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Two Food Industry ‘Secrets’ of Getting Less for Your Money

For over two years now, ever since I posted a blog about misleading “fresh” tomato product labels, I have been receiving email from a variety of tomato supply companies in China. Apparently picking up my email address from some type of search hitting on any mention of “tomato sauce,” they all go pretty much like the last one I received:

Dear purchasing manager,

Have a nice day!

We are SHANDONG SAIKEER INDUSTRY CO., LTD., a specialized manufacturer of tomato sauce. Our products are well known in their good quality and competitive price.

If you want to cooperate with us, please contact me at any time.

Best regards, Bess,
Sales manager

All these emails got me wondering how much of the tomato products we buy in the U.S. come from China. The big producers I thought were Italy, and of course California, but, as it turns out, China is making significant headway in producing and exporting a vegetable that the Chinese themselves “shun,” according to an article on China’s booming tomato business in Slate.

But the real news I uncovered is not just another story about how many of our food products are now coming from China, but rather about what is currently troubling those Chinese tomato growers — a new food additive that has tomato producers everywhere seeing, well, red. But the real loser here, as always, is the consumer.

Giving the consumer less, and the manufacturer more – as in more money

My original “tomato” story was about false and misleading labels on tomato sauce products that call them “fresh,” when in fact they are made from reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate. But after learning about this new food additive, that claim sounds almost legit.

This new ingredient I’m referring to is the brainchild of Tate & Lyle, the agribusiness giant based in the UK, probably well-known by readers of this blog for another one of their products – high fructose corn syrup –  as well as its membership in the Corn Refiners Association.

As you’ve probably surmised, Tate & Lyle is really into corn, and at the beginning of this month, they issued a press release about a new and wonderful way to pump yet more corn-based ingredients into the food supply so as to dilute whatever the actual “food” is that a product is supposed to contain.

The additive in question is called PULPIZ Pulp Extender, described as  a “modified starch” that gives “exceptional pulp like texture…in formulations with low tomato paste content.”

PULPIZ will enable food manufacturers to replace up to “at least” 25 percent of the actual tomato paste  in a food product, something a company spokesman says will give them “the ability to do more with less…”

Now we’re not talking about the sprinkling of starch a cook might add to thicken a sauce, but a replacement of “at least” one quarter of the actual food product — a sort of Hamburger Helper for pasta sauce and other products.

Not only is this “extender” a new way to rip off unsuspecting consumers, but it also significantly reduces the nutritional value of the food to which it is added. Research has shown that tomatoes, which are high in antioxidants such as  lycopene, have even higher antioxidant levels when heated.

Geez, it’s not like we’re talking about truffles here — this is tomato paste! Just how much could it cost a company to make a product that contains 100 percent of it?

How about a fish “extender?”

While we’re on the topic of getting less than you think you’re getting, how about some STPP added to your seafood?

Tripolyphosphate, or STPP,  is used as a “soak” for raw fish and shellfish to keep it looking fresher longer, and as an added bonus, the longer fish is soaked in it, the more water it absorbs, and the more it weighs when you go to buy it. Another case of “less is more.”

Some of the more commonly STPP-soaked seafood, according to Food & Water Watch, includes “flaky” varieties, such as hake or sole, and shellfish, including scallops and shrimp.

Food & Water Watch suggests that you ask your fish market or store if they sell “dry” shellfish (“wet” meaning the product was STPP soaked), something they say you should also inquire about in restaurants. Not just because STPP jacks up the price, but because it’s also a registered pesticide and possible neurotoxin.

Bon Appetit!

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More Experts Weigh in on HFCS, Making Its ‘Rap Sheet’ Still Fatter

“Is high fructose corn syrup really that bad for you?” The answer, says Dr. Mark Hyman, is “yes.”

Hyman, best-selling author and chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, is yet another expert who is sounding the alarm about the dangers of consuming high fructose corn syrup, an additive that, Hyman says, “is driving most of the epidemic of heart disease, cancers, dementia and…diabetes.”

That’s a fairly impressive list of ailments – much more so than the warnings first sounded a few years ago about HFCS, which simply linked it to obesity. But that in itself was enough to put the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) on red alert, causing the makers of this laboratory sweetener to spend enough money on disinformation and an effort to have its name officially changed to “corn sugar” to have fed a small country for several years.

