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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



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


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.

Citizens for Health broadens its petition seeking labeling of fructose amounts in HFCS

Posted by -- August 5, 2014

supermarket2Citizens for Health, the sponsoring organization of Food Identity Theft, has amended and broadened the scope of its 2012 petition to the Food and Drug Administration to require the labeling of specific amounts of fructose in products containing high fructose corn syrup.

The petition, which has so far received more than 10,000 favorable comments, with its only opposition coming from the Corn Refiners Association (whose members manufacture HFCS), has now been revised to include a request that companies be notified that “any product containing HFCS sweetener with more than 55% fructose is considered to be adulterated” under federal regulations and “cannot be sold in interstate commerce.”

Since the FDA now has the legal authority to order mandatory recalls, the petition filed by CFH had previously sought to have “timely, public regulatory action” taken to identify food products using sweeteners not meeting the applicable Federal definitions of “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, as being adulterated.

The group acted to amend and supplement its original petition in the aftermath of two recent developments.

One was the FDA’s proposed rule, posted this past March, to require a separate line item on the Nutrition Facts label for “added sugars.”  The other was a recent study that found significantly higher amounts of fructose in various beverages than the 55% currently permitted.

The latest request is also in keeping with the concerns CFH has expressed about the clandestine use of HFCS-90, an unauthorized form of the sweetener that is 90 percent fructose instead of the 55-45 fructose/glucose ratio that the FDA has approved.

Other additions to the petition included requests for:

  • the FDA’s proposed new rule to require that specific kinds of added sugars be identified on the Nutrition Facts panel– and if they include HFCS, the actual percentage of fructose it contains be listed as well. (Note to readers: the FDA term “sugars,” which includes all kinds of sweetening agents, should not be confused with with ”sugar,” which refers to sucrose, a natural substance that the FDA has ruled cannot be used to describe HFCS.)
  • a public hearing on the issue, which CFH considers” to  be of critical importance to public health.

‘Full disclosure a basic right’

In amending its petition, CFA noted that what it is merely asking for is  “transparency” regarding product ingredients. “Consumers have a right to know what is in their food, and ultimately what goes into their bodies,” the group noted. “The lead premise behind labeling is to accurately inform the consumer what is in the product they are about to consume, and secondarily, to keep the manufacturer honest about what they are putting in the product.”

It further noted that consumers “are highly savvy and have great concern about the ingredients used in their food products” and that  full disclosure of the identity of ingredients in a product is a consumer’s basic right.

To clarify why it is now requesting that the Nutrition Facts panel provide this information, CFH pointed out that “requiring a manufacturer to state the identity of an ingredient is not unique,” since the FDA “holds a similar requirement for manufacturers that use botanicals in food and supplement products.

“There are several studies and research articles that are illustrative of the debate on the role of HFCS in regards to obesity and diabetes,” it added. “Whether one agrees that HFCS plays a role in diabetes and/or obesity, or if HFCS causes larger overall weight gains, or weight gains in areas of greater danger for obesity and diabetes (the abdomen) than other sweeteners such as sucrose, the fact remains that sweeteners in general are of concern to consumers, and consumers have a right to know the nature and amounts contained in food products.  U.S. consumers want this information and it is consistent with the FDA’s mandate to compel food manufacturers to provide the public sufficiently robust label information.”

“We commend FDA’s step in the right direction to protect consumers and will file comments to that effect in the Nutrition labeling docket,” the group added.

If you haven’t yet commented on the CFH petition, you can do so by clicking here.

In our next blog, we’ll be talking about the solitary objection that’s been filed so far to the petition — the one from the Corn Refiners Association – and CFH’s response to it.

More and more ‘no HFCS’ labels prove the power of the consumer

Posted by -- July 31, 2014


The power of well-informed consumers to reverse harmful food industry practices has once again been demonstrated by the response of a major company to the concerns of its customers.

The company is General Mills, which has come out with a TV commercial proclaiming that “What matters most should always come first – which is why we use whole grains in every General Mills Big G cereal and why we never use high fructose corn syrup.”

Apparently, they haven’t been listening to the mantra of the Corn Refiners Association, which is that companies need not bother removing HFCS from their products because most consumers really don’t care about the fact that it’s there. Or, perhaps we should add, was put there without anyone bothering to consult them – or without the benefit of research that has since linked it to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and a bunch of other health problems.

no_hfcsBut the, the CRA has dismissed such studies, done by scientists at some of the country’s leading universities and medical facilities, as so much “false science” – just like it dismisses the concerns that an increasing number of parents have about the cumulative effects of HFCS in a wide range of products as hazardous to their children’s health.

