Posted by Linda Bonvie -- November 21, 2014
Food Identity Theft Special Report
A lot of coverage was given this week to the University of California at San Diego study that found regular consumption of partially hydrogenated oil (PHO), the major source of trans fat in the American diet, may impair your memory —perhaps even faster than it clogs your arteries.
But there was an important question that the media failed to raise in reporting on this latest research, which was presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. The question is this: whatever became of that “preliminary determination” made a year ago this month by the Food and Drug Administration that PHO should be removed from the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list and phased out of processed foods?
As we reported back in early September, that proposal seems to have stalled – quite possibly as a result of a backlash from the food industry. In fact, when we contacted the FDA to find out where it stood, we were told in in an email from Marianna Naum, Ph.D. of the Strategic Communications and Public Engagement Staff of the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine, that “We continue to review comments to the proposal and at this time aren’t able to conjecture on date of next action.”
But if the FDA’s own estimate of 7,000 deaths a year from trans fat-induced heart attacks wasn’t enough to prompt it to take further action, maybe the results of this new study will finally provide sufficient fuel to build a fire under the agency.
The UCSD researchers tested more than 1,000 young and middle-aged men who had not yet been diagnosed with heart disease after having them fill out questionnaires about their dietary habits. The amount of trans fat that each subject ordinarily consumed could be estimated from the information they provided.
The subjects were then given a “recurrent word” in which they were asked to remember whether certain words had already been shown to them on a series of 104 flash cards. When the results were compiled, it was found that the ones who ate the most PHOs could recall 11 or 12 fewer words than their peers, even when other factors were taken into account.
Study author Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at the college, described that as “a pretty big detriment to function,” given that the average number of words accurately recalled was 86. In fact, the researchers were able to estimate that every additional gram a day of trans fat consumed resulted in 0.76 fewer words committed to memory.
Now admittedly, this was only circumstantial evidence – an “association” between trans fat and memory loss, rather than direct proof. But it is Golomb’s hypothesis that trans fats do far more than damage the cardiovascular system. She considers them to be “metabolic poisons” whose energy-sapping oxidative effects can effectively put brain cells that retain memories out of commission and even cause them to die off.
Interestingly enough, what inspired the UCSD team to conduct this study was a finding that eating chocolate actually seems to enhance our ability to remember. Since chocolate is an antioxidant that ‘supports cell energy” in the hippocampus, the part of the brain most associated with memory, it caused the researchers to wonder whether trans fats, which are known to cause oxidation in cells and deplete their energy, might have the opposite effect.
Trans fat still very much a part of our diet
A quick scan of items in the supermarket this week has revealed that many of them still contain PHOs, although most list the amount of trans fat as zero, taking advantage of the FDA loophole that allows .5 grams or less of trans fat per serving to be totally discounted. Those amounts, however, can add up quickly – particularly when multiple ‘servings” are consumed, or several items containing PHO is on the menu.
An example of the latter could well be a Thanksgiving dinner that includes Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom with Roasted Garlic and Stove Top Stuffing, whose ingredients include partially hydrogenated soybean oil (but list zero trans fat) and Marie Callender’s Pumpkin Pie, which has so much partially hydrogenated soybean oil that it actually lists a gram of trans fat (and how about those guests who want a second piece of pie?)
Other PHO-containing items included several varieties of Nabisco cookies, such as Nutter Butter, original Chips Ahoy and “100% Whole Grain Fig Newtons”; Betty Crocker Supreme Brownie Mix and Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownie mix, Hostess Twinkies (of course); several types of fruit-flavored snacks, and Tastykake Donut Holes (which oddly enough, claim to be “made fresh daily,” even though PHO is used primarily to preserve shelf life of products).
Those, and more, could add up to a pretty hefty amount of the stuff on a daily basis– enough to not only bring on heart disease, but to make you pretty forgetful, perhaps even about how much junk food you eat on any given day.
But then, as Dr. Martha Daviglus, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and executive director of the Institute for Minority Health Research, put it in regard to this latest research: “We have to be careful with what we eat because it has consequences.”
And so does the inaction of the FDA in regard to its own determination that a widely used food additive is a major hazard to the health and the lives of American consumers – one that, according to the agency’s own estimate, will have killed another 7,000 or so of them in the time since it concluded that this particular substance ought to be removed from what we eat.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- November 20, 2014
As the inventors of corn flakes, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother, W. K. Kellogg, both Seventh Day Adventists, were what some might consider “health nuts.” And, in fact, the Kellogg company web site now refers to the fact that W.K. who founded the original company back in 1906, was “motivated by a passion to help people improve their health.”
Of course, W.K. did add a little sugar to make those corn flakes more appealing, a decision thath didn’t sit too well with his older brother, the proprietor of the Battle Creek Sanitarium.
