled as having “zero trans fats.”

Now, had it not been for those enterprising researchers at the New York Department of Health and Public and Mental Hygiene who came up with these revelations, who would ever have known such a thing?

Well, how about regular readers of this blog?  We’ve been warning you about the “trans fat loophole” that allows up to 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to be reduced to a zero on the “Nutrition Facts” label since the beginning of 2012. We’ve also been regularly providing you with examples of the numerous packaged foods that still contain partially hydrogenated oil, despite claims that food companies have been hard at work in an effort to get rid of them.

And just last week, even before the reports of this latest “study” were aired, we took the trouble to get in touch with the FDA to try to find out if any specific action had either been taken or was being planned to implement the proposal made last November to take PHOs off the agency’s list of Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredients. And here’s the response we got in an email from Marianna Naum, Ph.D. of the Strategic Communications and Public Engagement Staff of the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine: “We continue to review comments to the proposal and at this time aren’t able to conjecture on date of next action.”

Might industry have put the brakes on the FDA’s proposed ban?

Wow! Given that the FDA itself, in calling for this ban (or “phase-out”) of PHOs, estimated that these additives are responsible for 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths every year, it certainly doesn’t appear to be in any particular hurry to stem this acknowledged tide of death and serious illness. Especially when you consider the fact that an “extended comment period” on the proposal ended back on March 8 – nearly six months ago.

Might it have been put off by some of the comments submitted during that period, do you suppose?  That is, the ones that came from “stakeholders” – meaning food industry groups with an economic interest in maintaining the PHO status quo and who don’t really see trans fat as posing that much of a health risk?

“The food industry is urging the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its ‘tentative determination’ that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) should no longer be ‘generally recognized as safe (GRAS),”  the online trade pub Food Business News reported back in April. Industry associations and companies, it noted, while “supporting “further reduction” of dietary trans fat, “suggested there were other less disruptive and more effective approaches to accomplish the same end.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, for example, urged the agency to replace its proposed ban on PHOs “with a fundamentally different approach that will achieve a policy aim that will be supported by consumers, industry and the agency.” Such a “prudent” course of action, the GMA maintained, could consist of  a “less onerous proposal that builds on already existing programs that are successfully driving trans fat consumption to lower levels,” lest the food supply be significantly disrupted and consumers “unjustifiably denied access to products such as baked goods, pastries, confectioneries, some flavors, seasonings and many other products.”

A similar sentiment was voiced by Mark B. Andon, Ph.D., vice-president, research, quality and innovation at ConAgra Foods, Omaha, who contended that dropping the GRAS status of PHOs “would place potentially thousands of food products at risk of being deemed adulterated due to the presence of an ingredient that has been safely and commonly used in foods for over 50 years.”

The food giant General Mills likewise expressed the opinion that “current low intakes of trans fat are safe” and suggested that a level of trans fat below 0.2 grams per serving either be established as the new “zero” (as did the American Bakers Association) or become a “threshold limit.”

Then there’s Matt Jansen, senior vice-president of Archer Daniels Midland Co. and president of ADM’s global oilseeds and cocoa business, whose concern is that a PHO ban “would inevitably lead to increased use of fats and oils higher in saturated fatty acids, making it more difficult for consumers to comply with the Dietary Guidelines recommendations on saturated fat intake.” (At about the same time he said that, a comprehensive review of 72 studies from 18 countries undertaken by researchers from Britain’s University of Cambridge determined that saturated fats do not pose a cardiovascular risk after all.)

We could go on, but you get the idea.  Despite its claims to have significantly reduced the levels of PHOs in the American diet, it’s plain to see that Big Food is still very much addicted to these non-nutritive preservatives of product shelf life – and either doesn’t care or refuses to acknowledge that they are shortening the actual lives of thousands of customers every year.  And the FDA’s present procrastination could  well be an indication that it’s causing the agency to rethink its bold proposal of last November.

But there is one thing you can do to influence the food industry to completely remove this health hazard from its products – and, in the process, to be your own watchdog instead of relying on reluctant regulators. It’s to read those ingredient labels carefully and if you see “partially hydrogenated” anything, don’t buy the product – whether or not its tran fat listing is zero.

If it convinced more people to do that, the New York Department of Health and Public Hygiene deserves to be commended – even though the results of its study are really “old news.”