The corn refiners claim that marketing surveys have confirmed their premise that the addition of HFCS in products is of no real interest to people who buy them. Well, here at Food Identity Theft, we’ve talked to many shoppers in the course of our research “in the field” (that is, in supermarket aisles).  And the majority of those we speak with are quite concerned – and have told us they want no part of products containing HFCS.

But companies as large as General Mills don’t come to these conclusions without their own appraisals of consumer concerns and attitudes, as well as the trends they see on social media. And the fact that they are now making such a point of bringing out products that contain no high fructose corn syrup tells us a lot about what they’ve discovered their customers want.entenmanns_muffins

And they’re not the only ones who seem to have arrived at this conclusion.  In the past few months, a number of food companies have taken dramatic steps to rid their products of HFCS or let the public know they don’t use it. These include: Subway, which has been trumpeting the fact that it has removed HFCS from its bread; Panera Bread, which has announced plans to remove HFCS from all food products by 2016, and Pepsi, which has launched a new marketing campaign featuring music industry superstar Blake Shelton touting Pepsi with Real Sugar.

Then there’s Walmart, which has partnered with Wild Oats to bring out a line of natural and organic products that contain no HFCS.

In fact, if you examine the products on display in just about any supermarket aisle these days, you’ll find an increasing number whose manufacturers want shoppers to know that they’re HFCS free.

As for General Mills, readers might recall that back in April we posted a blog on the apology that company gave to its customers for the legal language used in apepsi_sugarn arbitration clause that gave many the impression they were forfeiting their right to sue, noting on its website that it had listened to consumer complaints.

In commenting on that development, we pointed out that if enough customers were to vent their dissatisfaction with food ingredients that are common in all sorts of products, but that can adversely affect their families’ health, it’s a good bet we’d see action on that front as well.

And we are. Keep up the good work!

Cutting through the fog of all that meat labeling lingo

Posted by -- July 29, 2014



Those of you who include meat in your diet may understandably be confused by the terminology used on meat labels. And that’s quite understandable, given the different bureaucracies involved in the regulation of meat by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In fact, we found it all a bit perplexing ourselves. So we consulted an expert, Dave Carter, who has long been involved in the development of higher quality standards for meat in general and organic meat in particular, having served on the Organic Standards Board and worked with farmers pioneering the development of natural meat and organic food production.

“You have every right to be confused,” he told us.  “Some labeling programs for beef are governed by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service under a user-fee system for ‘voluntary’ claims. Others are governed by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service as mandatory requirements based on food safety considerations. In some rare cases, the claims are even governed by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).”

So Dave volunteered to help us out by sorting through the labeling lingo and explaining what some of the more commonly found definitions actually mean.

Let’s start with the term “natural” (which has become a bugaboo for a whole slew of processed foods in addition to meat):

This standard, which is administered by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, is what Dave describes as “a very low-level claim, with the only specific requirements being: (1) the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient, and (2) the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed.

“In other words, this is only a processing claim, and not an animal production claim. That means that animals injected with growth hormones and fed antibiotics and GMO grains can produce meat that would be labeled as ‘natural’,” Dave noted.

“Natural,” of course, should not be confused with the term “organic” (which is a mistake a lot of consumers still tend to make). Organic meat products are administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service under the authorization of the Organic Foods Production Act.

“Although this is a voluntary claim, the law, and the implementing regulations, strictly govern the use of ‘organic’ on any food labeling,” with violations punishable by fines of up to $11,000 per incident, Dave pointed out, adding that because of these strict regulations, organic “is definitely the ‘Gold Standard’ of claims, and the one with the strongest enforcement mechanism.”

Then there’s “grass fed beef,” which, according to Dave, is an “evolving claim” that has been loosely regulated in the past. Under the audit-based voluntary claim program developed a few years ago by the USDA-AMS, the diet of grass-fed animals shall consist of forage, along with hay, baleage, silage and other roughage  sources and vitamin and mineral supplementation. But they “cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.”

The American Grassfed Association, he added, has also developed its own audit-based program that is similar to the USDA definition, and that also specifies restrictions on the confinement of animals.  But despite increasingly tight oversight, labels and company names  aren’t held to the same strict standards. “For Example Joe-Bob’s Grass Grazed Beef Company would be an allowable label, even though Joe-Bob’s animals received some grain.”