Still, one can only wonder how either Kellogg would have reacted to the sight of supermarket shelves lined with Kellogg’s Pop Tarts, the “toaster pastries” sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked by various studies to obesity, diabetes and a host of other health problems. And that’s not to mention the artificial colors and other additives typically listed among their ingredients.
But wait — could it be that the ghostly echoes of the Kellogg brothers’ displeasure are being heard lately at company headquarters? Or is it just the disapproval of consumers who have been increasingly turned off by products containing the laboratory sweetener (such as the one we heard from who reported having complained to the company about the HFCS in those Pop Tarts)?
Whatever the motivation, it recently came to our attention that Kellogg’s is showing signs of having second thoughts about that particular ingredient. At least to the extent of marketing a couple “new” varieties of Pop Tarts – one being Oatmeal Delights, whose box boasts “No High Fructose Corn Syrup.” In fact, the positioning of that claim, just beneath the Pop Tarts logo, could even be interpreted to mean all the products in that category.
There’s also the claim posted on the company’s web site that yet another new product, Pop-Tarts Low-Fat Frosted Strawberry Toaster Pastries “contains no high fructose corn syrup” as well.
So could this mean that the folks at Kellogg’s are finally making a line of Pop Tarts that are more in keeping with the founders’ healthy intentions? Well, not quite.
Nearly all of the various types of Pop Tarts we examined at our local supermarket still contain HFCS, along with those artificial colors that have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. So much for the impression those “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” claims might give to a mom in a hurry that Pop Tarts can now be relied on to contain none of the unnatural sweetener.
And even the Oatmeal Delights Pop Tarts that are touted as HFCS-free contain fructose – along with two synthetic colors, Red 40 and Yellow 6, and the petroleum-derived preservative TBHQ.
Two-and-half-years ago, we endeavored to find out why there was still HFCS in Pop Tarts and other Kellogg’s products. Those popular breakfast treats still contain it, we were informed, because the company hadn’t yet found a replacement ingredient that “gives them the same texture and brown look that customers expect and are accustomed to.”
Not that Kellogg’s wasn’t continuing to search for one – and may or may not have found it in whatever formula it is using to make the new ones that brag about having “no high fructose corn syrup.”
Still, one might think that a company with a “Breakfast Council” made up of “six independent experts dedicated to helping all of us understand nutrition information and how to incorporate nutritious foods and habits into our diets” could do a little better than that.
Especially when its founders were so intent on trying to make the world a healthier place.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- November 18, 2014
Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about “food fears.” In the past few months, for example, we’ve seen a couple of university “studies,” both funded by the Corn Refiners Association, which represents makers of high fructose corn syrup, that suggested that consumers harboring such fears are really ill-informed or don’t deserve to be taken seriously by the food industry.
But now, allowing concern about food to impact your lifestyle could have an actual stigma attached to it – that is, if the authors of an article published earlier this year in the professional journal Pyschosomatics succeed in getting it classified as a form of mental illness.
All of which would seem to suggest that there’s something irrational about the idea that the food we eat poses a threat to our well-being. So it might be only fair to ask: Is there?
Well, consider that in 2012, approximately 29.1 million of us, or 9.3 percent of the population, were diabetic – up from 25.8 million just two years before, according to data provided by the American Diabetes Association. So it’s little wonder that so many TV commercials these days are aimed at selling diabetes medications and insulin injectors.
In addition, well over a third of Americans – 35.7 percent — including 18.3 percent of adolescents are now considered obese. In fact, the authors of the Psychosomatics article even acknowledge in their abstract that “more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese and would likely benefit from healthy modifications to their diets and lifestyles.”
That both problems are directly related to our collective diets as well as individual ones, is a well-established fact—especially with more and more evidence emerging of the relationship of high fructose corn syrup, a widely used processed-food ingredient, to the current diabetes and obesity epidemics, as well as to health issue like pancreatic cancer and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Other common maladies have been linked to food ingredients as well – including what the Food and Drug administration estimates to be 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths annually from the artery-clogging trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oil, another common food additive.
And that’s not to mention the neurotoxic flavor enhancers – monosodium glutamate and other forms of free glutamic acid – that can cause a whole variety of ill effects and actually kill certain brain cells, as can the artificial sweetener aspartame.
So it might seem only natural that those wishing to remain healthy might make an effort to eliminate foods containing such disease-causing ingredients from their menus. But taking dietary changes too seriously, or so goes the theory put forth in the Psychosomatics article, can actually be a symptom of a diseased mind — and the people who engage in such behavior may well be verging on mental illness.
Verging, that is, because the “little-known disorder” they suffer from hasn’t yet been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, as an “official” psychiatric problem. But the condition has already been given a name – “orthorexia nervosa” – and it’s even been blamed for some cases of malnutrition by Thomas Dunn, a psychologist and psychology professor at the University of Northern Colorado, who co-authored the article along with four physicians.