The CRA campaign was orchestrated to try and make us all believe that HFCS is simply a form of sugar, a misconception helped along by both the media and politicians who have continued to refer to HFCS-sweetened beverages as “sugary drinks.”

But as many consumers know by now, there’s a world of difference between high fructose corn syrup and natural sugar. And recent research, along with opinions offered by experts such as Hyman, have been making the ‘rap sheet’ on HFCS fatter all the time.

What these authorities are specifically warning about are the higher, more damaging fructose amounts in HFCS, which, Hyman says, is “chemically altered and separated,” and “goes right into your liver turning on a factory of fat production called ‘lipogenesis’.” This leads to a “fatty liver,” which he calls the most common disease in America today, one that can result in pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Another well-known M.D., pediatric endocrinologist Robert H. Lustig, an expert in obesity, metabolism and disease, stated in a recent affidavit for a current lawsuit that type 2 diabetes, now the most common form that “accounts for 90 percent of cases of diabetes,” was “unheard of in children prior to 1980; the time when high-fructose corn syrup began to be incorporated into processed foods in America.”

Currently, Lustig says, there are estimated to be 40,000 kids in the U,S. who have the disease. One of them, an unnamed teenager in Buffalo, N.Y., and her mother, recently filed a lawsuit against Cargill and five other manufacturers of HFCS for products liability, failure to warn, gross negligence, reckless conduct and injuries, stating that the HFCS the girl has consumed over her lifetime was a “substantial factor” in her having developed the disease.

Lustig’s earlier affidavit in the case, further detailing the damaging nature of HFCS, along with all the side effects caused by the extra dose of fructose it contains, was another scathing report detailing just how bad this unnatural sweetener can be for the body. Conditions he linked to its use include insulin resistance, “leaky gut syndrome,” and blocking of the “leptin signal” that can lead to overeating.

Tilting the balance of ‘more damaging’ fructose

Dr. Michael Goran, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California, knows all too well about that extra, damaging jolt of fructose HFCS delivers.

Goran’s 2010 study, published in the journal Obesity, found fructose amounts in several HFCS-sweetened sodas, such as Coke, Pepsi and Sprite to be as high as 65 percent – almost 20 percent higher than if they actually contained the 55 percent fructose version of HFCS we’ve all been led to believe they do.

“Who would argue that fructose consumption now is higher than it was ten or twenty years ago?” Goran told Food Identity Theft, adding that he wasn’t talking about subtle variations from year to year, but rather “about a huge shift in the food supply that is increasing the amount of fructose that we’re exposed to.”

While Dr. Goran’s research should have provided the definitive “change (in) the conversation,” as the CRA likes to say, further research by Citizens for Health has turned up additional reasons why “high fructose corn syrup” is the perfect name for this laboratory-concocted additive.

Last year, Citizens for Health filed a petition with the FDA asking that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose amounts above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows), and also, in the interim, to provide accurate label information (you can read the petition here and sign it by clicking here). The petition asks that the FDA require the manufacturer of a product containing HFCS to state the fructose percentage in its formulation and have the label reflect that information, such as HFCS-55, or HFCS-90.

HFCS 90 is a version of the additive that is 90 percent fructose, described by one manufacturer and CRA-member company as “…the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.” This mega-fructose sweetener was also specifically omitted by the Food and Drug Administration from the HFCS GRAS (generally recognized as safe) regulation.

Could HFCS go the way of trans fats?

Last week, the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oil will no longer be allowed a GRAS designation. What this means is that once given final approval, food manufacturers would eventually be required to remove most artery-clogging trans fat from the processed products Americans eat, or go through the lengthy, costly and time consuming process of submitting a food additive petition for partially hydrogenated oil.

Is it possible that HFCS could follow suit? Maybe. There are many similarities between the proliferation of HFCS and the trans fat saga, including a growing public awareness of its dangers and the decision by various food companies to jump on the NO HFCS bandwagon.

In the meantime, you need to check labels, reject foods that still contain this health-damaging additive, and to show the FDA just how concerned you are about its continued presence in the food supply be sure to sign the Citizens for Health petition.

As Dr. Hyman says, “if we took one thing out of our food supply that would make the biggest difference, it would be high fructose corn syrup.”

