Author Archive

Aspartame still a ‘devil in disguise’ – but studies steadily eroding its phony ‘good guy’ image

Posted by -- March 26, 2015

Aspartame chemical formula on school chalkboard

Although we’ve moved it from second to fourth place among the top ten additives to be avoided in our countdown to the Citizens for Health “Read Your Labels” Day April 11, the neurotoxic artificial sweetener aspartame can still be found in any number of products, and is still often being misrepresented as a “healthy” alternative to caloric sweeteners.

There have, however, been encouraging indications that the food industry is starting to have reservations about it, such as the decision last summer to remove it from Yoplait “Lite” Yogurt (where its presence turned a supposedly healthy product into a distinctly unhealthy one).

 

Number 4: Aspartame (a.k.a. NutraSweet, Equal)

The evidence of the ill effects produced by this excitotoxin cousin of MSG continues to mount from year to year, with a University of Iowa study last year having found that women who drink just two diet sodas (which are all sweetened with aspartame) a day have a significantly higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. Another 2014 study out of the University of North Dakota looked at the effects of aspartame consumption o healthy adults who consumed a high-aspartame diet for eight days followed by a low-aspartame diet for eight days, with a 2-week period in between.

When on the high-aspartame diet, participants had more irritable mood, exhibited more depression, and performed worse on spatial orientation tests. “Given that the higher intake level tested here was well below the maximum acceptable daily intake level of 40-50 mg/kg body weight/day,” noted an abstract on the study, “careful consideration is warranted when consuming food products that may affect neurobehavioral health.”

But then, such results hardly seem surprising, given that studies done over 40 years ago connected aspartame to the development of brain tumors in rodents and grand mal seizures in rhesus monkeys.

As we noted a year ago, “the aspartame fiasco is an example of how one bad regulatory decision can set the stage for a host of subsequent evils. In this case, the ‘original sin’ was a Food and Drug Administration commissioner’s decision more than three decades ago to ignore the agency’s own scientific advisers by clearing this laboratory-created synthetic sweetener for entry into the food supply, where it was soon firmly ensconced.

“Aspartame (originally marketed as NutraSweet), which was accidentally discovered by a chemist working for Searle while looking  for a new ulcer drug, is made up of three neurotoxic chemicals – substances that are toxic to brain cells.

Citizens for Health Board Chair Jim Turner, a Washington, D.C. Attorney and author of the best-selling book The Chemical Feast: The Nader Report on Food Protection at the FDA, along with his advocacy group managed to keep aspartame off the market for 11 years until 1981, when its use was approved over the advice of FDA scientists as well as the agency’s Public Board of Inquiry that previously had concluded that it should not be permitted in the food supply.

That official OK was about as clear an example of corporate influence in government as has ever been seen, an obvious political favor to the then head of Searle, Donald Rumsfeld (yes, that Donald Rumsfeld) by the incoming Reagan administration for his help on the transition team. Turner summarizes the entire aspartame fiasco as a case of “political toxicity and biological toxicity working together to create toxic health problems for the public.”

“Before long, thousands of aspartame-related health complaints about everything from migraines to memory loss to dizziness to vision problems were being reported to the FDA, which even acknowledged that adverse reactions might be possible, but did nothing to reverse the decision.

“Today, a growing number of health-conscious consumers avoid aspartame like the plague, avoiding any product described as “low calorie” or “sugar free. That, however, hasn’t deterred the dairy industry from attempting to pass off aspartame-laced milk on school kids in a very underhanded manner.

Will aspartame in milk be the new ‘standard’?

At present, the industry’s petition that we reported on a year ago, which would allow the “standard of identity” for milk to be altered to allow for the addition of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, is still pending before the FDA. The petition filed by the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association would “amend the standard identity of milk” (and 17 additional dairy products). If the FDA agrees, it would allow flavored milk with added artificial sweeteners such as aspartame to be labeled as just “milk,” eliminating the now-required “low-cal” notice on the front of the package.

According to an FDA spokesperson we, the agency has received almost 45,000 comments on the petition, has now completed our review of all the comments, and is “actively working on developing a response to the petition as resources permit.”

As we noted last year, “the dairy industry claims this would be all for the benefit of American kids. ‘Promoting more healthful eating practices and decreasing childhood obesity is one of the most pressing problems facing our country today,” notes the petition, which also states that the phrase “reduced calorie…’ according to market research, ‘doesn’t appeal to children’.