‘Behavior’ a red flag
“There are people who become malnourished, not because they’re restricting how much they eat, it’s what they’re choosing to eat.” Dunn recently told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s not that they’re doing it to get thin, they’re doing it to get healthy. It’s just sort of a mind-set where it gets taken to an extreme like what we see with other kinds of mental illness.”
For example, showing “an obsession with the quality and composition of meals” to the extent that they may spend excessive amounts of time, reading about and preparing specific types of food, and feel guilty about eating unhealthy food” could all be symptoms of this alleged eating disorder. In fact, the recommended treatment is similar to that used for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But while some experts say this supposed condition can lead to malnourishment, others claim that identifying “orthorexics” isn’t always easy. According to Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a dietitian and national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Someone on paper may be perfectly healthy and their blood work is great and their weight is fine but their behavior has become obsessive with food.”
So how in such cases is it possible to make a diagnosis? An example cited by Cohn is that they “may not be able to go out to a restaurant with their friends because they don’t know what’s in the food or it’s not cooked in a certain way or what if it’s not organic olive oil?”
So let’s see – being reluctant to go out to eat because of concern about what’s in the food could soon be regarded as a red flag for a form of mental illness – even though many of the additives currently used in food products can lead to very real, and quite serious physical illnesses, which is something “orthorexia” experts conveniently fail to mention.
But it is perhaps significant that the one “recovering” orthorexic quoted in the Journal article – a Los Angeles-based vegan and food blogger named Jordan Younger who claimed her food obsession was causing her to lose weight and have other health problems – now says she doesn’t restrict herself from eating anything except for processed food.
And that says a lot — because it eliminates the entire range of additives, such as HFCS, partially hydrogenated oil, MSG, aspartame and a whole host of others, that are responsible for so many of the real illnesses that plague our society.
In fact, about the only concern it leaves is which of the remaining “whole foods” would be best to buy organic.
Bill Bonvie is the author of a newly published essay collection Repeat Offenders.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- November 13, 2014
In our previous blog, we talked about the risk posed to babies by the presence of whey protein concentrate, an “excitotoxin” containing free glutamic acid, in the “Good Start” products currently being marketed by Gerber as a preventive for childhood allergies (a claim now being disputed in a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission). In this one, we’d like to talk about two other problematic baby-food ingredients.
The first is hexane-extracted soy, which can be found in soy-based infant formulas.
Hexane is a neurotoxic, highly flammable, volatile chemical that is a byproduct of gasoline refining. It’s used in industrial glues and cleaning solutions. It can also be found in gasoline and numerous other consumer products, mostly adhesives, sealants and coatings, such as Rust-Oleum. But the most common use of hexane is as a solvent to extract the oils from nonorganic soy, canola and corn.
The Cornucopia Institute has been investigating hexane since its 2009 report, Behind the Bean was issued. It says that “nearly every major ingredient in conventional soy-based infant formula is hexane-extracted.”
We called two companies that make soy-based formulas, Abbot Laboratories, which makes Similac, and Mead Johnson, that makes Enfamil, to see what they had to say about the hexane-processed ingredients they use.
The Abbot specialist read from a prepared statement saying that many edible oils that have a “long history of safe use throughout the world (are) produced using the hexane extraction method,” and that the soy protein used in the company’s formulations are extracted this way, with “our suppliers’ standard practice” being to remove traces of hexane, adding that Abbot products have “been safely fed to millions of babies…and they have grown and developed normally.”
Mead Johnson told us that they had no information about hexane and soy; however a member of its product information department called back the next day, not about the soy, but to tell us its fatty acid additives DHA and ARA, are “purified” with hexane and that the “suppliers’ standard practice” is to remove all “detectable” traces of the chemical (the DHA and ARA are produced from laboratory-grown algae and fungus).
The Cornucopia Institute notes that “(t)he effects of consuming foods that contain hexane-extracted ingredients are not known,” also stating that hexane “has been tested for its effects on workers” but not “for its effects on consumers as part of the human diet.”
And certainly not tested as being part of a baby’s diet.
An invitation to inflammation?
Another additive that has no business in a product intended for consumption by infants (or people of any age, in fact) is carrageenan, a seaweed-based thickening agent listed as an ingredient in several Similac formulas, including Similac Advance, Similac Alimentum and Similac for Spit Up.
Carrageenan, it so happens, is on our list of food additives to avoid, and is also the subject of another Cornucopia Institute report titled: Carrageenan, How a ‘natural’ food additive is making us sick, which showed how “regular consumption of carrageenan can produce “prolonged and constant” inflammation of the gastro-intestinal system, which is a “precursor to more serious disease.”