Experts Advise Taking Those Sodium Intake Recommendations With a Grain of Salt

Morton Satin wants you to eat your vegetables. He wants you to consume broccoli, carrots, cabbage – all the good-for-you greens, reds and yellows out there. But most importantly, he wants you to enjoy them so you will eat them every day. And that means you must add salt. Bring that salt shaker out of hiding and start enjoying your food again, is Satin’s advice.

Who is this maverick whose concepts on salt fly in the face of years of advice handed out by most all public health institutions?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn Satin is the vice president of science and research of the Salt Institute, the Virginia-based, nonprofit, salt-promoting trade association. But before you say “no wonder this man is promoting salt’” and go about your merry, low-sodium day, you should hear the rest of the story. It’s a tale that includes a large, isolated tribe of Indians in South America, some fancy footwork involving figures and the dire consequences of consuming too little sodium — which can include a significantly increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Satin, who was seemingly alone in his quest to set the record straight about salt, has recently been joined by other doctors and scientists who appear to have come “out of the closet” in response to a report issued this spring by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Almost all studies on salt up to a few years ago were myopically focused on a slight blood-pressure drop achieved by a low-sodium diet of “two to four points systolic,” says Satin, adding, “they don’t give you the numbers, they just say it reduces blood pressure.”

But the recent conclusions of this IOM expert committee that there is no scientific basis for the majority of people to work at keeping sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams a day, and that salt intake of, or below, 1,500 milligrams a day is a risk proposition for many, has pretty much thrown everything we’ve been told up to now about salt consumption out the window.

Dietary sodium expert Dr. Michael H. Alderman with the Einstein College of Medicine, called the conclusions “earth-shattering,” and was quoted by The New York Times as saying the health consequences of low-sodium levels are “…all bad things” and that “(a) health effect can’t be predicted by looking at one physiological consequence.”

Satin agrees, telling Food Identity Theft in a phone interview that “what’s happening is that a reduction in salt is ending up with more sickness and death than (for) people who are not on low-salt diets.”Hypertension myopia

What we’ve repeatedly been told, and what the American Heart Association still preaches, is that we should eat no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day, with an upper limit being bandied about of 2,300 milligrams a day.

Now admittedly, there are some people – a minority of the population – who are adversely affected by sodium and ought to be limiting their intake. But, according to Satin, there’s a specific test for that condition, and it’s not something on which to base recommendations for how a majority should eat.

So just where did the numbers on salt consumption originate? According to Satin, they are nothing more than mystical, contrived numbers picked by an IOM committee that, in effect, “made up a myth” about sodium consumption.

Those unsubstantiated figures are what’s known as the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for sodium — a set of documents for nutrients “that basically establish what should be the reference amount the average person should eat,” as Satin puts it. These DRI numbers for all major nutrients “morph” into the better known Recommended Dietary Allowances, or RDA, that you find on the Nutrition Facts panel that appears on every processed food product.

However, not having any “dose response studies” for sodium on which to base the RDA, the committee went by a rule allowing it to use what’s called an “adequate intake” – that is, one determined by analyzing a “healthy population” and seeing what it consumes.

And here’s where the story starts heading to bizarro land.

The low-sodium tribe with low longevity

It turns out that “healthy population” was a tribe of Indians living in the Amazonian Rain Forest called the Yanomami. Now these Yanomami, they don’t eat much salt at all, only around 500 milligrams a day, and they also have no problems with high blood pressure.

So in a decision Satin describes as “not based on any evidence,” an official RDA was set for sodium based on the habits of the Yanomami, but not at the 500 milligram level, as that was a ridiculously low number. Since “everything is better in threes, (they) arbitrary tripled it,” said Satin. “They didn’t make one single reference to a study to justify that figure, they just tripled it.”

For the upper limit amount of 2,300 milligrams, Satin’s guess is that the committee took the molecular weight of sodium, which coincidentally is 23, “a nice round figure” and used that.

While the Yanomami may not have high blood pressure issues, that’s not to say they are the picture of health. “What they don’t acknowledge is that there is no age-related rise in blood pressure because there is not much of a rise in age,” Satin said, pointing out that the Yanomami only “have a life span of 45 to 48 years.”

Those numbers, now firmly set in our minds as being the healthy way to eat, were immediately and widely accepted as they came from “one of our prestigious, great institutions,” said Satin. “So the World Health Organization throws their hat in, and all the other health institutions accept it. Nobody ever questioned it; it became entrenched. The people who did this thought they were doing good. The problem is that they are incompetent.”