A study using a ‘placebo’ that really isn’t deserves to be dismissed

Posted by -- August 28, 2014

placebo

 

By BILL BONVIE

In her book, The Man Who Sued the FDA, which I reviewed at this site back in July of last year, Adrienne Samuels describes how, in the course of the decades-long investigation she and her late husband Jack conducted on the effects of MSG (monosodium glutamate and other flavor enhancers containing free glutamic acid), they came upon a shocking bit of information.

It had been reported that in double-blind studies of MSG conducted by the International Glutamate Technical Committee, or IGTC, there were just as many adverse reactions reported to placebos as there were to MSG. But then in 1991 the couple discovered what was really in those “placebos” – the artificial sweetener aspartame, which the IGTC chairman admitted to its having used as a replacement for sucrose starting in 1978.

As Samuels pointed out, the aspartic acid contained in aspartame “causes brain lesions, endocrine disorders, migraine headaches, depression, and all the other adverse reactions that can be caused by the free glutamic acid found in monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed protein products, autolyzed yeast, etc.

“Today, we know that all of the industry-sponsored studies were of similar design … that all failed to meet the requirements of the statistical models on which their conclusions were based; and all used aspartame in placebos – leading us to conclude that taken as a whole, the glutamate industry studies bordered on, and were flawed to the point of being fraudulent,” she added.

I couldn’t help being reminded of that revelation when a Facebook friend who has trouble with the idea that processed foods could have so many harmful ingredients sent me a link to an article featured at the site Business Insider under the headline, “Researchers Who Provided Key Evidence For Gluten Sensitivity Have Now Thoroughly Shown That It Doesn’t Exist.”

Now admittedly, gluten in processed food products has not been a big concern of ours here at Food Identity Theft. And that’s not just because it affects only a relatively small group of people – about three million Americans (one percent of the population) who suffer from celiac disease, plus an estimated 18 million or so who claim to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It’s also because if there’s anything the food industry has gone out of its way to eliminate from products, it’s gluten.

The fact is that gluten-free labels are everywhere – often serving to disguise the presence of a variety of harmful ingredients that help promote other, far more pervasive health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Still, this article was one whose apparent purpose was to debunk the validity of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), or gluten intolerance, in order to serve as an example of how, in the industry’s opinion, adverse reactions to additives are largely inventions. And, according to the article, the study involved, which was conducted by Peter Gibson, the Australian professor of gastroenterology whose previous research was strongly supportive of the existence of NCGS (and gave rise to the “gluten-free” diet craze) succeeded in doing just that.

That is, except for one little detail – a basic flaw in the methodology that renders the results effectively null and void. Not that this was evident from the Business Insider article. To discover it, I had to go to a more detailed account provided at the website Real Clear Science under the somewhat less sensational headline “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity May Not Exist.”

Sixteen grams of what?

Gibson, the article noted, “resolved to repeat the trial with a level of rigor lacking in most nutritional research. Subjects would be provided with every single meal for the duration of the trial. Any and all potential dietary triggers for gastrointestinal symptoms would be removed, including lactose (from milk products), certain preservatives like benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs.”

Now, all 37 of these subjects, mind you, were confirmed not to have celiac disease, but claimed their symptoms were alleviated by a gluten-free diet. When he analyzed the data from his new study, however, “Gibson found that each treatment diet, whether it included gluten or not, prompted subjects to report a worsening of gastrointestinal symptoms to similar degrees. Reported pain, bloating, nausea, and gas all increased over the baseline low-FODMAP diet.” And even in a second experiment, “when the placebo diet was identical to the baseline diet, subjects reported a worsening of symptoms!”

The one thing that Gibson apparently failed to take into account, however, was the nature of that “placebo diet” many of the subjects were given. But it’s right there in the Real Clear Science article – 16 grams per day of whey protein isolate to substitute for the 16 grams of gluten other subjects were being fed  — along with 14 grams of whey protein isolate and two grams of gluten given to a third group to serve as a “low gluten” control diet.

After reading this, I contacted Samuels and asked her what she thought of the study. “Whey protein isolate contains neurotoxic glutamic acid, aspartic acid and L-cystein,” she replied.  “Those amino acids are known to cause the same reactions as were reported by the participants in this study.” In fact, she pointed out that all these symptoms are also among those listed as adverse reactions to processed free glutamic acid (MSG) and aspartame in the Food and Drug Administration’s Adverse Reaction Monitoring System.