At the time, we pointed out that “the carrageenan used by the food industry is called “food grade,” but it appears that this more edible-sounding version can turn into the potent inflammatory and carcinogenic “degraded” version in the human GI tract. (The “degraded” version is so strong it’s used to induce inflammation in laboratory animals to test anti-inflammatory drugs).”
It’s bad enough that the Food and Drug Administration allows this unnecessary irritant to be used in so many different products. But really – do we want to feed a known source of stomach inflammation to an infant?
It sounds like some of these products could well be “formulas” for disaster.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- November 11, 2014
By BILL BONVIE
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” once noted author and social activist Upton Sinclair, whose novel The Jungle, set the stage for the law that created the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by revealing the appalling conditions and shocking practices in the meat-packing industry.
Were Sinclair alive today, however, he might well have said the same thing of the FDA itself. Especially in light of that agency’s continued failure to understand that there could be anything about the artificial sweetener aspartame that poses a significant threat to human health.
Such perpetual shirking of comprehension has now become evident once again with the FDA’s firm rejection of a citizen petition filed by New Mexico pediatrician, Dr. K. Paul Stoller, who could well be the heir of Sinclair when it comes to trying to protect the public against an industry-generated health hazard.
In requesting that the Commissioner of Food and Drugs withdraw approval for aspartame, Stoller contended that the chemical “has been shown to be, and has always been known to be, a carcinogen.” In support of that assertion, he cited scientific research that included a 2007 long-term aspartame animal feeding study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, in which “increases in total malignant tumors, lymphomas/leukemias, and mammary carcinomas were observed in male and/or female rats” – including “statistically significant” increases” in “lymphomas/leukemias in both male and female rats, mammary carcinomas in females, and tumor-bearing males.”
The baby rats used in that study, Stoller noted, were exposed to aspartame both in utero and after weaning, whereas in an earlier study, the artificial sweetener was fed to rats once they were eight weeks old. The results of that one, he pointed out, included “statistically significant increased incidences of leukemias/lymphomas in both male and female rats,” as well as “a few uncommonly occurring brain tumors” seen only in the aspartame-treated animals. The follow-up study, however, was far more robust, involving more animals and following them not only before birth, but for three years – equivalent to keeping tabs on people for 80 or 90 years.
A history of fraud and fabrication
But Stoller’s petition went well beyond such study results. It proceeded to review the whole corrupt history of the aspartame approval process, going back to the “fraudulent” research presented by G.D. Searle, which originally marketed aspartame under the name NutraSweet, in which undesired results like brain tumors and neoplasms in lab animals were reportedly covered up. Such revelations resulted in an FDA Board of Inquiry initially revoking approval for aspartame back in 1980, saying its safety had not been proved.
It also went over the politics involved in getting aspartame past those public-health hurdles, pointing out, for example, that despite three Congressional hearings from 1985 to 1987, “a senator linked with Monsanto (which bought Searle in 1985) made sure the bill to put a moratorium on aspartame and have (the National Institutes of Health) do independent studies on the problems being reported to the FDA, never got out of committee.”
Stoller also charged that the industry funded various front groups to push aspartame propaganda, even while “scientists doing studies and finding out aspartame was a poison received threats.” And he disputes claims that most research has shown aspartame to be safe, pointing out that when Dr. Ralph Walton, who appeared on a 60 Minutes segment on the sweetener, researched the subject, he found that 92 percent of independent scientific peer-reviewed studies showed that there were problems with aspartame, “while only those funded or controlled by industry ever said it was safe.”
But, predictably, none of that cut any ice with the FDA. “Despite your many assertions, you have not identified any scientific data or other information that would cause the agency to alter its conclusions about the safety of aspartame,” came the official Oct. 24 response to Stoller’s information-packed petition.
It was similar, in fact, to the agency’s response to another recent partition from Betty Martini, founder of an organization dedicated to removing aspartame and other toxic agents from the food supply, in which it claimed that “anecdotal accounts if adverse effects of aspartame are not supported by scientific evidence.” (Keep in mind that thousands of such adverse effects have been reported to the FDA following aspartame use, along with thousands more logged by the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network.)
But put yourself, for a moment, in the shoes of an FDA official.
There are no doubt many fine, dedicated scientists working for the FDA, as well as other federal regulatory agencies. But if you were part of the FDA’s hierarchy, even though you might be well aware of aspartame’s hazards, to openly come out and question it or try to withdraw approval for it at this late date would probably be tantamount to signing a death sentence for your career. It would involve not just aspartame, which is well-entrenched in the food supply, but the reputation of the FDA itself, which has spent many years reassuring us that this synthetic sweetener is perfectly safe and allowing it to be used, not just in soft drinks, but all manner of products. (And remember, too, that the current FDA “food czar,” Michael Taylor, is a former lawyer and executive for Monsanto, which once held the exclusive marketing rights to aspartame.)