When Satin first came to the Salt Institute in 2002 “knowing nothing” about the issue, he asked the ‘experts’ the $65,000 question: “Don’t we have any data on the historical usage and consumption of salt?” No, he was told, being further assured that never in history have people consumed so much of it. But Satin said he was going to find out. And he did.

The war on sodium from a military history perspective

Searching military records going back to the war of 1812, Satin found that rations for both soldiers and POWs contained twice the amount of sodium we now consume. Other data Satin has uncovered reveals that just about everybody in the world, with the exception of the Yanomami, are consuming a range of approximately 3,000 up to 5,500 milligrams a day of sodium – “regardless of culture, geographical location or economic status.”

Despite all the new findings the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies have continued their war on sodium, especially related to the national school lunch program, although Satin says “they have slowed down a bit…they need to find an exit strategy.”

Satin describes what is going on in the school lunch program as ludicrous – “should you have this child eat a nutritious vegetable or salad with a touch of salt to make it palatable, or say ‘don’t eat salt’ and the kid doesn’t eat it at all.”

Satin, who says he is not fond of our processed-food-heavy U.S. diet or lifestyle, feels that if the government abandoned its narrow focus on the supposed evils of salt, it might be able to do more good addressing our miserable eating habits in general.

This whole issue, he adds, is much bigger than salt. It’s about “the way we manage science in this country.”

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At Last, a Proposed New FDA Ban on a Decades Old Killer!

by Bill Bonvie

For some time now, we’ve been warning our readers here at Food Identity Theft not to be fooled by a “zero trans fat” claim made on the Nutrition Facts panel of many products that have partially hydrogenated oil listed among their ingredients.

Well, surprise, surprise! After decades of allowing a substance it now acknowledges has been killing thousands of people every year to be added to processed food products, and years of permitting consumers to be given phony assurances that they weren’t eating any of it, the Food and Drug Administration has finally decided enough is enough. That is to say, they’ve started a ‘process of  elimination’ in  motion (although perhaps slow motion would be more like it).

In what’s being hailed as a monumental decision on behalf of consumer protection, the agency has made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oil (PHO)  no longer be given a “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) designation.  Once given final approval, this would eventually remove most artery-clogging trans fat from the processed food Americans eat.

While most products are currently labeled as containing zero grams of trans fat, that is often not actually the case, since those that contain half a gram (.05  grams) or less per serving were exempted from the labeling requirement. But such amounts, in actuality, can quickly add up to what the FDA admits is a “significant intake” of trans fat, an ingredient for which the Institute of Medicine has concluded there is no “safe level” that may be consumed.

That’s why we’ve been urging our readers to pay no attention whatsoever to the claim that a product contains zero grams of trans fat on its so-called Nutrition Facts label. But that warning could eventually become unnecessary should the FDA go ahead and implement its proposed new ruling, which it has posted in the Federal Register with a public comment period that ends on Jan. 7. Assuming that happens, “it could in effect, mean the end of artificial, industrially-produced trans fat in foods,” according to Dennis M. Keefe, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety.

Not that a change of this nature would occur overnight. Even if approved, the FDA would still be apt to give businesses ample opportunity to adjust to the new policy – or, to quote from the FDA ‘s consumer update, “the agency and food industry would have to figure out a way to phase out the use of PHOs over time.” But once fully implemented, it is estimated (and these figures come from another government agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that it would prevent some 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart-disease related deaths annually.

Stop and think for a moment what that means.  We’re talking about more than twice the number of  deaths that occurred in the 9/11 attacks every year, resulting from a process with “no known health benefit,” whose purpose is merely to increase the shelf-life and “flavor stability” of packaged foods and baked goods.

A paradigm for the removal of other bad additives?

To be sure, this proposed reform has been a long time coming, those partially hydrogenated oils having reportedly been used since the 1940s in a wide variety of convenience foods, including margarine, which was once considered a “healthy” substitute for butter. But the tide really began to turn in 2002, when the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine reported a direct correlation between the intake of trans fat and increased levels of “bad cholesterol” (that is, low density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease). The following year, the FDA responded by issuing a ruling that trans fat content be listed on Nutrition Facts panels — but even that wasn’t fully implemented for another three years, and was seriously flawed by the .05 gram ‘ loophole’.