So next time you read about a study that purports to show a certain food-related condition or problem really “doesn’t exist,” take a look at what the researchers involved are using as a “placebo.” And if it’s something to which a lot of people have reported adverse reactions, rather than the “innocuous or inert” substance that a placebo is supposed to be, the only thing it should tell you is that study involved was fatally flawed from the get-go.

Falling into the obesity and heart risk traps while eating ‘healthy foods’

Posted by -- August 21, 2014

The “Rewind the Future” video that’s been going viral since being put online by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life program is powerful and scary — and yes, you need to watch it. Maybe even with your kids, if they’re old enough.

In a series of rapid-fire images, it gives you an idea of the dietary and lifestyle habits that caused a character named Jim to become an obese heart attack victim at 32. The website that features it offers advice (in the form of brief increments) to parents on how to keep their kids from having to face a similar fate.

But while it’s not hard to shake your head when little Jim’s mom starts him on a cycle of self-indulgence by feeding him French fries as a toddler, the obesity trap so many kids are falling into these days might not just be the result of a diet of obvious “bad food choices.”

The fact is that there are any number of processed food products out there that would appear to be healthy enough to the untrained eye, but might actually be as bad for your weight – and your heart – as all that junk food you might be making a conscious effort to avoid.

Some of the following examples are among those we’ve cited in previous blogs.  But they’re worth reviewing again.

  • Kellogg’s Special K Vanilla Crisp Cereal Bars. You may well assume that a snack made with “Special K” is a healthy one, based on all the advertising hype for the cereal. But these bars contain partially hydrogenated palm kernel and soybean oil, a source of artery-clogging trans fat acknowledged by the Food and Drug Administration (which has proposed phasing it out) to be responsible for an estimated 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year.  (While the amount of trans fat listed is zero due to an FDA “loophole,” the package notes that the product contains “less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.”)
  • CapriSun Strawberry Kiwi, Tropical Punch, Fruit Punch. The hype on the cardboard container – “no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives” — may make you think these are really healthy beverages to give your kids, but don’t be fooled.  Their second ingredient (after water) is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which studies conducted at major universities have linked to obesity, diabetes, and “an increased risk of heart disease.”
  • Campbell’s Family Size Tomato Soup. According to what’s printed on the can, this is a “heart healthy” product with zero grams of trans fat. But its third ingredient is HFCS (see previous paragraph).
  • Nabisco Original Fig Newtons and Strawberry Newtons with Real Fruit.  These seemingly healthy, fruit-filled cookies actually pack a double whammy in the form of both artery-clogging partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and HFCS (their first ingredient).
  • Schmidt Old Tyme 100% Whole Wheat bread. Now, this sure might look like a heart-healthy loaf of bread, considering that it contains “whole grain” and even has info on the wrapper about the importance of “Grains for Life.” But it turns out that this Old Tyme” bread also contains HFCS – which began being used about three decades or so ago – as its third listed ingredient;
  • Lawry’s Herb & Garlic Marinade with Lemon Juice. Now, what could be better for your heart and more apt to help you stay fit than a marinade containing herbs, garlic and lemon juice, and that boasts “No MSG” and “Natural Flavors” to boot? Or so you might think – until you read the ingredients, and discover that HFCS is the third one on the list.

We could go on, but you get the idea by now.

To find out whether or not something might be hazardous to heart health or make your kids more apt to become overweight and diabetic, it isn’t enough to make assumptions based on the product’s reputation or what it says on the front of the package. You need to go directly to that list of ingredients, and read it from top to bottom.

That is, if you really hope to avoid inadvertent “bad food choices.”

A ‘study’ in how sugar cubes came to erroneously stand for HFCS

Posted by -- August 19, 2014

Does this look like HFCS to you?By BILL BONVIE

How does misinformation – such as the idea that sugar cubes can be used to represent the amount of sugar in a product that doesn’t actually contain any – come into being, and then come to be unquestionably accepted by media?

We got a better idea when we started looking into the origins of a well-intentioned study done by a University of Alabama research team, which ended up being featured in a food-related publication and then became the subject of a lead story on a widely read and supposedly authoritative food website.