“But what it does reflect is that milk consumption is way down, especially in schools where the amount of calories in the products sold in school lunchrooms are starting to be “officially” limited, and the feeling of the dairy industry that in order to sell more milk – the aspartame-sweetened kind, that is – they’ve ‘got to hide it from the kids’.

“Fortunately, a lot of American consumers and parents who have by now become familiar with aspartame’s long and ugly “rap sheet” – which includes actually promoting, rather than discouraging obesity — are no longer willing to go along with the idea that this neurotoxic additive is a “healthy” alternative to sugar, as reflected by the amount of public outrage the petition has sparked, including a counter-petition to “tell the FDA we don’t want aspartame in our milk,” and over 40,000 comments sent into the FDA docket.

“But it does leave one to wonder about how a really bad additive actor, believed to have caused brain tumors in one set of test animals and brain seizures in another (the latter after being fed a milk-based formula), to say nothing of countless other adverse health effects, can come to be categorized  as a “safe and suitable sweetener” for chocolate milk being sold to school children.”

‘Glutamic bombs’ — all members of the MSG family – still lurking in numerous food products

Posted by -- March 24, 2015

campbells3

As we continue this year’s countdown toward what Citizens for Health has designated as “Read Your Labels Day,” on April 11, we are once again recalibrating and updating our list of the top ten food additives to be avoided, both to allow for any new developments in the past year and to accommodate a ‘new’ ingredient that we’ll be talking about shortly (although some of our readers may have already guessed its identity).

That’s why we’ve now not only condensed what were three classifications into two, but expanded one of them.  Both cover related ingredients that experts have dubbed “excitotoxins” (because they can literally excite certain neurons in the brain to death) and that we like to refer to as “glutamic bombs.”

Number 5: Monosodium glutamate

Not much has changed in the way this “flavor enhancer” is used to perk up the taste — or at least the way we perceive the taste — of all manner of foods, from snacks to soups (including standard brands like Campbell’s). As we noted a year ago, “it allows products with bland or sparse ingredients to taste really exciting, both saving companies money and adding immensely to sales.”

The history of monosodium glutamate, as we also pointed out, use is a sneaky one as well. This substance, which is misrepresented as “natural,” but which is actually anything but (consisting of oldbay1a processed free form of glutamic acid, rather than the natural kind that is bound up in certain fruits and veggies)  found its way into more and more products during the 1950s and ’60s, its use having reportedly doubled in each decade since the 1940s. In addition to being marketed as an ‘off the shelf’ flavor enhancer, it was also at one time added to baby food. But in the late 1950s, researchers tested the chemical on infant mice and discovered it destroyed nerve cells in the inner layers of the retina.  A decade later, prominent neurosurgeon Dr. John Olney, found it had a similar effect on cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Disclosure of that information to Congress in 1969 was enough to get monosodium glutamate voluntarily removed from baby food, to which it was being added in amounts equivalent to those that had produced brain damage in test animals.

In addition, monosodium glutamate (often called MSG for short, although as we shall see, that label also applies to a number of other ingredients as well) can cause a range of “side effects,” ranging from mild to severe that can necessitate a trip to the ER.  These can include everything from migraines to seizures to uncontrollable anger (could this be one of the causes of “road rage?”) to atrial fibrillation, or AFIB.

While many people who know they are hypersensitive to monosodium glutamate try hard to avoid it, we were appalled last year to discover a flagrant misrepresentation that could well result in its being inadvertently consumed by such individuals. This deception involved the use of the name and image of a familiar product, Old Bay Seasoning, which is MSG-free, to identify a line of “Old Bay Seasoned” snacks put out by Herr’s which actually list monosodium glutamate as an ingredient.

But, as we nmsg2oted, there other forms of MSG besides monosodium glutamate — ones hidden under other names.  And those are the ones covered by our sixth category of undesirable additives:

Number 6: ‘Hidden forms of MSG’ (e,g., hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast, sodium and calcium caseinate)

Assurances like “NO MSG ADDED” can often be found on the labels of food products that actually contain manufactured glutamic acid that may be concealed under the names of more than 40 different ingredients.

Like monosodium glutamate itself, these additives in even small amounts can cause devastating reactions in highly sensitive people, making nearly all processed foods a dangerous proposition for them. One such individual was the late Jack Samuels, who with his wife Adrienne, a Ph.D. focusing on research methodology, founded the Truth in Labeling Campaign, sharing studies and information they learned over decades of research at their web site www.truthinlabeling.org.