The time it took for even that compromise to materialize should serve as a kind of “reality check” for consumers to realize they can’t yet let their guard down when it comes to trans fats, and will have to keep checking ingredients listings for many months to come, even assuming the ruling is formally approved.

What the FDA’s action does show, however, is that it is possible for the agency to be pressured to return to its original mission and, in its plodding fashion, purge our food supply of additives that are hazardous to our health. For once researchers implicated trans fat in heart disease, a number of locales, including New York City and California, began to take action to ban it in restaurant food, and some restaurant chains responded by eliminating it on their own.  In the intervening years, food manufacturers also began to reduce trans fat content in products as well, which will make any adjustment to the proposed new rule much easier to facilitate.

Hopefully, then, the proposed elimination of added trans fats will not only go on to become policy. but will serve as a model of how other ill-advised additives now considered GRAS can follow suit.

Take high fructose corn syrup, for example.  Its saga is very similar to that of trans fat — for example, in the sneaky way it was approved for use in the American diet and introduced into countless processed foods, including many marketed to children. There are also distinct similarities to trans fat in the human health toll that has accompanied its widespread presence in food products and in the adverse publicity and negative studies that have recently caused it to be dropped as an ingredient from many of them. So maybe — just maybe — it will end up following the same trajectory.

It’s just a shame that, just like partially hydrogenated oil, it will continue to wreak such havoc on society until the day comes when it, too, is finally phased out.

Call It What You Want; It Still Answers to the Name ‘Pink Slime’

Remember “pink slime” — that appetizing meat product consisting of mechanically separated beef scraps that needs disinfection with a chemical agent to kill dangerous pathogens?

While our food supply is filled with other equally nauseating offerings (mechanically separated poultry, for one), last year it was slime’s turn to capture everyone’s rapt and revolted attention. Then, like the fickle consumers we are, interest in “boneless lean beef trimmings,” as it’s more politely referred to by industry, became as ‘yesterday’ as old Facebook status postings.

All of which makes it even more curious that the giant food processing company Cargill would make a proud announcement this week that it will be indicating the presence of its own version on package labels with the even more consumer-friendly name,“finely textured beef.”

From the looks of how the media handled it, however, Cargill seems to have inadvertently reignited pink slime’s notoriety.  Reports from Reuters to The Wall Street Journal to ABC and NBC all included big “pink slime” mentions, now attaching the Cargill name to the product, something the company managed to avoid for the most part the first time around.

Now for Beef Products Inc., the original target of intense media coverage over its version of the product, called “boneless lean beef trimmings,” the outcome of all that attention wasn’t so good – especially in regard to the ammonium hydroxide with which it was treated to kill contaminants such as E. coli.

That firm’s pink slime sales subsequently went into a steep decline, closing three of its plants last year due to the fallout. Cargill also saw a drop in slime sales of 80 percent, according to Reuters. But at last,  “that business is slowly recovering” – or so they claim.

Enter the marketing genius

Somewhere along the way, however, Cargill decided some “consumer research” might be in order, as in surveying more than 3,000 consumers “about ground beef and how it’s made.”

Here’s how I visualize it: some Really Bright Guy in the marketing department says, “Hey I’ve got a great idea! Let’s talk to 3,000 consumers and ask if they want pink slime, I mean finely textured beef, labeled on packages. Then we can issue a press release and get interviewed about it!”

Well, Really Bright Guy was right on the money. The media has been only to happy to accommodate by bringing Pink Slime out of retirement and putting it back in the spotlight.

In a prepared statement about the big news, Cargill Beef President John Keating is quoted as saying, “We’ve listened to the public, as well as our customers, and that is why today we are declaring our commitment to labeling finely textured beef.”

And here’s what that “commitment” will come down to:

According to Reuters, Cargill’s wholesale packaging will state “contains Finely Textured Beef,” on the box side. Whether the repackaged version for consumer sale (what you would find in the meat case) will be labeled is currently up to the individual retailer, however. But some time next summer, Cargill says, it will also add that statement to its meat packages that are sold directly to consumers.

But no matter what name it goes under, pink slime just seems to be the gift that keeps on giving red meat to the media.

A ‘Water Enhancer’or Simply ‘Something in the Water’?

