Author Archive

‘Sugar Identity Theft’ seems to be everywhere these days (especially right before Halloween)

Posted by -- October 30, 2014

blogsugarTomorrow being Halloween, “sugar” is naturally a hot topic of conversation right now

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.

New comparative ‘study’ of cooking oils omits the most essential one of all

Posted by -- October 28, 2014

By BILL BONVIE

coconutOften, 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.

Disparaging the Internet as a way of dismissing aspartame’s very real dangers

Posted by -- October 23, 2014

Diet-Coke-Can

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.

Ways you can turn ‘Food Day’ into an all-year celebration

Posted by -- October 21, 2014

Group of young cooking a meal

This Friday marks the 4th annual celebration dubbed “Food Day.”

Founded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, this edible and educational event hopes to get people to start eating “real.”

On October 24, Food Day activities around the country hope to make it a day when you “resolve” to create changes in not only in your diet, but also to “take action to solve food-related problems” at home and all around the U.S. A chance to “push for improved food policies.”

That’s a great idea, but it’s quite a challenge. After all, it’s hard enough to think about a nutritious and home-cooked dinner when you get home from work and also have to deal with everything else that goes into your day.

So we want to offer up some ideas to make this your “food year” instead. A way to mark the beginning of a true revolution in your daily eating habits.

  • Make setting aside time to cook as important as watching that favorite TV show. Pick a day that works best for you and you can have “at the ready” what you need for a “real” dinner for most of the week.
  • Prep ingredients for meals – things like onions, red or green peppers, veggies and other things that can go in a stir fry, or recipe – before you need them. Store in glass or BPA-free containers and you’ll have made a giant step in faster and easier cooking.
  • Stop buying fake bread and make your own. The easy way to do that is to get a bread machine. When these devices first came out, they cost a fortune. Now, you can get them for just a little “bread.” They are easy to use, can be programed ahead of time, and will allow you to get whole grains into your diet and high fructose corn syrup and other additives out. Plus, nothing smells better than home-baked bread.
  • Resist the urge to get ersatz frozen foods with toxic ingredients. If you must go the frozen-dinner route on some days, do it by visiting the organic frozen food section of your supermarket. Amy’s brand food products, for example, are made with some darn good ingredients.
  • Shop at your local farmers market. Sure, you can get veggies at the supermarket, but there’s something about a farmers market that makes you want to cook!
  • Get a crock pot. It may be the the wedding gift that most often ends up in the closet, but it’s a really useful device if you want to have a homemade meal waiting for you.
  • Stock up on your pantry. No, that’s not something only found in an English manor home (along with the butler and maid), but a way to have the ingredients you need to cook a good meal always ready to use. Having a well-stocked pantry is the opposite of opening all your cupboards and fridge looking for something – anything you can cook up.

So yes, celebrate Food Day on the 24th. And then do whatever you need to make it your food year.

Trust us, you’ll never go back to the way you used to eat.

 

New research reveals effect of ‘high fructose’ that could act as disease trigger

Posted by -- October 16, 2014

cornfructose

The scientific evidence that fructose may be hazardous to our health just seems to keep on mounting.

By that, we don’t mean the fructose found naturally in fruit, where it’s mitigated by fiber, or the fructose that’s bound with an equal amount of glucose in sucrose, or table sugar. No, we’re talking specifically about the free-floating fructose in the cheap and widely used sugar substitute high fructose corn syrup.

Past studies have already shown links between HFCS and obesity, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and heart problems – all indicators of metabolic disease –as well as pancreatic cancer and other problems.  Now a new one conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers has found that fructose “may have a particularly deleterious effect on health,” according to one its lead authors – and revealed what may be a key reason.

“If you feed animals or people higher-than-normal amounts of fructose, they become obese, less responsive to the key actions of insulin and develop fatty liver disease and abnormal blood lipid levels. All of these increase the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” noted Dr. Mark Herman, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.

And recent analysis of soft drinks sweetened with HFCS have found they do indeed contain higher-than-normal amounts of fructose – higher, even than the 55 to 45 percent fructose to glucose ratio that HFCS is supposed to have. Some products, in fact, reportedly use a 90 percent fructose formula.

Now the Harvard team has discovered a previously unknown biological effect of fructose that they believe may help explain why excessive fructose consumption can lead to serious health issues for many people.