The premise of this particular study was that if consumers were only given nutrition information in a form that’s “easier to understand,” it would help empower them to make “healthful, wise consumption decisions.”

Specifically, the researchers set out to demonstrate that using sugar cube graphics to provide a “concrete image” of the amount of sugar contained in “sugar-sweetened drinks” is an effective way of educating people about why they might want to steer clear of such beverages, and is a form of ‘better nutritional labeling.”

There’s just one problem with this premise: nearly all of the beverages they’re talking about are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, a substance that is decidedly not sugar (that is to say, sucrose, which is the technical name for what we commonly refer to as “sugar”).

If there was any blurring of the distinction between HFCS and sugar, it was erased last year by the Food and Drug Administration when it turned down an attempt by the Corn Refiners Association to have HFCS officially renamed “corn sugar.”  On reason for the rejection, the FDA noted, was that sugar is defined as “a solid, dried, and crystallized food; whereas syrup is an aqueous solution or liquid food.” (A second reason was that “corn sugar” is another name for dextrose, a product that contains no fructose.)

For anyone unaware of the distinction, however, confusion is understandable, since the FDA also refers to all types of caloric sweeteners as “added sugars.” And as we discovered, the research team that conducted this study seems to have been laboring under just such a misapprehension when it did several “experiments” to determine whether consumers were influenced by graphic images of the amounts of “sugar” in what they were drinking.

Apparently (and erroneously) assuming that HFCS and sugar were essentially (if not exactly) identical, it found those consumers “were poorer at converting abstract amounts of sugar (grams of sugar) – the type of sugar information that is traditionally presented on SSB (sugar-sweetened beverage) nutrition labels – into concrete representations when they did not receive education (1 sugar cube + 2.5 g).” However, when presented with “concrete (vs. abstract) sugar nutrition information,” consumers selected (supposedly) sugar-sweetened beverages “less frequently.”

A surprising admission

Such conclusions, especially coming from an academically based research team, certainly sound as though they have the ring of authority. In any event, they were convincing enough to be published in Appetite, which describes itself as “an international research journal specializing in behavioral nutrition and the cultural, sensory, and physiological influences on choices and intakes of foods and drinks.” And from there, they were picked up by the website Food Navigator, whose article on this study was headlined “sugary drinks are less appealing with images of sugar cube content” and ran under “Science and Nutrition.”

But this particular study was actually neither, having derived from a flawed basic premise – the origin of which became a bit clearer in an exchange of e-mails I had with its lead author, a third-year graduate student named John Milton Adams.

I was, in fact, a bit taken aback at just how forthright Adams was in answering the questions I put to him. For instance, he acknowledged that he “was unaware that the FDA ruled that HFCS and sugar are not the same thing” and that “sugar” and “sugars,” in FDA parlance, have different meanings as well.

Adams also noted that his expertise is in social psychology, not nutrition. And that his faculty adviser has a Ph.D. in social psychology.

“We are aware that sugar cubes and HFCS are not exactly the same thing, but most people aren’t familiar with consuming raw HFCS (compared to sugar cubes),” he added.

True enough. HFCS isn’t something most people have a mental picture of, because it’s purely an industrial sweetener that’s never been sold to retail customers. And Adams’equating of sugar with HFCS is something that’s been done all too often by politicians, media and sometimes even researchers who should know better.

And, certainly, the aim of the study he and his team undertook — to find a better way to discourage the consumption of HFCS-laden drinks (mistakenly referred to as “sugary drinks”) — is well intentioned. (Such beverages, according to recent polling information, are now being avoided by nearly two-thirds of Americans.)

But the differences between sugar and HFCS go much deeper than a definition. Despite the CRA’s claims that is has a fructose/glucose ratio similar to sugar, it’s been shown to have considerably more fructose – fructose that isn’t bonded to glucose, like it is in sugar, and can thus have adverse effects on health that natural sugar doesn’t.

Perhaps a far better way to persuade people to shun soft drinks and other unhealthy beverages, would be to simply acquaint them with how scientific studies have linked HFCS to obesity and diabetes (which weren’t “epidemic” until it started being widely used in products as a sugar substitute), as well as other afflictions like pancreatic cancer.

Maybe that would prove a lot more effective than showing them misleading pictures of sugar cubes.