Other common labeling terms include:

  • No Added Hormones, which is traditionally administered by FSIS, and includes the word “added” because all animals have naturally-occurring hormones. According to Dave, “added growth hormones are only approved for beef and dairy cattle, and not for other species. Thus, any label on poultry, pork, bison etc. that claims “No Added Hormones” must also include an asterisk that refers the shopper to language reading “*Federal regulations prohibit the use of growth hormones’ “ in the specific product.  (There is also the growing use of the “No Antibiotics or Growth Hormones, Ever” clalm. This is a voluntary claim administered by USDA AMS, and requires the user to have an audit- based verification system.)
  • Antibiotic Free Diet (Commonly called ABF), also regulated by FSIS. “Under this program, the producers use an affidavit system to verify that the feed regimen does not contain antibiotics. This does not prohibit the farmer from using antibiotics in a therapeutic manner (to treat sick animals).”

Not covered by Dave were such terms as “finely textured beef” and “boneless lean beef trimmings” used to describe fillers used in ground meat that have become collectively known as “pink slime” and largely shunned by consumers as a result.

In any event, our thanks to Dave Carter for his help in clarifying what’s what when it comes to meat labeling.  But whatever type of meat you opt to buy, be sure and cook it at a high enough temperature and for a long enough time to destroy any pathogens (and to sterilize any surfaces with which it comes in contact). Because no matter what kind of meat you buy – even if it’s organic – it can pose a definite health risk if you don’t.

Ranch dressing can add healthy flavor to salad – or make it distinctly unhealthy

Posted by -- July 24, 2014




“You Can’t Corral Some Folks’ Taste for Ranch Dressing,” went a recent attempt-to-be-cutesy headline in The Wall Street Journal, accompanied by a subhead reading “Creamy Condiment Still a Staple Despite Healthier Habits.”

The article that ran beneath it gave a rather detailed account of ranch dressing’s popularity with today’s salad-eating crowd, and gives particular attention to the top seller in the field, Hidden Valley Ranch, which is now owned, oddly enough,  by the Clorox Company (a factoid you won’t find anywhere on its label, although we can’t imagine why not). It also offers a cursory comparison of calories between a health-food company’s Greek yogurt dressing and two conventional brands.

But other than a reference to ranch dressing as a “zingy, buttermilk and herb accompaniment” to the average salad, what’s missing from the article is any reference to the ingredients found in the various ranch dressings now on the market.

So we’ve taken the trouble to examine and compare the ingredients in the various ranch dressings we found on the shelves of our local supermarket. And we discovered something that should be of a lot more concern to ranch-dressing enthusiasts than whatever extra calories they’re getting from these products.

What we found is that a number of them – including Hidden Valley, Wish Bone and Ken’s — contain monosodium glutamate, the flavor enhancer that has been known to produce a whole range of adverse effects in sensitive individuals, some serious enough to require a visit to the ER. That should be enough to make people especially wary of dressings served at parties and get-togethers.

Such warnings should also raise a red flag for parents, since monosodium glutamate is considered by various experts in neurology to be an “excitotoxin” capable of literally exciting certain brain cells to death, posing a particular risk to children whose blood-brain barriers haven’t completely formed (and making those Hidden Valley Ranch commercials referred to in the Journal article that claim the dressing “makes vegetables delectable” and appealing to children seem genuinely chilling).

Of course, the presesaladdressings2nce of a potentially hazardous ingredient like monosodium glutamate might be easy for many people to overlook when they see health claims on a label, such as the blurb about how Wish Bone Ranch dressing helps you “better absorb vitamins A and E” and “get more goodness from your salad.” That’s why it’s important not to let yourself be distracted by ad copy and to read the actual ingredient label.

One product, Ken’s Steak House Ranch dressing, goes a step further in spoiling a good salad by tossing in some partially hydrogenated soybean/cottonseed oil, an artery-clogging source of trans fat that the Food and Drug administration now acknowledges causes thousands of fatal heart attacks every year (and once again, don’t be fooled by the “zero grams trans fat” claim on the nutrition facts label – that’s just the loophole for any amount under .5 grams to escape having to be listed.)