What the researchers found is that blood levels of the hormone fibroblast growth factor 21, or FGF21, which helps regulate the accumulation of fat, undergo a rapid and acute elevation following fructose ingestion – a particularly significant revelation in light of previous findings by the study’s other lead author that raised FGF21 levels in both humans and animals are associated with obesity, insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Their conclusion was based on a study involving 21 adult subjects, about half of whom were lean and fit and the rest suffering from obesity and at high risk for diabetes.  At various times, they were given either 75 grams of glucose, the same amount of fructose or a mixture of the two to drink.

Fructose reaction: off the charts

In all subjects, the glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and into fat and muscle tissues and converted into energy with the help of insulin, had no immediate effect on levels of FGF21, with only mild changes detected three or four hours later. But the fructose, which is absorbed directly by the liver, resulting in a rise in triglycerides that can lead to problems such as diabetes and heart disease, also caused levels of the hormone to sharply increase by 400 percent on average within just two hours of being consumed.

“This tells us that fructose actively regulates FGF21 in humans,” noted Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, the study’s co-author. “We were totally surprised by this dramatic effect because, to date, there has been no way of assessing the body’s acute metabolic response to fructose ingestion.”

Perhaps even more significant, the rise in hormone levels was much more pronounced in the obese participants, which the research team thought might be resulting in increased resistance to the hormone’s effectiveness. And there were variations reported in the other subjects as well, all of which Dr. Herman said suggested that “different people for whatever reasons have differences in their fructose metabolism.”

The bottom line here is that there’s a huge difference between sucrose, or table sugar, which people consumed for all those years without problems like obesity and diabetes getting out of control, and high fructose corn syrup, whose relatively short time in the marketplace has corresponded to a huge escalation in such concerns. And the more apparent it becomes that something is amiss, the more science is bringing us closer to an understanding of the key role that difference has played in the proliferation of these problems.

And yet, the idea continues to persist among some journalists and health professionals that there is no real distinction between sugar and HFCS. In fact, the day after an account of this latest research was featured in The New York Times, a Salon article critical of Pepsi’s attempts to market supposedly healthier new soda, noted that “a major selling point is that the drink lacks high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) … Nutritionists, however, point out that HFCS isn’t really any less healthy than sugar – it just sounds less natural.”

Really? Well, whoever those “nutritionists” are, both they and the writers who parrot their beliefs sound less and less credible – and knowledgeable — with each new scientific study.

FDA booster ‘alliance’ includes lobbies for the very industries it regulates

Posted by -- October 14, 2014

By BILL BONVIE

(Bill Bonvie is the author of Repeat Offenders, a newly released collection of 50 previously published essays, one of which,“Industry in the FDA’s corner,” served as the basis for this blog.)

fdaIf you’ve ever wondered why the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow so many ingredients that may be hazardous to our health to continue to be used in food products, at least part of the answer might lie in an unpublicized relationship that exists between the regulatory agency and many of those it regulates.

And I’m not just engaging in mere speculation when I say that. I’m talking about an actual alliance dedicated to making sure the FDA gets a sufficient share of the fiscal pie.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of the “Alliance for a Stronger FDA.” Most people in this country probably haven’t. In fact, I myself hadn’t until three-and-a-half years ago when, in the course of an Internet search, I accidentally stumbled on the website for this organization, whose goals are to assure that the FDA has “sufficient funds and resources to protect patients and consumers” and to “maintain public confidence and trust” in the agency.

And I must admit I was quite taken back to find that its membership included not only former FDA directors and Health and Human Services secretaries, along with dozens of nonprofits, but a number of trade associations and companies representing the very industries the FDA is supposed to be monitoring – a situation that’s still pretty much the same as it was then.

Among those trade associations currently listed on the membership roster are the American Bakers Association, the American Frozen Food Institute, the American Spice Trade Association, the Independent Bakers Association, the National Fisheries Institute, the Pet Food Institute, the Produce Marketing Association, the Snack Food Association, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. (It also originally included the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but that’s no longer listed.) As for the member companies, they read pretty much like a who’s who of the pharmaceutical industry.

But then, that’s completely in accord with the Alliance’s grand design, which is to encourage membership from “a broad spectrum of organizations that are affected or regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” – including “trade associations that represent industries regulated by the FDA.”

Finding the group’s website (http://strengthenFDA.org) made me wonder exactly what would motivate such support for a regulatory body by those it’s intended to oversee. My curiosity resulted in a phone interview I was able to get with Steve Grossman, who served as the Alliance’s deputy executive director (and still does).