‘Fruit-flavored snacks’ are ‘made with real fruit’? Really?

Posted by -- August 14, 2014

fruitblog2

 

By BILL BONVIE
A couple days ago I was looking at some of the supposedly healthier snacks in our neighborhood supermarket when I encountered a pleasant-looking young woman shopper carrying a toddler. Picking up a package of Hawaiian Punch Fruit Gushers, I asked her, “Excuse me, but would you buy this for your child?”

“Yeah, I think so,” she replied. “It says it’s real fruit.”

I then showed her the list of actual ingredients, which included partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil – a source of trans fat that the Food and Drug Administration estimates is responsible for 7,000 deaths a year from heart attacks – as well as carrageenan, which can cause intestinal inflammation, and four artificial dyes. “That, I probably wouldn’t feed him,” she admitted, adding that “when you’re in a hurry,” you’re not apt to stop and examine ingredients.

That, unfortunately, is what a lot of today’s manufacturers of processed foods are counting on.

fruitblogThe only things they’d really like you to notice are front-of-package blurbs like “Made With Real Fruit” and “Good Source of Vitamin C.”  And the fruity-sounding cutesy names like “Pineapple Paradise,” “Watermelon Luau,” and “Maui Mango,” all of which are “naturally flavored.” And the mini-nutritional guide that tells you each pouch has a mere 10 grams of sugars and zero grams of saturated fat.

But they’re hoping you’ll have neither time nor inclination to examine that ingredients listing on the side of the box, where you’ll learn those “Fruit Gushers” contain really unhealthy, artery-clogging trans fat (which you know is present any time you see “partially hydrogenated oil,” despite the loophole that allows any amount of trans fat under 0.5 grams to be reduced to zero on the deceptive “Nutrition Facts” label). Not to mention those synthetic dyes, which researchers from Yale found caused baby rats to become hyperactive and have diminished learning ability in an experiment designed to simulate the “real world” levels to which children are routinely exposed. (And we wonder why so many of today’s kids suffer from so-called “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”)

Real fruit it ain’t

General Mills, which manufactures Fruit Gushers, probably also would prefer you remained unaware of the fact that there’s no actual pineapple, watermelon or mango listed in the product, whose “fruit” content consists of pears from concentrate and grape juice from concentrate. That’s something you’ll find tucked in the fine print of a little disclaimer above the Nutrition Facts, which also tells you that these fruit-flavored snacks are “not intended to replace fruit in the diet.”

(It should be noted that another General Mills product with similar ingredients, Strawberry Fruit Roll-ups, is having its label revised to eliminate pictures of strawberries and list the percent of “fruit” it contains as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)

And while there’s no high fructose corn syrup listed among the sweetening agents, which include sugar, you might also notice (again, if you took time to look) something nearly as disturbing – the presence of added fructose. It’s the fructose in high fructose corn syrup, after all, that researchers are increasingly convinced is  linked to obesity and diabetes, since it’s neither bonded with glucose as it is in sugar (sucrose) nor combined with fiber and pulp, as it is naturally in fruit. (And how much fructose are we talking about here, exactly?)

Of course, not all fruit-flavored snack items have ingredients quite as bad as these. But what’s really important to remember is that despite those “real fruit” claims on the packaging of various brands, none of these products are any kind of substitute for the “real fruit you’ll find in the produce aisle. They’re not even close.

A far better idea would be to bring some apples, bananas, peaches or other fresh fruit along the next time you want something healthy for you or your family to snack on. Especially the certified organic varieties, which are not only free of toxic chemicals, but apt to be a lot more nutritious.

What kind of difference would that make? Well, consider that while “Fruit Gushers” with “Maui Mango” flavor claim to provide 10 percent of a daily value of vitamin C, but “are not a significant source” of either dietary fiber or vitamin A.

Now take your average actual mango.  It’s rich in a number of essential nutrients – including not only vitamins C and A, but B6 and E, as well as potassium and flavonoids like beta-carotene — and is also high in dietary fiber.

It also  comes with no artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oil or brain-agitating artificial colors.

And there’s no “Fruit Gusher” or “Roll-Up”in existence that tastes anywhere near as refreshing or terrific!