And if you want to know why such dangerous ingredients are still allowed in food, we suggest you read The Man Who Sued the FDA, by Adrienne Samuels, which documents Jack and Adrienne’s own story of  ‘discovery’ in regard to MSG that spans several decades. The story of how the Food and Drug Administration gave in to industry interests – and continues to do so – in allowing such dangerous additives to be so widely used in so many food products is not only shocking in itself, but a powerful reminder of how important it is to read those ingredient labels– even when you think you can trust a product because of its familiar brand name.

Wire service confirms collusion we disclosed between industry and dietitians

Posted by -- March 19, 2015

peopleBy BILL BONVIE

When you’re looking for expert advice on what and what not to eat and drink, who ya gonna ask?

Why a registered dietitian, of course! After all, who can you trust for an authoritative and impartial answer about whether or not something is good for you if not a trained, credentialed and certified professional in that very field?

Or so goes the conventional wisdom, in any case. The reality, however, is often not quite so simple and legit, as this blog has revealed on a number of occasions.

But you don’t just have to take our word for it. The inside story of what really goes on in the murky world of food industry “consulting” has now been disclosed by the Associated Press, complete with ‘confessions’ of sorts from individuals on both sides of such transactions.

“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” admitted Coca-Cola spokesman Ben Sheidler, who added, “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent.”

And one such dietitian, Robyn Flipse, who wrote a “sponsored article” suggesting that a mini-can of Coke might make a great snack, which appeared on the sites of major news outlets, said she came up with the idea at the behest of a public relations agency for the company that asked her to do a piece on heart health.

Flipse also acknowledged having worked with the American Beverage Association for years, with one of her jobs being to disseminate social media rebuttals to the idea that so-called “sugary drinks” (which actually contain high fructose corn syrup rather than sugar) cause obesity and offering her “expert” opinions to news outlets. She further noted that she would ask the PR agency if she should say something to refute negative information in a story about artificial sweeteners as well.

Well, that certainly explains a lot.

It explains, for example, the column I found posted online by the Gannett newspaper Florida Today that I talked about in a Food Identity Theft blog last May – one written by Susie Bond, identified as a registered/licensed dietitian and nutritionist for Health First’s ProHealth & Fitness Centers, and  appearing under the headline “More from Susie: sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.”

Surprise, surprise!

Here’s what I wrote back then:

“When we first read Bond’s attempts to debunk the ‘myths’ regarding HFCS, we couldn’t help thinking that we’d seen this all somewhere before. And as it turned out, we had – at none other than the ‘Sweet Surprise’ website maintained by the Corn Refiners Association, the trade group that has spent huge amounts of money trying to convince the public that this cheap synthetic sweetener is nothing more than a “natural” form of ‘sugar made from corn’.

“That wasn’t the only thing we discovered on revisiting the ‘Sweet Surprise’ site, however.  Because there, in a section labeled ‘in the News’ was – yes, you guessed it – a link to the very same article.

“But since the column consisted of only a slightly rewritten restatement of the claims already made at the site, it looks like the only purpose served by that link is to lend more seeming legitimacy to the CRA’s long-held position that HFCS is really no different from natural sugar.   The similarity was so pronounced, in fact, that Bond’s last two ‘myths’ are virtually identical to those listed on the website about HFCS supposedly being ‘banned in Europe’ and ‘subsidized by the U.S. government’.  Coincidence?”

Apparently not.

But what might have looked to the uninformed like blatant plagiarism was actually just business as usual for the partnership that has formed between the food industry and a group of so-called “professionals” who are supposed to be giving us the benefit of sound, scientific advice on health and nutrition.

As I observed in that blog, “far too many registered dietitians and nutritionists are unduly influenced by industry groups and large food corporations that maintain a huge presence at their conferences with booths and seminars. (A recent one in California even had lunch catered by McDonald’s!) The situation has become so embarrassing to some of the more conscientious members of this group that they’ve rebelled and formed their own group, Dietitians for Professional Integrity, as we reported here more than a year ago.”

So what the AP has now reported should really come as no big surprise, but more like a confirmation of the collusion that’s become so commonplace in the American marketplace that they don’t even have to try to hide it anymore.

 

The ‘brominated brothers’: one partly down, one still standing

Posted by -- March 17, 2015

bvo3

Next on the Food Identity Theft list of additives to avoid that comprise our annual countdown to  “Read Your Labels” Day are the two we call “the brominated brothers”  brominated vegetable oil and potassium bromate, which we’ve now moved down to the seventh and eighth positions.