That’s why, realistically speaking, we need to focus our efforts on getting more and more consumers to “just say no” to this dangerous drug disguised as a sweetener – and through our purchasing choices, to get more and more companies to remove it from their low-calorie products (as some, like Yoplait, have already done).
But we can hardly expect FDA officials to “understand” the problem with aspartame when their salaries – and, indeed, the credibility of their organization – depend on their not understanding it.
Bill Bonvie is the author of Repeat Offenders, a newly released collection of previously published essays now available at Amazon.com.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- November 6, 2014
While political commercials will no longer be filling the airwaves (for a while, anyway), there is a “people’s choice” spot that you may well be seeing more of in the coming days.
It’s a commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios – one that uses a cute little animated “stage show” to make the point that the product contains “No High Fructose Corn Syrup.” And in its own way, it may be even more significant than those ads for and against candidates that were so plentiful prior to Election Day.
What’s so important about this particular spot? Well, given how much money and effort goes into the making and airing of a TV commercial – especially one shown in multiple markets – it represents a direct contradiction by a major food company (General Mills) of the Corn Refiners Association’s contention that most American consumers simply don’t care whether or not the products they eat contain HFCS.
In fact, the lobbying group again made that assertion in a piece posted on its CornNaturally.com web site just this morning under the headline “Consumer behavior is driving ingredient choices.” After noting how the research firm Mintel had “recently analyzed its Global New Products Database to further understand the landscape of consumer perceptions, consumer purchase behavior and how manufacturers react to each,” it maintained that “no result is more telling than how consumers have reacted to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Bottom line? They’re not very concerned. And the industry has noticed.”
That claim is part of a last-ditch pitch by the CRA to keep this cheap laboratory sweetener, which has been linked by various studies to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and other health problems, in as many products as possible. If consumers don’t care, its reasoning goes, why should food manufacturers bother removing it?
But this commercial is further proof (as if any were needed) that the industry has indeed noticed how increasing number of consumers are shunning products containing HFCS – in this case by turning its absence into the chief selling point and benefit of Honey Nut Cheerios.
In a sense, the “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” sign that “comes together” in this particular commercial is very much a sign of the times – and for the CRA, a sort of handwriting on the wall that their undesirable (and undesired) sweetener is actually on its way out of the food supply.
And in a larger sense, the commercial represents a trend in food advertising that emphasizes the removal of not just HFCS, but a whole category of additives that have been contributing to the major health problems of Americans. Another example of this phenomenon is the “no trans fats” claims now carried by an increasing number of products from which artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oils have been removed.
That’s why it’s so important for you to make your sentiments about such insidious ingredients known to the manufacturers in whatever way you can – through social media, by contacting companies directly and of course, through your purchasing power. (For a complete list of the worst offenders, see our “ten top additives to avoid”).
Remember – when you watch a commercial such as the Honey Nut Cheerios’ “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” spot, what you’re seeing is an indication that the makers of these products are watching and listening very carefully to you. And while it might seem like just a cute little ad, what it signifies is that they’re taking what you want — and don’t want — in the products you consume very, very seriously.
And that’s really, really good news for all of us who want to keep our families healthy.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- November 4, 2014
The agency’s complaint, that Gerber advertised Good Start products as a way to help prevent kids from developing allergies, especially the ones their parents have, is something the FTC says the company can’t prove and can’t say.
“Parents trusted Gerber to tell the truth about the health benefits of its formula, and the company’s ads failed to live up to that trust,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Rich added that “Gerber didn’t have evidence to back up its claim that Good Start Gentle formula reduces the risk of babies developing their parents’ allergies.”
But let’s stop right here, because the ingredient Gerber uses, the one that it believes allows it to make that claim, is something far more dangerous to babies than just deceptive advertising.
In fact, a Food Identity Theft look into this and other ingredients commonly used in baby formulas turns up some issues that should have been the subject of an investigation years ago. One way beyond false advertising claims.
A ‘glutamic bomb’ for your baby
The ingredient responsible for Gerber’s current legal problem is “hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate.” That additive, the FTC says, was cleared by the FDA in 2009 to go along with Gerber’s advertising claim that it will help prevent atopic dermatitis. But the company went beyond that, suggesting that the formula was the first to get FDA approval to reduce an infant’s risk of developing all types of allergies.
But apparently the FDA only gave the green light for that claim if Gerber made it clear that there is “little scientific evidence” to back it up.
But the scientific evidence of just how dangerous whey protein concentrate can be, especially when used in formula (in this case, one given from birth through the first year of life), is there – and has been for some time.
This additive (which is also used in several Enfamil infant formulas manufactured by Mead Johnson) is one of a group of “flavor enhancers” known as “excitotoxins,” forms of free glutamic acid (as opposed to that which is “bound” in natural proteins), the most notorious of which is monosodium glutamate. And the evidence shows that feeding these “glutamic bombs” (our name for them) to newborns and young children can have a devastating effect on their development, including learning ability and personality.