Note: Since this blog was published in January, Mio has won an industry award called “breakthrough innovation” from the Nielsen Company. Nielsen, best known for it television ratings system, selected 14 winners from packaged goods launched in 2011, all which achieved significant sales increases and jumped the many “hurdles” facing new products.

Now before you go sending Kraft a card congratulating them for this award, check out the gobbledygook advertising nonsense that went along with the “prize.”

Of all the 3,400 new products that Nielsen analyzed, the winners were said to have “demand-driven insight,” identifying the “unarticulated desires, partially expressed needs and recurring frustrations in consumers’ lives.”

What kind of packaged baloney is that? As you can see, the consumer is thought of as being little more than a rat in a wheel. Mio is simply an artificially flavored, colored and sweetened water contaminant. It’s a worse-ingredient version of Kool-Aid (also owned by Kraft). How in the world does this address “recurring frustrations” for consumers? If someone knows, please tell me, and if you’re still using this bottle of chemical additives to perk up your water, be sure to read (or reread) today’s blog all the way through.

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What happens when you take a perfectly drinkable glass of water and add some propylene glycol, acesulfame potassium, some artificial colors and a preservative? If you ask me, contaminated water.

But if you’re a really, really big company such as Kraft and get some brilliant advertising minds in the act, along with a super budget, what you get is “MiO Liquid Water Enhancer.”

Launched two years ago, targeting people between18 and 39 with the advertising slogan, “MiO answers this wish to personalize life’s experiences in a way no other beverage can,” the product is so successful it will now be included in the Big Parade of Super Bowl commercials. Making its debut in a 30-second third-quarter ad spot that will reportedly cost more than $4 million, MiO — an Italian word meaning “mine” – is a classic example of how expert marketing can lead us to consume chemical-laden products we don’t need.

In fact, the MiO concept of squirting a colored, flavored liquid into water is apparently so appealing and profitable that Coca-Cola introduced its own version late last year called Dasani Drops, also containing multiple artificial colors and preservatives.

Interestingly, the MiO lineup sold in Canada contains none of the propylene glycol additive, a chemical manufactured in several grades for a variety of both industrial, cosmetic and food applications, But then, there are very few, if any, food uses of this substance allowed in either Canada or Europe.

While the theme of the MiO Super Bowl commercial may be totally cool, the same unfortunately, can’t be said of this chemically enhanced variation on the Kool-Aid theme.

Rediscovering what we already knew

Providing yet another reason to stop promoting aspartame-sweetened drinks, a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health released this week found drinking such beverages to be associated with a higher chance of becoming depressed.

Also found to raise the risk of depression, although not as much as the aspartame-laced drinks, were sodas, iced tea and “fruit punches” (such as Hi C and Kool-Aid) that are mostly all sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

Last week I reported on another example of the disturbing trend of replacing one test-tube sweetener (HFCS) with another –  a campaign recently launched in Howard County, Maryland called “Howard County Unsweetened” that promoted diet drinks containing aspartame as “better choices” to parents and kids over 13.

Another case of aspartame-pushing was reported last September in the New England Journal of Medicine, which described what was called an “intervention” among overweight and obese adolescents to see if replacing full-calorie beverages with no-calorie alternatives would slow weight gain. It consisted in part of a “home delivery” for a year of diet drinks to participants’ homes every two weeks.

Reading about these events and “interventions,” one would never know that aspartame is considered by some leading medical authorities to be an “excitotoxin” – that is, a substance that literally excites brain cells to death, especially in children whose blood-brain barriers are not fully developed or in older people in whom this protective mechanism has been compromised. Nor would one think that we’re talking about a substance that an FDA Public Board of Inquiry concluded years ago should not be permitted in the food supply prior to its being overruled by a political appointee.

In fact, “aspartame depression” has long been cited as one of the results of consuming this artificial sweetener, along with other side effects such as migraines, seizures and memory loss. One study, “Adverse reactions to aspartame: double-blind challenge in patients from a vulnerable population,”  conducted nearly two decades ago by the Department of Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Youngstown,  found  “a significant difference between aspartame and placebo in number and severity of symptoms for patients with a history of depression, whereas for individuals without such a history there was not. We conclude that individuals with mood disorders are particularly sensitive to this artificial sweetener and its use in this population should be discouraged.”

Interesting, isn’t it, how we seem to forget what researchers knew years ago, only to suddenly find ourselves rediscovering them?  Maybe it’s the result of all that aspartame we’ve been exposing our collective brains to over the years.