 

More experts are calling HFCS a health hazard

Posted by -- August 12, 2014

Railroad tank car with HFCS

Railroad tank car with HFCS 

 

To listen to the Corn Refiners Association, you’d think the idea that consuming high fructose corn syrup may be hazardous to our health was something invented by Citizens for Health, the sponsoring organization of Food Identity Theft.  In fact CFH seeks to let members of the public know the facts about HFCS so they can make informed choices about whether to buy or avoid products containing it. The CRA, which represents industry, seems to find it difficult to understand this purpose.

Recently for example, the CRA alleged on its website that Citizens for Health exists for no other purpose than that of “disparaging high fructose corn syrup.”

Of course, the track record of Citizens for Health shows how utterly nonsensical that claim is.  A cursory review of the records shows that CFH has been on the front lines of the battle to promote consumer awareness of harmful food and water ingredients, the development of complementary and alternative health initiatives and support of dietary supplements for more than two decades.

That campaign to inform consumers about food ingredients has now been further advanced by Food Identity Theft, whose twice weekly blogs has been appearing for nearly three years, and has regularly discussed the potential risks posed by a variety of food additives in addition to HFCS.

(CFH accepts in-kind and financial support from organizations that agree with our viewpoints, including natural food companies like The Green Polka Dot Box, grounding shoe company Pluggz, supplement producer Wellcorps, The Sugar Association, The Foundation for Health Choice, Wise World Seminars and Wisdom films.)

We tell our readers about the alleged risks of HFCS because we (and CFH) believe that consumers are entitled to transparency about the way their food is processed so that they can make reasonable choices.  Our comments on HFCS are based on scientific research done by major universities and medical facilities – findings the CRA has itself often disparaged as “false science.”

Increasingly however, the CRA’s efforts to marginalize and discredit reporting on the health risks posed by the widespread presence of HFCS in food products are failing to resonate with consumers, who are becoming more knowledgeable about the doubts regarding this industrial sweetener.  More and more, we’re seeing prominent doctors and medical experts joining the chorus of health professionals who have become convinced that HFCS – especially in the amounts it is found in the average American diet – is one of the factors responsible for our current epidemics of obesity and diabetes, as well as other conditions that put the physical condition of Americans in jeopardy.

We believe that it is important for consumers to hear these medical voices so they can be more fully informed about the food decisions they make.

One is David Brownstein, M.D, a board-certified family physician and one of the nation’s foremost practitioners of holistic medicine.  In a recent blog on “The Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup,” Dr. Brownstein contends that “(t)he obesity epidemic we are currently facing is the direct consequence of adding HFCS to food products.”

In leading up to that conclusion, Dr. Brownstein points out the “parallel increases in soft drink intake and obesity” in the U.S over the past four decades, noting how consumption of sweetened soft drinks now averages 12 ounces per person per day, with 75 percent of adolescent boys and 62 percent of adolescent girls consuming them daily.

HFCS the ‘main villain’

“So what’s wrong with soft drinks?” he asks. “The main villain is high fructose corn syrup,” the cheap sweetening agent he says is metabolized by the body in a far different way than was the sugar, or sucrose, it has replaced in soda and many other food products.

With sucrose, Dr. Brownstein explains, the fructose and glucose are bound together in units called disaccharides, which cause the pancreas to release insulin and glucose to be converted into energy. HFCS, by contrast, not only contains more fructose than sugar, but uses unbonded single molecules called monosaccharides, which make it difficult for the body to use HFCS as an energy source and cause it to store excess fat. In addition, the failure of HFCS to stimulate the appetite control hormones insulin and leptin results in people having an “unrestrained appetite.”

Part of the problem, Dr. Brownstein adds, is that HFCS is such a recent addition to our diet. “Human beings simply don’t have the tools to convert HFCS into usable energy,” he contends.  “Nevertheless, the food industry was more than happy to save money adding HFCS to as many products as possible.

Dr. Al Sears, sounds a similar alarm about HFCS being a “dangerous, unnatural substance.” Dr. Sears, a highly credentialed M.D., board-certified clinical nutrition specialist, ACE-certified fitness trainer and the founder of the Center for Health and Wellness, a successful integrative medicine and anti-aging facility in Royal Palm Beach, Fla. tells how his patients often believe that fructose is fine, since it’s found naturally in fruit. “But natural fructose is locked inside the fiber of fruit. That means it absorbs into your bloodstream slowly, giving your liver time to release it gradually as glucose, the sugar your body uses for energy.” HFCS, by contrast, “floods your bloodstream, overwhelming your liver’s processing capacity.” In fact, he noted, animals fed a diet high in HFCS suffer severe cirrhosis of the liver, which involves scarring and tissue death.