In fact, monosodium glutamate was voluntarily removed from baby food back in 1969 after a neuroscientist, Dr. John Olney, of Washington University in St. Louis, found that it killed brain cells in the hypothalamus of young animals in lab experiments, as well as causing them to become obese. A Japanese study also found that a diet high in MSG caused severe vision impairment in rats after six months, due to the fact that the eyes also contain glutamate receptors. (This is what makes the Gerber claim that its product helps brain and eye development particularly ironic.)
But that’s not the only hidden danger we found lurking in some current baby-food formulas. Aside from corn-based sweeteners, synthetic preservative and nutrients, there’s both a chemical commonly used to produce some ingredients and another potentially harmful additive that should be setting off alarm bells with parents, and that should be kept as far away from a baby as a lit match.
Stay tuned to see what other products parents and caregivers should be avoiding.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 30, 2014
But what do we mean by “sugar,” exactly?
On that point, there currently seems to be a great deal of confusion. That’s why we’d like to address a form of Food Identity Theft that has become so prevalent that it can now be found just about everywhere you look, from “expert” dissertations on nutrition to newspaper editorials to blogs from respected institutions — even to comedy routines on cable TV.
It’s Sugar Identity Theft.
Now, sugar – that is to say, actual sugar — is something you might or might not want to limit in your diet, based on its caloric content or other considerations. Or perhaps you prefer to use a minimally processed form, like turbinado, or raw sugar, which contains measurable amounts of such vital nutrients as potassium, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium.
Whatever the case, when we talk about “sugar,” we’re referring to sucrose, a plant-derived, caloric (or nutritive) sweetener that’s been used for many, many years and that consists of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, chemically bound together.
But what sugar isn’t – and never has been – is a cheaper laboratory concoction known as high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, that came into widespread use in the food supply relatively recently, and contains greater amounts of fructose in a form that’s not bound together with glucose – in some cases, considerably more. Such free-floating fructose has been found to be metabolized quite differently than the half-fructose, half-glucose combo of which sucrose (or sugar) is comprised, and to cause potential damage to the body in ways that sugar doesn’t.
What’s more, the fact that HFCS and sugar are two distinctly different things has even been acknowledged by the Food and Drug Administration in its refusal to allow HFCS to be officially renamed “corn sugar” back in 2012.
‘Sugars’ doesn’t mean ‘sugar’
Yet, just about everywhere you look these days, HFCS has somehow managed to became misrepresented as “sugar”– from the way it’s often depicted, using teaspoons or even containers of sugar, to the pervasive use of terms like “sugary” or “sugar-sweetened beverages” to describe soft drinks that contain not a tad of actual sugar, but a whole lot of high fructose corn syrup.
To a large degree, such misappropriation of sugar’s long-established name is the result of an FDA policy of referring to all caloric sweetening agents as “sugars,” a term that understandably confuses a lot of people into thinking it means the same thing as “sugar” (as in sucrose), which it most decidedly doesn’t. It also reflects a continued attempt by the Corn Refiners Association to blur the lines between the two and make it appear there’s really no difference, now that so many consumers are rejecting products with HFCS.
But the result has been to create an impression that “sugar” use has dramatically increased, when it hasn’t, and that “sugar” is the culprit in the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes, when, in fact, a number of recent studies have linked these emerging health problems to the presence of HFCS in so many of the foods and beverages now found in supermarkets and restaurants.
It has even been suggested (as it was on a recent comedy routine on cable TV) that the “sugar industry” is somehow responsible for the huge amounts of high fructose corn syrup that have come to replace sugar in most soft drinks and many other products, when the actual purveyor of all that HFCS is the corn refining industry.
But the confusion doesn’t stop there. In many instances, HFCS is still being referred to as “corn syrup,” a totally different sweetener that has been used for a much longer time, and that contains no fructose whatsoever (as we noted in a blog posted at this site back in February).
And now, the infringement on the identity of sugar has been carried a step further by an article from Cosmopolitan.com carried on the Yahoo news feed, which includes artificial sweeteners as one of “5 foods you should avoid.” While the advice is certainly sound, the graphic that accompanies it is totally misleading, as what it shows is not a packet of Equal (aspartame) or some other synthetic sweetener, but …sugar.
So, just to be clear, high fructose corn syrup isn’t a form of “sugar,” even though it may be categorized as “sugars” on the nutrition facts panel. Nor is it “corn syrup.” Nor should “sugar” be confused with artificial sweeteners,” with which a variety of health issues have been associated. And when you hear or see the term “sugary beverages,” it probably refers to drinks that contain no actual “sugar,” but are most likely sweetened with HFCS.