Five Frightening Food Additives and How You Can Avoid Them

Forget the haunted hayrides, spooky houses and midnight ghost tours. Want to go somewhere really scary for Halloween? You’ve been there many, many times and while it  may seem all bright and cheery, some genuinely frightening invaders can be found lurking in its corridors — blobs, bugs and brain-eating laboratory creations, all trying to lure you to take them home.

Any guesses as to what I’m talking about?

It’s your local supermarket. And if you think I’m exaggerating, read on:

An Old Familiar Brand Tops Our ‘Bad Food Pyramid’

Over the last two years I’ve acquired quite a pile of really bad food items — products, in my opinion, that aren’t fit for human consumption. Of all these brand name snacks, cans, drinks and frozen items that have taken over my kitchen and cupboards, we’ve selected one brand that has surfaced at the top of the heap of bad foods.

How, you might ask, with so many to choose from did this product line get selected? I’ll get to that in a minute. But first I need some help in figuring out what to do with this non-consumable collection of poor nutrition “foods” with some downright scary additives.

I certainly couldn’t donate the pile to the local food bank. Giving away food that we’ve been telling folks not to eat to those in need seems just plain wrong. So what to do with it? Toss it? Sent it back to the manufacturer? Reader suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Please send a note or post a suggestion at the Food Identity Theft Facebook page.

The ‘bad brand’ prize

There are a lot of bad ingredient-foods out there, but we thought a fair scoring system to pick one should be similar to that used in a beauty pageant, with our categories being;

  • the ‘beauty’ of its appeal to children;
  • a ‘talent’ for using bad ingredients across an entire product line, and
  • a product’s ‘personality’ — the various tricks and schticks it uses to appeal to consumers.

And the winner is…Chef Boyardee from ConAgra Foods

Chef Boyardee was in fact a real person and a very accomplished chef. At the age of 17 he landed a job at the plush Plaza Hotel in New York City and later went on to found one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Cleveland. Ettore “Hector” Boiardi has also been credited with the invention of “to go” restaurant foods. But this was back in the early 1920s, when high fructose corn syrup and the lineup of other synthetic ingredients that now comprise and compromise his namesake line were still many years away from being invented in laboratories somewhere.

ConAgra Foods, which purchased the brand in 2000, claims “his legacy of quality ingredients is in every bowl.” But seriously, ConAgra, are we to believe that Hector would have considered ingredients such as mechanically separated chicken, high fructose corn syrup, soy protein concentrate and yeast extract to be “quality” ones? I think not.

Some of the Chef Boyardee products that helped the brand win this dubious distinction are:

JUMBO Spaghetti & Meatballs:
Like all the rest of the Chef Boyardee lineup, the label says there is “good stuff inside.” In label-reading reality, however, you can find four sources of “hidden” MSG, as well as mechanically separated chicken and high fructose corn syrup. Another one of the selling points on the can is about the meatballs, which apparently are twice the size of the ones in the original product.

Of course, when you’re using mechanically separated chicken, which goes for approximately ten cents a pound, yeah, you can make those meatballs a lot bigger. If you missed the blog about this queasy ingredient that we dubbed “chicken ooze,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.”

Whole Grain Lasagna:
Aimed directly at parents looking for a quick and easy kid meal, this product makes a big point of being “whole grain,” with the “taste kids love!” The can also promises “no preservatives or MSG,” but again you’ll find free glutamic acid in the form of “yeast extract” and “textured vegetable protein.” (For a comprehensive overview of ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid, the chemical in monosodium glutamate that causes reactions, look here).

Then there’s the HFCS, which seems to be a favorite ingredient of ConAgra. Making a big marketing deal out of removing the laboratory sweetener/preservative from its Hunt’s Ketchup several years ago, it quietly slipped it back in last year. So is the HFCS used as a sweetener? A preservative? Only ConAgra or a food scientist would know for sure.

Mini dinosaurs with meatballs:
Obviously designed with kids in mind, this is another can containing chicken “ooze,” HFCS, and more hidden MSG.

While giant food processing company ConAgra makes numerous other products with questionable ingredients, many which have been called-out in previous Food Identity Theft blogs, it’s the Chef Boyardee line that takes the top prize in the bad food pyramid award.

Any ideas out there for what brand should be chosen runner-up?