Number 7: Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)

Ten months ago, much was made of a promise by the nation’s two largest soft drink makers, the Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola companies, to drop brominated vegetable oil, the sole purpose of which is to keep certain kinds of beverages from appearing cloudy. The decision  by the two companies to get rid of this unhealthy ingredient, which was already banned by the European Union, India and Japan, was a result of petitions launched on the website Change.org by Sarah Kavanagh, a Mississippi teen, that amassed more than 200,000 signatures and ensuing pressure from consumers, augmented by television’s Dr. Oz, who called BVO his “number one shocking health threat in your food” The affected products include the soft drinks Fanta and Fresca, put out by Coke, and Pepsi’s Mountain Dew and Amp energy drinks.

Following those announcements, we said BVO would remain on our list of the ten most undesirable food additives “for the time being, until it’s actually been removed from the products in question.”

So why are we still listing it?  Well, because so far, those promises have only been partly kept.

While a scan of products in our local supermarket found no sign of BVO in any of the Fanta and Fresca varieties on the shelf (or in Coke’s energy drink Powerade, the subject of another petition launched by Kavanagh), it was still listed as an ingredient in the popular soda brand Mountain Dew.

So once again, here’s the “rap sheet on BVO:

It isn’t just that BVO is used as a flame retardant, which Kavanagh noted in her petition and which alarmed a lot of consumers. This additive, which is used to keep beverages from appearing cloudy, accumulates in fatty tissue and has been shown to cause heart damage in research animals. In fact, it has never actually been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, where its status has been in limbo for more than three decades.

And if that’s not enough, it was described by the website Marketing Daily as “a synthetic chemical formed by bonding vegetable oil to bromine,” which is “a heavy, volatile, mobile, dangerous reddish-brown liquid,” according to webelements.com.

Then there’s this from the holistic website NaturalNews.com: “All bromines are endocrine disruptors (that) can also interfere with iodine absorption by the thyroid, breast tissue and prostate tissue, causing nutritional deficiencies which can promote cancer.”

There’s also a frightening bit of information that we featured in a blog post at the end of 2011:

“While the FDA has set a ‘safe limit’ for BVO at 15 parts per million, (an) Environmental Health News article describes several cases of bromine poisoning in humans following BVO-containing soda binges, including a 1997 report of ‘severe bromine intoxication’ in a patient who drank two or more liters of orange sodas every day.”

In other words, this innocent-sounding additive is nothing that the FDA should ever have allowed to be added to beverages in the first place.

But despite its safety status having remained in limbo all these years   — and a lawsuit that Citizens for Health Board Chair Jim Turner and Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), filed against the FDA to prohibit BVO use back in the 1970s – the federal regulators have still not taken steps to order its removal from food (or more specifically, beverages).

bromate

Number 8: Potassium bromate

Used to “improve” flour and make more uniform, attractive bakery products, potassium bromate (or bromated flour) has been on the list of carcinogens in California since 1991. And while many other countries have banned its use entirely, the Food and Drug Administration  has merely asked the baking industry to voluntarily stop using it.

According to the American Bakers Association, if potassium bromate is used “properly” no detectable residues will be found; however, if too much is used, or any number of other procedures are not followed (such as proper temperature settings or baking time) a residue of this carcinogenic additive will end up in the finished product.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has also pointed out that FDA tests going back to 1992 and 1998 found levels of bromate in “several dozen baked goods” that would be “considered unsafe by the agency (FDA).” One sample, CSPI noted in a press release “had almost 1,000 times the detection limit.”

In 1999 CSPI submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration to ban this additive, saying that “The FDA has known since 1982 that potassium bromate can cause tumors of the kidney, thyroid and other organs in animals,” with additional studies over the years all confirming its toxic properties.

While some commercial brands have replaced potassium bromate with other dough-enhancing additives, brominated flour is still widely used in restaurants and bakeries. General Mills, makers of Pillsbury and Gold Medal brand flours, offers no less than 22 different brominated flours at its “professional baking solutions” site. Bottom line: if a bakery can’t tell you what ingredients it uses in making its cakes, cookies and bread, it’s time to find another bakery. The oddest product that we found potassium bromate in – considering its big “benefit” is to promote yeast rising — was New York brand flatbreads.

Stay tuned for the rest of our Read Your Labels Day countdown – as well as a new addition to the list.

Cereal makers poised to ditch one of these two controversial preservatives

Posted by -- March 13, 2015

bht

Here at Food Identity Theft, we consider the approach of our third annual “Read Your Labels Day” as an opportunity to both update you on any developments concerning our 10 top additives to be avoided and if necessary, to change the order of importance we’re assigning them if we think it’s indicated.