“All FDA stakeholders want a strong, consistent, predictable deadline-meeting FDA,” explained Grossman, whose background includes having served as deputy assistant secretary for health under the Reagan Administration. “Everybody who is overseen by the FDA benefits when the agency is seen as strong and competent and a gold standard for the world.”

While Grossman acknowledged that “on any given day, every one of these companies has a complaint about something the FDA is doing,” still “they understand that their concerns won’t be made better by the agency’s having fewer resources,” including staff. One reason, he noted, is that a regulatory body that lacks people qualified to “investigate the science and run the lab tests” is prone to “make the most conservative decisions because it doesn’t want to do anything wrong.” Another is that U.S. industries export a lot of products, which makes it especially important to have a “strong FDA that’s recognized worldwide as being a leader in science and regulation.”

I also asked Grossman about the ‘revolving door’ that has allowed FDA officials to either go to or come from regulated industries. He responded that the Alliance is narrowly focused on making sure the FDA isn’t starved for funds and does not involve itself in staffing issues.

The Alliance’s membership roster, however, was a source of some concern to Jim Turner, board chair of Citizens for Health, consumer advocate attorney and author of “The Chemical Feast,” the Nader Study Group report on food protection and the FDA, whom I contacted after speaking with Grossman. “It always makes me nervous,” he responded, “when I see a private organization with influential former government officials as members working together with regulated companies to ‘strengthen’ the power of the regulating agency that controls their marketing rules.”

Not that there’s any proof such memberships unduly influence any of the FDA’s actions – or, for that matter, its hesitancy to take them, as in the case of its proposed phase-out of artery-clogging partially hydrogenated oil which seems to have been put on hold after being denounced by various food industry spokespersons.

But they don’t especially help, either when it comes to the business of maintaining “public confidence and trust” in the FDA, or of cementing its reputation as “a gold standard for the world.”

Repeat Offenders is now available in paperback or Ebook editions at Barnes and Noble.

‘Beware of imitations’ warns this family baking company, whose ‘treats’ include a witches’ brew of imitation ingredients

Posted by -- October 9, 2014

debbiesnacks

By BILL BONVIE

If the presence of pumpkins on doorsteps isn’t enough of a reminder that Halloween is fast approaching, all those packages decorated with pumpkin and goblin graphics on display in your local supermarket certainly should be.

But might the makers of some of those seasonal treats actually be out to trick you into buying little dietary devils in a wholesome “Little Debbie” disguise?

Yes, Virginia, there is a “Little Debbie.” According to the copy on a package of Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights, she’s actually Debbie McKee-Fowler, the granddaughter of the founder of McKee Foods of Collegedale, Tenn. There’s even a Shirley Temple-like photo of her taken in 1963 wearing her straw hat and serving a platter of Swiss rolls as her beaming mother and grandfather look on.

And there’s a homespun message that accompanies that lovely little picture – a letter “From Our Family to Yours” that’s signed by the now mature Little Debbie herself. And here’s how it reads:
“At McKee Foods, our recipe for success has always been to provide the best quality products at a good value. My grandfather began his tradition over 60 years ago and our family has remained true to his vision.”

But here’s where it gets really interesting:

debbiesnacks2“Recently, more imitation products have turned up on grocery shelves.  We hope that you do not confuse them with our products. When you see my picture on a box of snack cakes, you can be sure that our family’s pride and tradition have gone into the baking.”

Now that certainly sounded reassuring to us here at Food Identity Theft. But just to check up on that claim, we took a peek at the adjacent list of ingredients in those Pumpkin Delights, which are described as individually wrapped soft-filled cookies. And we were a bit taken aback — or perhaps aghast would be more like it — at the witches’ brew of additives we found.

Talk about scary!

The very first thing on the list was “enriched bleached flour” – which is not the kind you might associate with the “best quality products.” And then came the second: partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil with TBHQ to preserve flavor.

Yes, you heard right — the artery-clogging source of trans fat that the Food and Drug Administration proposed phasing out after estimating that it causes 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year (although none is listed due to the .5 gram ”trans fat loophole”), with an added petroleum-based preservative thrown in for good measure. In fact, as we reported a few years ago in Chemical-Free Kids: The Organic Sequel, “serious symptoms, such as vomiting, delirium and collapse, have reportedly resulted from consuming just one gram of TBHQ.” (Of course, we hope that those Pumpkin Delights less than that amount).