Once you’re clear on what is and isn’t “sugar,” it should be a lot easier to sort out what you may be consuming—and decided whether or not it’s something you want to include in your diet. For example, if the candy you’re giving out on Halloween (and will probably have left over) is plain chocolate, it will almost certainly contain only sugar, since HFCS doesn’t allow chocolate to hold its shape. And that goes for not only Halloween, but the entire holiday season, when the temptation to consume sweetened items is at its annual peak for most of us.
But all you have to do is look at the ingredients and remember that when you see high fructose corn syrup, that’s not sugar — no matter what you keep hearing and reading in the media.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 28, 2014
By BILL BONVIE
Often, what’s left out of a food-related “study” speaks volumes about what the ulterior motive behind it might be. And in some instances, what’s missing is actually what consumers really need to know most.
A case in point is a recent study of cooking oils published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and done in, of all places, Tunisia.
Now it just so happens that Tunisia is, and I quote, “the most important olive-growing country of the southern Mediterranean region.” In fact, “over 30% of its cultivated land is dedicated to olive growing.” And that info comes straight from a website maintained by the Republic of Tunisia’s Ministry of Industry and Agriculture — the first one that comes up the moment you Google “Tunisia” and “olives.”
When you put Tunisia together with “coconuts” or “coconut oil,’ however, it’s a different story entirely. While there are apparently some coconuts grown there – and some coconut oil produced (it is, after all, a place with palm trees) – the only references to it are found at websites for individual companies or exporters.
I mention this as a likely explanation for why, in the study of the quality, stability and fatty acid composition of a “range of frying oils” led by Mohamed Bouaziz from Tunisia’s Universite de Stax, that “range” was limited to olive, corn, soybean and sunflower oils, but apparently did not include coconut oil. And for why olive oil was (naturally) determined to be the most stable of all those seed-based oils for frying.
While I have no doubt that conclusion was correct as far as the study went, here’s how it was interpreted in a headline at the website of Food Navigator, a leading voice in the industry: “Olive oil may be best option for frying food, say researchers” (which is a little bit like the old game of “Gossip,” in which a message gets distorted or exaggerated when conveyed from one person to another).
Now, olive oil, as you’re probably well aware, is an essential component of the so-called “Mediterranean Diet,” which is often touted as the healthiest way to eat. And that’s not anything we wish to dispute, although it should be emphasized that not all olive oils are created equal, and that even the kind we’d most recommend you use – organic extra virgin – should be checked out for quality and authenticity, as we noted in a previous blog.
But what has been totally overlooked in this latest “study” is the fact that coconut oil – and in particular, unrefined extra virgin coconut oil – is now regarded by some leading health authorities to be the best oil that can be used in any form of cooking, since, unlike olive oil, it’s the kind that’s most impervious to the effects of high temperature.
The difference is perhaps best described by Dr. Joseph Mercola, who notes that “of all the available oils, coconut oil is the oil of choice for cooking because it is nearly a completely saturated fat, which means it is much less susceptible to heat damage,” whereas “by heating virgin olive oil to over 200 to 250 F, you are running the risk of creating oxidized oil that can do your body more harm than good.”
A culinary culprit no longer
But, hey, shouldn’t that “saturated fat” business make it a cardiovascular no-no? That’s what was once widely believed (and a notion that some “experts” still hate to let go of given the many years they’ve spent trumpeting it).
A couple decades ago, for example, Michael Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (often referred to as the “Food Police”), was quoted as saying that “theater popcorn ought to be the Snow White of snack foods, but it’s been turned into Godzilla by being popped in highly saturated coconut oil.”
But that was then. As we now know, it’s the trans-fats found in partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, that are the real culprits in the clogging of arteries, as even the Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged in proposing to take them off the “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS list. And most of the studies on coconut oil, according to Dr. Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, were actually being done with a partially hydrogenated variety, which remains semi-solid at room temperature. So if that theater popcorn was indeed Godzilla, it wasn’t by virtue of being popped in coconut oil per se, but because the coconut oil used had been partially hydrogenated.
Having been cleared of that erroneous ‘bad rap’, coconut oil – especially the extra virgin kind – is now being widely hailed as an actual hero of heart health (as are other forms of saturated fat, such as butter) that’s rich in beneficial medium-chain triglycerides and increases the “good” type of cholesterol (HDL) while lowering amounts of the “bad” kind (LDL). In fact, inhabitants of locales in the South Pacific who regularly consume large amounts of virgin coconut oil have been found to be remarkably free of heart disease.
It’s also about 50 percent lauric acid, which kills pathogens and helps prevent bacterial, viral and fungal infections, and has been shown to help promote weight loss, to name a few of the other health benefits associated with it. And to “sweeten the pot,” it has an extremely pleasant flavor and fragrance that enhances the appeal of any food you might fry or bake with it.