In the latter regard, the changes we’re making this year include moving “trans fats,” which was ninth on our list, much closer to the top (and also renaming the category “partially hydrogenated oil”), and moving the preservatives BHA and BHT to ninth place because of some encouraging new signs in the marketplace.

Number 9: BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoulene)

Just as artificial colors are in the process of being phased out by about the country’s two biggest chocolate makers, Nestle’s and Hershey’s (as noted in our previous blog), one of the above named preservatives may also be on the verge of being dumped by two major cereal manufacturers, General Mills and Kellogg’s.

As we noted a year ago, both BHA and BHT are banned in Japan and most European countries. They’ve also 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!

But, as in other instances, it wasn’t until a contemporary champion of consumer advocacy, “Food Babe” Vani Hari, got involved with a petition on the Internet that things started to click in regard to anything being done by the industry to find replacements. As she pointed out, the fact that European versions of some of the top-selling cereals made by these companies don’t contain BHT shows that it’s not an essential ingredient.

Not that wither General Mills or Kellogg’s will acknowledge that Hari deserves the credit or that “food safety” has anything to do with their reevaluation.  A General Mills media relations manager is quoted as saying the company was “well down the path of removing it from our cereals … not for safety reasons, but because we think consumers will embrace it,” while a spokesperson for Kellogg’s has maintained that the company has been in the process of “actively testing” natural alternatives to BHT “to ensure the same flavor and freshness,” adding, “we know some people are looking for options without BHT.”

Both 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 has been some controversy over how much BHT should be considered potentially carcinogenic, Hari wants to know why it’s “OK for Americans to eat this risky chemical for breakfast when these companies have already figured out a way to make and sell their cereals fine without it?”

ADHD-linked artificial colors may be starting to lose their luster

Posted by -- March 10, 2015

colors

The good news about artificial colors, tenth on our list of food additives to be avoided, is that they’re now showing signs of fading from the food scene. That became evident just last month when the country’ two best known makers of chocolate candy announced they were phasing such synthetic dyes out of their products.

First Nestlé USA announced its commitment to removing FDA-certified colors, like Red 40 and Yellow 5, as well as artificial flavors, from all of its confections. By the end of 2015, more than 250 products and 10 brands including such standard candy bar brands as Butterfinger, Crunch, Chunky, Raisinets, Goobers, Oh Henry and Baby Ruth candy bars. The products will begin appearing on store shelves by mid-2015. “We’re excited to be the first major U.S. candy manufacturer to make this commitment,” noted division president Dorren Ida.

Not to be outdone, Hershey’s came out a few days later with its own ‘clean-label initiative” that not only included a pledge to “transition existing products” to exclude not only artificial colors and flavors, but high fructose corn syrup (our number one additive to be avoided) as well.

Such movies have not only come in response to consumer pressure, but from an acknowledgment by the Food and Drug Administration 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. And that came six years after a petition was submitted to the FDA by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asking that nine such food colorings be banned — and that an interim warning label be posted on foods containing them that they “cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.” (The agency’s initial response to that and nearly 8,000 comments on the topic  was to convene  a Food Advisory Committee in 201, which concluded there was not enough evidence to take regulatory action.)

But, as we reported here last September, research has increasingly demonstrated a connection between the consumption of synthetic food dyes and behavioral problems in kids. A few years ago, for example, 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. A couple years ago, a British study, published in 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.

Or as we observed, 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. 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.

Of course, as in the case of other ingredients, European regulators have already beat us to the punch. Since 2010, they’ve required food products containing these unnatural hues to carry a warning label stating that consumption “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

But wait – there’s more!

And hyperactivity isn’t the only health problem that might be caused by these fake hues. 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.)

But then, as we also previously noted, 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.

Stay tuned for more updates on our top ten ingredients to be avoided (along with an extra one) in advance of our third annual Read Your Labels Day April 11.

Campaign in works to win kids’ hearts, minds and taste buds over to fruits and veggies

Posted by -- March 5, 2015

fnv

 

By BILL BONVIE

While Coca-Cola may have taken a big step in the right direction with the introduction of its cane sugar-and-stevia-sweetened beverage, “Life” (as we noted here last week), that product, unfortunately, isn’t what the company is hyping in its latest pitch to its biggest target market – the youth culture.

Instead, it’s launched a campaign dubbed “powers,” aimed at convincing teenagers that the “effervescent symphony of uplifting taste sensations” of  regular, high fructose corn syrup-sweetened Coke can best be appreciated by those with “taste buds in the prime of their lives” (even those with braces on their teeth).  And the tagline for these spots, “While your tongue is young,” is obviously intended to make sure that no adolescent is left behind.