And, then, further down the list of ingredients, there it is – the high fructose corn syrup. You know, the laboratory sweetener that’s first on our list of additives to be avoided – the one that various studies have linked to the current obesity and diabetes epidemics, as well as to ailments like pancreatic cancer and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

That’s not to say that the ingredients were all bad. There are also things like sugar, pumpkin puree, dairy butter and eggs. But along with the artificial flavors, the combo of harmful additives was enough to make us think we were actually looking at one of those “imitation products.”

And the Pumpkin Delights weren’t the only Little Debbie Halloween-themed items that filled us with dread.

There were also the little Debbie Fall Party Cakes, which, besides the partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil with TBHQ, contain an artificial color (Yellow #6) and aluminum in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate – you know, the toxic metal that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. And the Little Debbie Bat Brownies, with the same PHO-TBHQ combo and sodium aluminum phosphate, along with high fructose corn syrup, caramel color (a suspected carcinogen) and another artificial dye, Red #40, plus artificial flavor. (The package, however, does feature “bat facts” from the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.)

So here’s a suggestion for Debbie McKee-Fowler. If you really want the company your grandfather founded to be known for the best quality products that won’t be confused with “imitations,” get them to drop the imitation ingredients and only use the real, old-fashioned kind – like sugar, eggs and butter. Then when we see the smiling picture of you as a little girl on the package, we’ll know what’s inside really reflects the “pride and tradition” of your family business – and is something we can recommend to our readers, whether for Halloween or any other occasion.

Which right now, it’s most decidedly not.

How bad soda ingredients are offsetting beer’s health benefits

Posted by -- October 7, 2014

budbeerJust when you might have thought that drinking beer was good for your heart (in moderation, that is), at least one major brewery has found a way of making it a lot less healthy while making it appear to be even more so.

And they’ve managed to do it by using the same devious marketing techniques that are utilized in selling processed foods and beverages designed for kids – along with the same kinds of unwholesome ingredients that are routinely added to such products, including high fructose corn syrup.

But first, a little bit about the benefits of beer in its relatively unadulterated state. While red wine has long been touted as a kind of cardio-health drink, recent research has found that beer can be even better for us. Italian researchers, for example, have found moderate beer drinkers to have a 42 percent lower risk of heart disease than non-drinkers.

That may be due to what Dutch researchers discovered when they did a study of 11 healthy men between the ages of 44 and 59, giving them wine, beer, gin and water with their evening meal for three-week periods. The beer, they determined, produced a 30 percent increase a vitamin B6 levels in their blood as the wine and gin, which was sufficient to prevent any increase in their levels of the amino acid metabolite homocysteine, a known cause of coronary artery disease. By contrast, wine and gin consumption did cause homocysteine levels to rise enough to produce a 10 to 20 percent increase in heart disease risk.

Studies have also found beer to have other health benefits as well – like lowering blood pressure, according to Harvard researchers, and a Finnish finding that a bottle a day resulted in a 40 percent decrease in a man’s risk of developing kidney stones.

In addition to all that, moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a significantly lower likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes in another Dutch study of 38,000 male health professionals.

An adult version of the ‘fruit fraud’ con

So what could be the harm in giving your brewski an added ‘health kick’ by flavoring it with healthy fruit essences like lime, strawberry and mango? Nothing, presumably, if those were the actual things being added, and nothing else.

But in the case of Budweiser’s flavored light beers, such as Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita, Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita, Bud Light Lime Mang-O-Rita, Bud Light Lime Raz-Ber-Rita and Bud Light Lime Apple-Ahhh-Rita, what’s being added is more like the stuff found in distinctly unhealthy soft drinks.

Most notably, all of the above contain high fructose corn syrup, the cheap, unnatural sweetening agent that various studies form leading universities and medical facilities have linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as problems like pancreatic cancer and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

The extra ingredients also found in these ‘beer coolers’ include the artificial sweetener sucralose, which has been linked to diabetes in humans as well as other health problems and caramel color, a suspected carcinogen, as well as artificial flavor and artificial colors. Nor is there any indication of anything resembling actual fruit or fruit juice being added. For instance, the Straw-Ber-Rita, which is described as combining “the amazing taste of a strawberry margarita with the refreshment of Bud Light Lime” and has strawberries depicted on its can, makes no mention of either strawberries or lime in its list of ingredients – just things like citric acid, sodium citrate, dextrose syrup and natural and artificial flavors (in addition to the HFCS).