So the next time you see news about a study that proclaims some particular substance to be the “best” one out there, but doesn’t cover all the options, you might ask yourself this question:
“Where, exactly, are these people coming from?”
Bill Bonvie is the author of Repeat Offenders, a collection of previously published essays.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- October 23, 2014
By BILL BONVIE
I just read a most interesting thing. It was a claim that the Food and Drug Administration has evaluated the artificial sweetener aspartame “a handful of times, and despite what the Internet might tell you, it’s perfectly safe.”
This particular declaration, which links to a National Cancer Society website when you click on it, appeared in a short article featured by Yahoo Finance called “What Happens When Chemists Don’t Wash Their Hands,” accompanied by the logo for The Atlantic and posted just three hours before I read it by writer Sarah Laskow. It described, in a few brief paragraphs, how chemists had accidentally discovered that various synthetic sweeteners, including the most widely used one, aspartame, were sweet tasting because they hadn’t bothered washing their hands.
But what I found most interesting was where I read it: on the Internet.
Now, allow me to ask what should be an obvious question here: if I can’t believe what I read on the Internet, why am I supposed to believe this particular Internet assurance?
And, for that matter, why should I rely on an article appearing at an Internet business site for advice on whether or not something I might ingest is “perfectly safe” when a lot of other sources – including some prominent scientists and medical experts – have steadfastly maintained that it isn’t?
The “doublethink” (as George Orwell call it) at work here is something that never fails to amaze me every time I see such attempts to dismiss warnings about the harmful or toxic nature of certain food additives as nothing more than “Internet” rumors. Especially given the fact that the Internet has now become our primary repository of information from all sources.
In fact, I think it would be fair to say that the validity of practically anything that appears in print can now be seriously questioned simply by virtue of its having been posted on ‘the Internet.”
Disregarding a mountain of symptoms and studies
In this case, one can only wonder whether Ms. Laskow took the trouble to look beyond the American Cancer Society’s perfunctory appraisal of aspartame’s safety to find out whether there are significant safety risks and health hazards associated with it. For instance, did she even bother researching such things as the many thousands of adverse reaction reports that have been given to both the FDA and the Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, a support group for people with first-hand knowledge of the devastating health effects that aspartame use can produce? These reports encompass a wide variety of symptoms, including migraines, dizziness, depression, anxiety, heart palpitations, respiratory problems, tremors, migraine, fatigue, convulsions, tinnitus, memory loss, seizures and vision problems – the latter having been experienced by hundreds of airline pilots (many of whom have strongly advised their colleagues against ingesting diet soda or using Equal in coffee).
Or did she check into the research done by Dr. John Olney (with a National Institutes of Health grant) and other scientists on aspartame’s effects on test animals – like the holes it created in the brains of mice? Or, for that matter, did she take the time to find out the history of aspartame beyond its accidental discovery by a scientist working for the drug company Searle? For example, the way it was approved over the objections of FDA advisers by a political appointee of the incoming Reagan administration as an apparent favor to Donald Rumsfeld, who was then head of Searle? Or how, according to the late FDA toxicologist M. Adrian Gross, that company proceeded to cover up unfavorable studies, including one that “established beyond any reasonable doubt that aspartame is capable of inducing brain tumors in experimental animals”?
Or did the information she relied on include anything about aspartame being categorized as an “excitotoxin” capable of destroying neurons in the hypothalamus (especially when when consumed by children and the elderly and taken in combination with other excitotoxins, like monosodium glutamate)? As neurosurgeon Russell L. Blaylock has noted, the hypothalamus “regulates emotions, autonomic control ( parasympathetic and sympathetic), hunger and satiety, immunity, memory input, and anger control” and “disruptions in this vital piece of brain can result in anything from minor behavioral problems or endocrine malfunctions to major disruptions in sexual functions, obesity, immune suppression and endocrine gland failure.” And that “virtually every function of the hypothalamus is vulnerable to excitotoxin damage, both subtle and acutely dramatic.”
Or was she aware of the fact that when heated, aspartame breaks down into methanol – a substance that (as Blaylock puts it) “appears to attach to the DNA of cells after it is metabolized to formaldehyde, and is not only very difficult to remove, but results in numerous DNA deletion injuries”? And that this could increase the risk not only of cancer, but of diseases such as lupus, diabetes and Alzheimer’s?
Well, perhaps not. Or if she did, perhaps she chose not to allow such “Internet” information to interfere with her conclusion that aspartame is “perfectly safe.”
But we’re here to advise you that there’s a mountain of evidence out there, both experimental and empirical, to the effect that this accidentally discovered and fraudulently approved artificial sweetener is anything but.
Despite what you might read on the Internet.
Bill Bonvie is the author of Repeat Offenders, a newly released collection of previously published essays.