Dr. Sears also points to research showing “a link between refined fructose and cancer,” especially pancreatic cancer. (In 2010, a team of UCLA cancer researchers concluded that pancreatic cancers use fructose to activate a key cellular pathway that drives cell division, helping the cancer to grow more quickly and that “cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation.”)

“Anything with cane sugar is going to be better than something with HFCS. Your body is made to be able to handle foods with natural sugar. Just help your body out by choosing foods that, if they have sugar, are low on the glycemic index,” he advises.

So don’t just take our word for it when we say that HFCS is an ingredient you should be fully informed about before you consume it.

Corn refiners’ opposition to petition based on outdated data, misreading of FDA rule

Posted by -- August 7, 2014

big_corn

To hear the Corn Refiners Association tell it, consumers should have no concerns about the fructose content of the high fructose corn syrup still found in all manner of processed foods, because this caloric substitute for sugar long ago was declared to be generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, by the Food and Drug Administration.

So why all the fuss and bother about it now?

Let’s just say it has a lot to do with the fact that approval was given “long ago,” using outdated data. That, and the CRA’s seeming misinterpretation of what the FDA meant by that GRAS designation.

In our previous blog, we reported on our sponsoring organization, Citizens for Health, having amended its petition to the FDA seeking labeling of specific amounts of fructose in products containing HFCS – and notification to companies who market products with levels higher than the approved 55% that those products will be considered adulterated. But the petition also contains a response to the CRA’s objection to it – the sole opposition it has received, as contrasted to more than 10,000 favorable comments posted thus far. (Post your comment here).

The CFH answer begins by acknowledging that the Corn Refiners Association is correct “that in 1996, when FDA affirmed HFCS as GRAS – based on data from the 1970s and 1980s – the agency declined to require identity of which HFCS was used in the product.” At that time, the FDA “determined that because the components of HFCS-55 are similar to HFCS-42, and there are no safety concerns with these components, there is no need to differentiate between these two HFCS’s on product labels for consumers.” The response further notes that the FDA had also ruled “that it could not find any basis for an adverse effect in diabetics from increased fructose consumption.”

However, as CFH points out, the FDA “was relying on ten-year-old data in 1996” when it made that determination. “Eighteen years later, we now know that increased fructose consumption does play a significant role in diabetes” – and relying on that kind of dated information demonstrates the lack of merit in the CRA’s opposition. “We also have a modern consumer base dealing with numerous health conditions that require intricate knowledge of what is going into their bodies,” such as the identity of ingredients.

Such factors, CFH contends, further demonstrate why  “the CRA’s desire to operate in secrecy has no merit,” since “without labeling, a consumer is blind to his own fructose intake and must misguidedly rely upon an outdated 1996 understanding of fructose and HFCS before large studies of population trends highlighted this connection.”

As for the CRA’s claim that there is no evidence “those consumers are aware of or care about the differences in fructose content between HFCS 42 and 55,” CFH cites the outpouring of support for its petition, as well as thousands of signatures it elecited, as evidence of “overwhelming consumer demand for this exact type of information on the label “

No carte blanche for GRAS

Also disputed by CFH is the corn refiners’ contention that HFCS was given a GRAS designation without regard to the concentration of fructose it contained, when, in fact, the FDA was quite unambiguous in specifying that it was approving HFCS with fructose concentrations of approximately 42% or 55%. If the definition allowed “for fluctuations upwards and without limit, then there would be no need for the FDA to use both HFCS 42 and 55,” it pointed out.

The belief that there was no actual limitation placed on the amount of fructose HFCS contains may help explain the rationale for the excessive levels found in a recent study of beverages and the reported addition of HFCS-90 (that is, 90% fructose) to some products, even though its use is specifically prohibited by the FDA because, according to CFH, its fructose/glucose ratio is so completely out of balance.

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

In other words, you can’t make the fructose any higher in high fructose corn syrup than the FDA allows. Not without first bringing about a change in the rule that now exists.