Alas! We had hoped that “Life” might be promoted to the teen market as well as to the “green” one. But that, apparently, would be too much to expect of the Big Beverage makers who hire the Mad Men that come up with these sorts of strategies and slogans.

And that’s just the latest example of the techniques – some more creative than others – that are constantly used to hawk junk foods, fast foods, and other additive-laden processed products to especially gullible underage customers.

What is fortunate, however, is that the Don Drapers of the world can be retained to craft campaigns on behalf of healthier products as well. And that’s exactly what some of them are now being engaged to do – that is, to provide America with “a healthy dose of advertising” competing for the same youthful audience companies like Coke are now attempting to tempt with a “taste sensation” that can lead to obesity and diabetes.

The nationwide multimedia initiative that’s about to be launched this spring will engage such celebrities as Jessica Alba and Kristen Bell, as well as big-name athletes, in encouraging teens to eat more fruits and vegetables (to be henceforth referred to by the catch phrase “FNV”). Its purpose, as described by one of its biggest supporters, First Lady Michelle Obama, will be to “fight back” against all the money being poured into the marketing of unhealthy foods with ads for healthy ones.

‘Disruptive’ strategy planned

To this end, James Gavin, board chairman of Partnership for a Healthier America, said the campaign will not only be “stealing a page out of the big brands playbook,” but will be “disruptive,” “proactive,” and “ stop at nothing until the country is asking for more FNVs, please.” According to its advance publicity, it promises to be “as fresh, colorful, light and crisp as the fruits and veggies it’s promoting” complete with “strong typographic design and “tongue-in-cheek headlines.” One of the stated objectives of all this is to build the level of interest to a point where it registers a million posts daily on social media, as opposed to the approximately 629,000 that now mention fruits or vegetables. (For a post to count in this effort, it would have to use the hashtag #URWHATUPOST.)

So who’s behind this commercial counterattack? The idea was the brain child of Bolthouse Farms, a retailer specializing in fruit and vegetable-based snack foods, and is cosponsored by a diverse group of organizations that includes Produce for Better Health, the Produce Marketing Association, Avocados from Mexico, The Honest Company, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the WWE Network, the ad agency Victors and Spoils, which developed its marketing campaign, and sweetgreen, a retailer specializing in organic and locally grown food.

The participation of the latter company is one we find particularly encouraging. That’s because while the goals of the campaign are certainly commendable, many fruits and vegetables contain residues of toxic chemicals that an emphasis on organic and local produce would certainly help to reduce.

That consideration aside, any effort to win over the hearts, minds and tongues of the young to the uplifting taste sensations offered by nature’s bounty, instead of the additive-imbued, nutrient-deficient and health-impairing imitation foods that commercial interests have long pitched to them, couldn’t come as a more welcome development.

Could HFCS be a contributing factor to the sharp rise in childhood asthma?

Posted by -- March 3, 2015

babyIt’s already been identified by researchers as a leading culprit in the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes, as well as a risk factor for such life-threatening illnesses as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, pancreatic cancer and heart disease.

And now, fructose – apparently meaning the “unbonded” type found in high fructose corn syrup — has just been implicated in the sharp rise in childhood asthma as well.

A new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, has found the risk of asthma developing in mid-childhood (the age at which it was evaluated was 7.7 years) rose by 22 percent for children whose mothers consumed large quantities of fructose during the second trimester of pregnancy.

“A similar asthma association existed for the child’s fructose consumption at 2 years of age,” particularly “juice consumption,” according to the website MedPage Today, in its report on a presentation made by Lakeia Wright, M.D. to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting in Houston.

While the report refers to the “the mother’s intake of sugar-sweetened beverages during pregnancy,” it repeatedly singles out “fructose consumption” as being associated with the increase in asthma risk.  The term “sugar-sweetened beverages” has now become shorthand for those actually sweetened with HFCS, which is used in practically all caloric soft drinks nowadays (with Coca-Cola’s Life, which has just been introduced on the market, being a notable exception). Many fruit juices also contain HFCS, as well as being a source of fructose that has become separated from the fiber with which it is naturally bound in fruit.

“We hypothesized that higher maternal prenatal and child fructose intake would be associated with childhood asthma,” Wright told the gathering. To test that hypothesis, researchers looked at data collected on questionnaires from more than 1,100 mothers in a health study of mothers’ diets during pregnancy and after birth known as “Project Viva.” The researchers also estimated children’s fructose intake at age 2.