Not all ranch dressings are created equal when it comes to ingredients, however.  Kraft Classic Ranch Dressing, for example, doesn’t list any monosodium glutamate, nor does Newman’s, a more health-conscious brand whose label makes a point of the fact that it has “No MSG” (nor does it have the preservatives found in Kraft  as well as the other brands mentioned).

But your best bet when it comes to ranch dressing – or any other type – is an organic variety. And organic dressings aren’t particularly hard to find – in fact, both of the major supermarkets in our vicinity, Acme and ShopRite, offer their own competitively priced store brands, which taste great (without needing any neurotoxic flavor enhancers).

And that should be good news for salad lovers who like what ranch dressing does for the flavor of their lettuce, tomatoes and veggies and would like to go on using it without “increasing guilt or negative health effects,” as one consumer put it in the Journal article.

You might even think of it as salvation for your salad.

Blueberries may be beneficial, but blueberry muffin mixes may not be

Posted by -- July 22, 2014



Now that blueberry season is upon the land, a lot of people may be thinking about how great some of those nutrition-packed little fruits would taste inside of some homemade muffins.

But just what constitutes a homemade muffin nowadays? Do those made from packaged mixes really qualify? And does the quality of the ingredients really measure up to the ones used in your grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) recipes?

Well, that all depends.  That is to say, it depends on the kind — and the brand – of muffin mix you use.

Like the pancake mixes and syrups discussed in this blog last week, the muffin mixes available in supermarkets vary widely in terms of what goes into them, and some are just plain awful. You just have to be aware of the vast differences in these seemingly similar products – and read the list of actual ingredients they contain.

Let’s talk about the worst first. And “bottom honors” in that category go to Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffin Mix — the kind that comes in a plastic pouch that “makes 6 muffins”–  and Jiffy Blueberry Muffin Mix, readily recognizable by its mini-box, which has similar ingredients.

For starters, while both have “blueberry” in their names, neither contains actual blueberries. In fact, if you look very carefully at the Betty Crocker mix, you might be able to make out the words “imitation blueberries” and “artificially flavored,” which appear in letters that are barely distinguishable from the red background on which they appear.

Much easier to read, however, are the health claims on the bottom of the pouch– like 120 calories, 120 grams of sodium. 12 grams of sugars and just one gram of saturated fat (or 4 percent of daily value) per ¼ cup mix – which attempt to disguise just how unhealthy this product really is. For example, while recent research has exonerated saturated fat as a threat to cardiovascular health, trans fat in the form of partially hydrogenated oil, or PHO, is now held responsible for an average of 7,000 fatal heart attacks a year – and this particular mix contains enough PHO to actually register 0.5 grams of trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel. By contrast, most products containing PHO get away with pretending to have “zero trans fat,” due to the FDA loophole that discounts any amount under that. But maybe that’s because there’s additional PHO in the “artificial blueberry flavor bits.”

notblueberriesLike some of the pancake mixes we discussed, these products also contain aluminum in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate, which has now been directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s not to mention the artificial colors in those artificial blueberry bits.

Now, you might think the Betty Crocker Wild Blueberry mix, which comes in a box, is better by virtue of the fact that it includes a can of actual blueberries. Well, that is an improvement of sorts.  But it still contains both PHO (although not quite as much, since it claims zero trans fat) and aluminum – as does Krusteaz Wild Blueberry Muffin Mix, which also provides a small can of actual berries.

A better option on the ‘standard brands’ scene

A surprisingly superior alternative, however  — perhaps reflecting that some “standard brands” are starting to become more responsive to health concerns — is Duncan Hines Simple Mornings Blueberry Streusel Premium Muffin Mix, which not only has real blueberries, but claims to have “Real Ingredients, Nothing Artificial.” And indeed, there’s nothing on the ingredient list that would seem to belie that claim – no PHO, no aluminum in its baking powder, no artificial colors or flavors (it also makes a point of having “no high fructose corn syrup,” although we were unable to find any listed in even the worst mixes).

Organic ingredients, of course, are still your best bet from a health standpoint for several reasons, and for those consumers who prefer to use them whenever possible, we recommend the Organics brand of apple cinnamon muffin mix put out by European Gourmet Bakery.  All you have to do is add fresh or frozen blueberries.

But what’s important to remember is, healthy “homemade” blueberry muffins are easy enough to make —without having to start from scratch. And given the abundance of blueberries in season (and the fact that they’re available in frozen form year-round), any product that contains trans-fat filled “artificial blueberry bits” deserves to be laughed off the shelf.