That info, by the way, comes from the website tapintoyourbeer.com” which calls itself “a guide to responsibly enjoy our quality beers,” which you may only share “with your friends of legal drinking age” (and just to be sure you are, it keeps asking you to confirm your date of birth, as well as the country where you reside and the language you speak). Credit for that goes to Vani Hari, a.k.a. the “Food Babe,” who managed to collect 43,000 signatures on an online petition that convinced the Anheiser-Busch brewing company to publicly reveal the ingredients in its products, even though such disclosure is not required by law.

So if you’re a beer drinker, you can feel good about the newly discovered health benefits of “real” beer consumed in moderation. But, just like with products aimed at kids, be wary of label hype and deceptive graphics that are designed to fool you into thinking that you’re getting the added advantages of healthy fruits, when in fact, all you’re really getting are some distinctly unhealthy additives.

Soda makers roll out ‘Mixify’ campaign as first phase of calorie-cutting plan

Posted by -- October 2, 2014

mixify

 

If there’s one thing for which you can’t fault the soft-drink industry these days, it’s procrastination.

While the nation’s three largest soda manufacturers – Coke, Pepsi and the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group – may have given themselves until the year 2025 to reduce individual consumption of “beverage calories” by 20 percent, they seem to have wasted no time in getting that effort off and running.

In fact, no sooner had this corporate trio announced its long-range plan at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative last week (described in our previous blog), than they rolled out what appears to be the first phase of the plan – a slickly designed commercial campaign on both the airwaves and the Internet whose apparent target audience consists of teenagers, the biggest consumers of their products.

The newly launched program is called “Mixify,” described as “a new project from America’s beverage companies that’s all about making balance easier. Because even if your body is feeling less like a temple and more like— say, a truck stop—balancing the calories that you eat and drink with the calories you burn is key to finding the right mix to keep you feeling like the majestic creature that you are.” Its website also contains “Tips, tools and inspiration to help find a balance that’s right for you” and to “share your mix with mymixify,” the term used in the website’s address.

But why the “my” added to “mixify”?  One reason, of course, is because it’s always more effective to personalize this sort of campaign. But there’s obviously another as well – the fact that the name “Mixify” is already in use at the website mixify.com, where it’s described as “a never-ending electronic music festival where DJs stream live to fans around the world.” It’s even got its own app that allows you to chat 24 hours a day with DJs and other attendees.

So right from the get-go, the ingredients of a ‘Mixify mixup’ are already in the mix.

And we couldn’t help wondering — was this identical identity accidental, which would seem to indicate a failure on the part of the creative team behind it to do fundamental research, since the music-based “Mixify” site was launched back in late 2012 with accompanying media hype? Or was it deliberately meant to use a term that’s already familiar to many teens, and perhaps even confuse them into thinking there’s somehow a connection?

Whichever the case, the new name – the one being used by the makers of carbonated beverages – also has a “TM” designation next to it, meaning a trade mark application is already in the works. So don’t be surprised if you should hear that the name “Mixify” has become the subject of a copyright dispute in the near future (unless, of course, that issue has already been settled behind the scenes).

‘Those little buggers matter’

Such concerns aside, however, the newly introduced site has all the elements talked about in the announcement for the calorie-cutting initiative.  For example, on its :Find Your Mixify” page, it offers the following “Realtalk: Coke, Dr Pepper and Pepsi understand that balancing your mix of foods, drinks and physical activities can get a little tricky. And since our products can play a part in that equation, we’ve teamed up to help make it easier to find a balanced mix that feels oh so right.”

It then goes on to provide advice about how to “stay active” (“Chase a wild animal. Dance till it hurts.”)   and “mind your mix” on days that you might just spend on the couch, and various “resources” such as the U.S., Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov, the “Smart Snack Calculator” from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (one of the initiative’s sponsoring organizations), and the Calorie Control Council’s calorie calculator.

Besides this calorie coalition, it also offers the services of a panel of unnamed experts who know “what’s up,” ranging “from nutritionists and dieticians to coaches and athletes,” all of whom are “standing by to make dreams come true and answer all your balance inquiries,” complete with several sample questions and answers.   And then there are “tips and tools,” which include advice to “get real about calories – because those little buggers matter.”

Something else that matters even more than calories, however, is the continued presence of the obesity-and-diabetes promoting artificial sweetener high fructose corn syrup in carbonated beverages. And rather than chasing wild animals or dancing till it hurts, the best way to “get real” about that — no matter what age you are — is to keep the products containing it from playing a part in your “equation.”