She further noted that “different sources of fructose at different stages of development may be contributing to inflammation and the development of asthma,” with the mechanism being direct or indirect. She pointed out that in-utero lung development is an ongoing process during the second trimester of pregnancy, and that high fructose in a mother’s diet might be contributing to asthma development through an indirect inflammatory pathway. And as a two-year-old’s lungs are still in a developmental stage, fructose from juice beverages might contribute to asthma development through a direct inflammatory pathway as well.

Wright also linked increased fructose consumption to the current obesity epidemic in the U.S., as well to such multiple inflammatory conditions as insulin resistance, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertension, and gout.

She acknowledged that the study had certain limitations, such as the fact it relied on self-reported information and the lack of adjustment for other dietary factors that could offset the pro-inflammatory effects of fructose, such as antioxidants. One that wasn’t mentioned, however, is the inability to do a comparative analysis of mothers who consumed truly “sugary beverages”  — that is, ones that are sweetened with real old-fashioned sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

The only thing that might be used as a measuring stick is the rate of childhood asthma that existed decades ago, before the introduction of HFCS into the American diet. Like the diabetes epidemic, that development seems to have roughly corresponded with what Scientific American has called “asthma rates (that) have been surging around the globe over the past three decades.”

Admittedly, the reasons for that dramatic rise could be many and varied. But in light of this latest study, it now seems that the tremendous spike in our consumption of “free fructose” – one resulting from the proliferation of HFCS in so many products, and particularly beverages – might well be a contributing factor.

Coca-Cola’s ‘Life’ may not be a perfect product – but it is an encouraging one

Posted by -- February 26, 2015

cokelifeBy BILL BONVIE

For the last three years or so, one of our goals at Food Identity Theft has been to try to alter the dynamics of the food industry by influencing readers to avoid products containing ingredients that have no place in a healthy diet. By pointing out the ways in which additives like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, partially hydrogenated oils, monosodium glutamate and similar flavor enhancers have contributed to chronic and often life-threatening health problems, we hope to add momentum to a growing consumer movement that will ultimately discourage food companies from using such harmful ingredients.

Still, we’re realistic enough to recognize that bringing about a transition of this sort isn’t something that happens overnight, and to expect considerable resistance from an industry that has billions invested in certain products and processes. So whenever tangible changes do begin to appear in the marketplace in response to consumer pressure, we think it’s also our job to acknowledge them.

One such change that came to our attention recently in the form of a prominent merchandising display for a new soft drink called Coca-Cola Life.

Now this isn’t the sort of product we’d necessarily endorse, or recommend you run out and buy. But it does represent a markedly significant improvement over the products that the company has been mass marketing for the past few decades – particularly its flagship products, regular and Diet Coke.

Because instead of either the disease-and obesity promoting HFCS long used in regular Coke or the neurotoxic artificial sweetener aspartame contained in the Diet variety, this new variation – which boasts having 35 percent fewer calories – is sweetened with old-fashioned cane sugar and stevia leaf extract.

And if that idea should catch on with enough regular soda drinkers – especially teens – it might well prove to have a positive impact on the nation’s increasingly grim health statistics. It could, for example, make a substantial dent in the growing epidemics of diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which scientific studies have linked to the widespread substitution of HFCS for sugar in soda and other products. And it could even help break the diet soda habit that threatens the brain health of young people, and can result in such symptoms as migraines, seizures and vision problems.

Stevia: what happens when industry ‘flips’

What we find especially interesting is another positive change this reflects – the one revolving around stevia.  A mere two decades ago, this traditional South American herbal sweetener, long recognized for its health benefits, was all but banned by the Food and Drug Administration, which labeled it an “unsafe food additive” and barred its importation into the U.S. And just why was it considered “unsafe”? Not because of any reported adverse reactions to it, or any meaningful scientific evidence – in fact, extensive testing in Japan had found no cause for concern – but on account of a “trade complaint” the FDA received from an unidentified party that was widely believed to have been the NutraSweet Company, which then held the patent on aspartame (a product the FDA had no problem with, despite the thousands of adverse reaction complaints it received about it).

It wasn’t until industry itself became interested in stevia as an alternative sweetener, in fact, that this official taboo was discarded. Not that the marketing of stevia products has been unproblematic – for example, Cargill’s Truvia has been the subject of both class-action litigation challenging its claim to being natural and some unsettling research about the insecticidal properties of its primary ingredient, erythritol.