Once you do that, the calories will most likely take care of themselves.  And you can limit whatever “mixifying” you do to music festivals.

Plan to reduce ‘calorie consumption’ of soda raises questions about methods

Posted by -- September 30, 2014

soda

It’s no secret that the soft-drink industry is experiencing some hard times.

And now the purveyors of what used to be known as “soda pop” are desperately seeking new ways to convince American consumers not to dispense with these body-and-brain-ravaging beverages – especially with the drumbeat of negative publicity they’ve been getting in the media of late.

But they have a plan in place they hope will reverse that trend and restore the popularity of their flagship products, as well as head off proposals in both Congress and local jurisdictions to impose new taxes on them.

While part of the plan has been openly announced by the nation’s three biggest carbonated beverage companies — Pepsi, Coke and the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group — at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the way in which it will be implemented is still a secret. But what we couldn’t help noticing was how the attention was diverted from the real culprits that have caused soft drinks to become such unhealthy products and focused on another one instead.

1957 ad for 7Up

1957 ad for 7Up — without HFCS

What the trio of soda manufacturers pledged, in an agreement with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, was to cut a whopping one-fifth of the beverage calories that each person consumes by the year 2025.  Nowhere, however, was there any mention of eliminating the high fructose corn syrup that has come to replace sugar (and is often confused with sugar) in these so-called “sugary drinks,” but which has a far different metabolic effect that major studies have linked to the present epidemics of obesity and diabetes, as well as other ailments like pancreatic cancer.

Nor, for that matter, was there any reference to recent research that found consumption of diet soda containing artificial sweeteners might also be contributing to the onset of type 2 diabetes by interfering with gut bacteria.

The initiative, has also been characterized by conflicting descriptions of what it will involve.

According to initial news accounts, there won’t be any real attempt to reduce the caloric content of the beverages themselves, but merely measures such as reductions in container sizes and promotion of bottled water sales and “calorie awareness.”

But that’s not what was indicated by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi in an interview with PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff.   The company, Nooyi said is “looking at reformulations, fundamental investment in R&D to search for new ingredients, new sweeteners, so people can still get a great experience in a beverage, but at a much lower calorie.”

New ingredients? New sweeteners?  What might she mean by that, exactly?

The two tricksters waiting in the wings

One distinct possibility is that such “reformulations” will include the addition of Sweetmyx, the “phantom flavoring agent” that we reported back in March would be “making its debut in beverages manufactured by Pepsi” and would probably be represented as simply an “‘artificial flavor’ or perhaps an ‘artificial sweetener,’ with the only other clue to its presence being a magical reduction in calories.”

As we noted at that time, the claim by the additive’s manufacturer, Senomyx, Inc. that it was granted generally recognized as safe, or GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration, was disputed by that agency. It turned out to have been given that designation by a “third party organization,” the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, in keeping with a 1997 proposed rule that would have allowed GRAS declarations to be made on a voluntary basis, but was never finalized.

What we also pointed out is that all we know about Sweetmyx is that it’s a “sweetener enhancer” that tricks your taste buds into perceiving a sweet flavor that’s really not there, and that it could well turn out to be another “excitotoxin” like aspartame that could cause neurons to self-destruct.

There’s also another possibility – that a reduction in calories could be achieved by the addition of HFCS-90, the form of high fructose corn syrup that’s 90 percent fructose and has been described by a leading manufacturer, Archer Daniels Midland, as the “ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.” (In fact, PepsiCo already owns a patent on a method of using it to produce a reduced-calorie beverage.)

While the FDA supposedly does not permit HFCS formulations to be more than 55 percent fructose, industry claims that HFCS-90 has been used with the agency’s knowledge for decades.

The use of HFCS-90, in fact, it what primarily spurred our sponsoring organization, Citizens for Health, to file a petition with the FDA to require that precise amounts of fructose in products that contain HFCS be labeled. (Read and sign that petition here.)

Whether the soft-drink industry is now contemplating using either or both of these methods to achieve that promised 20 percent reduction in calories over the next decade remains to be seen. But if it is, what American Beverage Association President Susan Neely has predicted will be “the single largest voluntary effort by an industry to help fight obesity” could conceivably even end up making the obesity epidemic worse than it already is.

As for the “calorie awareness” part, however – well, that’s already the focus of a newly launched, full-fledged campaign, which we’ll be talking about in our next blog. Stay tuned.