We wouldn’t go so far as to call Coca-Cola’s Life a perfect product – it still contains caramel color, a suspected carcinogen, as well as phosphoric acid, which some health experts believe could be linked to osteoporosis and the preservative potassium benzoate. And we can only hope that the stevia used in Coca-Cola Life is the real McCoy.

But, assuming that it is, what we can say is that replacing biologically harmful laboratory sweeteners like HFCS and aspartame with cane sugar (which all sodas once contained, back before the diabetes and obesity epidemics) and stevia is an encouraging development.  And that instead of hiring pop star Taylor Swift to sing the praises of aspartame-tainted Diet Coke, a far wiser move might have been to have her introduce her audience to “Life.”

Because where there’s “Life,” there’s hope!

Another product containing ‘fructose’ makes ‘no HFCS’ claim meaningless

Posted by -- February 24, 2015

nutragrainBy BILL BONVIE

It’s another one of those cases where the claim on the front of the package doesn’t seem to jibe with an ingredient you find listed on the side.

This time, the product involved is Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Apple Cinnamon Cereal Bars, a product on whose box can be found the assertion “No High Fructose Corn Syrup,” even while “fructose” is listed among its ingredients.

We first encountered – and reported on — this apparent contradiction back in December in a box of General Mills Vanilla Chex. At the time, we noted that the Corn Refiners Association was claiming on its website that the term “fructose” was currently being used instead of HFCS-90, a type of high fructose corn syrup that’s 90 percent fructose, which is a much higher amount than the 42 or 55 percent found in regular HFCS and allowed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Our report on that was one that was picked up by a number of other sites, as well as progressive commentator Thom Hartmann.

Our latest find along these lines was one that prompted us to attempt a little investigation of this seeming inconsistency.  So we called the consumer line at Kellogg’s, and after being told that the fructose in those NutriGrain Bars is a “monosaccharide, found in fresh fruit and honey,” asked to talk to someone more authoritative.  We were then referred to Maggie Lang, a nutritionist with consumer affairs, who said she’d try to find answers to our questions, although she couldn’t promise.

About a week later, Maggie e-mailed us, saying she’d be “glad to share more information about fructose.”  What information she could provide, however, was all rather vague. After repeating what she had told us on the phone that “the fructose in the product can come from different sources,” she said she was sorry to report that she could not verify “exactly which source the fructose in the Nutri-Grain Bars is derived from. The source of fructose will vary based on supplier. We cannot disclose supplier detail as this information is proprietary and can change because we purchase our ingredients on the open market.”

She did claim, however, that in regards to HFCS-90, “Kellogg products in the U.S. do not contain this ingredient. The ingredient ‘fructose’ on our packaging is not high fructose corn syrup and is simply ‘fructose’ as listed.”

However, in reply to another of our questions, she acknowledged that “we do use crystalline fructose in some of our foods, but as stated, due to supplier changes we cannot verify the exact source of fructose in our products.” Crystalline fructose, which described as 98 percent fructose, is usually made from corn in a manner quite similar to HFCS – that is by taking the glucose found in corn syrup and using enzymes to convert it into fructose.

What’s the difference, really?

So, we still are no closer to knowing the origin of that anonymous “fructose” that’s increasingly appearing as an ingredient in various products – and which, according to the CRA, is nothing more than another name for HFCS-90.

But we can tell you one thing with reasonable certainty: fructose that’s been deliberately added to a processed food is still fructose – and no matter where it came from or what form it takes, it’s nothing that belongs in a healthy diet.

Last October, for example, we reported on Harvard Medical School findings that fructose “may have a particularly deleterious effect on health,” according to one its lead authors, Dr. Mark Herman, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.   “If you feed animals or people higher-than-normal amounts of fructose,” Dr. Herman noted, “they become obese, less responsive to the key actions of insulin and develop fatty liver disease and abnormal blood lipid levels. All of these increase the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Other experts have also weighed in on the harmful effects of fructose – that is, fructose not naturally bound together with glucose, as it is in sucrose, or table sugar, or with the fiber found in fruit. Back in 2010, for example, 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.

And as for fructose being a “monosaccharide” – well, it’s those single, unbonded monosaccharide fructose molecules found in high fructose corn syrup that make it so difficult for the body to use HFCS  as an energy source and cause it to store excess fat, according to Dr. David Brownstein, one of the country’s foremost practitioners of holistic medicine.

So whether or not that fructose is another name for HFCS-90, is derived from corn by a similar process, or actually comes from “fruit and honey” (however unlikely that may be), just remember — it’s still fructose, and every bit as bad for you as, if not worse than, the fructose found in HFCS itself