Category : Food Labeling

Home/Archive by Category" Food Labeling" (Page 6)

Read Your Labels: Often Confused with Sugar, this Ingredient Wins the Distinction of “Worst of the Worst” In Our “Read Your Labels” Campaign

From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of

The only way to avoid this additive, which turns up almost everywhere, is to read the ingredient label.

Our number-one additive to avoid in the Citizens for Health “Read Your Labels” campaign is a man-made laboratory creation that turns up in such a wide variety of foods and drinks that you need to read labels constantly in order to keep from ingesting it.

Experts have implicated this unnatural ingredient in scores of health issues and diseases. Author and pioneer in integrative medicine Andrew Weil, M.D. calls it “…one of the very worst culprits in the diet.” Consumers have made it perfectly clear they don’t want it in food products, yet manufacturers of those products keep on using it because it’s cheap and easy to add to foods and beverages.

Like processed glutamic acid, this additive also has the backing of a powerful, multimillion-dollar lobbying group whose purpose is to keep it in widespread use, no matter how unpopular it becomes.

Our number one additive to avoid: High Fructose Corn Syrup (or HFCS)

High fructose corn syrup is a highly-processed, industrial sweetener in which glucose from corn syrup is further processed to create a desired amount of much-sweeter fructose. The manufacturing of HFCS is a highly complicated process, but the product is typically less expensive than sugar. It was first created in the late 1950s and hit the marketplace during the ’70s as a sweetening ingredient in soft drinks, its use soon expanding to almost every conceivable processed food product.

Due to increasing consumer dislike of the additive, the lobbying group representing the manufacturers of HFCS, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), made a failed attempt several years ago to “officially” change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar.”  Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) firmly rejected the name switch attempt last May, the CRA had already gone full steam ahead in promoting the “corn sugar” concept. And even now, almost a year after the FDA ruled that HFCS is most decidedly not sugar, the CRA still can’t let go of the idea that it is, currently referring to the industrial sweetener and preservative as “…simply a form of sugar made from corn.”

While the CRA wants us all to believe that HFCS and sugar are identical twins – a misconception often unwittingly spread by media and politicians who describe beverages containing HFCS  as “sugary drinks” – there are numerous and substantial differences between the two, one of them being the higher and varying amounts of damaging fructose found in HFCS.

Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in a 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.

While Dr. Goran’s research should have been 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 so consumers know just what they’re buying (you can read the petition here and sign it by clicking here). The petition asks that the FDA require a manufacturer that uses HFCS to state the fructose percentage in that formulation and have the label reflect that information, such as HFCS-55, or HFCS-90.

Haven’t yet heard about HFCS 90?  This 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.”

A research rap sheet that gets longer all the time

One of the latest negative HFCS studies, done by Dr. Goran, found that countries consuming large amounts of HFCS have a 20 percent higher prevalence of diabetes than those where it isn’t used. Goran said what that study suggests is that “HFCS poses an additional risk” over and above other risk factors, such as obesity,  most likely due to the higher amounts of fructose in HFCS (which even if used at the ‘allowed’ 55 percent is a 10 percent increase over real sugar).

Goran is far from the only researcher to implicate HFCS and high fructose consumption with a variety of diseases and health problems. For example:

  • Georgia Health Sciences University researchers found in 2011 that high fructose consumption by teens can put them at risk for heart disease and diabetes, and also speculated that kids may “crave the cheap, strong sweetener.”
  • A Yale University study in 2013 published in the the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fructose – especially in the form of HFCS – may contribute to weight gain and obesity, since it has little effect on brain regions that act as a check on appetite.
  • Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles in 2012 showed that a diet high in fructose slows the functioning of the brain, hampering memory and learning – and that omega-3 fatty acids may counteract the disruption.
  • University of California at Davis researchers in 2011 found adults who consumed high fructose corn syrup for two weeks as 25 percent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, indicators of increased risk for heart disease.

And with the Corn Refiners Association reporting over 19 billion pounds of HFCS shipped in 2011, it’s pretty obvious that this unhealthy and ubiquitous sweetener is not something folks are consuming in “moderation” as the CRA claims they should. And that, many experts believe, goes a long way in explaining why our population has suddenly become so “large.”

So there you have it – a rogue’s gallery of 10 undesirable food additives that, taken together, are no doubt responsible for many of the health problems that plague our nation, marring the quality of life for tens of millions of us and steadily driving up the cost of health care.  And, unfortunately, so powerful and politically connected are the corporations that profit from their continued use in processed food that we cannot depend on regulatory agencies to keep these harmful substances out of our diet, but must take responsibility ourselves. This is why Citizens for Health has declared April 11 as “Read Your Labels Day,” which, hopefully, will mark the beginning of a healthy new trend. Stay tuned for more details and how you can participate now that you have the “411? on the top 10.

Read Your Labels: A Really Bad Additive Actor Too Often Mistaken for a “Good Guy”

From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of

Found in all kinds of foods and beverages, you need to be on the lookout to keep this toxic additive out of your diet

The second place designation in our Citizens for Health “Read Your Labels” campaign of food additives to avoid goes to a really bad actor found in many supposedly “healthy” foods as well as diet products and beverages. Although this ingredient has become totally entrenched in the marketplace, it has never been proven to be safe. In fact, studies done over 40 years ago connected it to the development of brain tumors in rodents and grand mal seizures in rhesus monkeys.

Even worse – school officials and health agencies are actively promoting this chemical as a healthy alternative for kids!

Number two: Aspartame (a.k.a. NutraSweet, Equal) the ‘diet devil’ in disguise

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

Aspartame (originally marketed as NutraSweet), which was accidentally discovered by a chemist working for Searle while looking  for a new ulcer drug, is made up of three neurotoxic chemicals – substances that are toxic to brain cells. (See Tuesday’s blog about other similar excitotoxins liberally added to food.)

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

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

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

Today, a growing number of health-conscious consumers avoid aspartame like the plague, avoiding any product described as “low calorie” or “sugar free.” But if the dairy industry has its way, such descriptive phrases may disappear from the front of flavored milk cartons and other dairy products that contain this chemical sweetener.

Got aspartame?

The latest wrangle involving aspartame is over a petition filed by the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association to “amend the standard identity of milk” (and 17 additional dairy products). If the FDA agrees, it would allow flavored milk with added artificial sweeteners such as aspartame to be labeled as just “milk,” eliminating the now-required “low-cal” notice on the front of the package.

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

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

Fortunately, a lot of American consumers and parents who have by now become familiar with aspartame’s long and ugly “rap sheet” – which includes actually promoting, rather than discouraging obesity — are no longer willing to go along with the idea that this neurotoxic additive is a “healthy” alternative to sugar, as reflected by the amount of public outrage the petition has sparked, including a counter-petition to “tell the FDA we don’t want aspartame in our milk,” and almost 15,000 comments sent into the FDA docket.

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

Read Your Labels: “Glutamic Bombs”: Playing Tricks on Your Tongue and Havoc with Your Brain

From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of

While the package says “No MSG!” a check of the ingredient label shows “yeast extract,” an ingredient that always contains manufactured glutamic acid (MSG)

They’re often referred to as “excitotoxins” because of their ability to literally excite brain cells to death. Consumers ingest massive amounts of these often hidden and highly toxic “flavor enhancers,” which can also cause adverse reactions ranging from skin rashes to asthma attacks, mood swings, upset stomach, migraines, heart irregularities and seizures. For those who are extremely sensitive, it can put them into life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

The Food and Drug Administration has been presented with ample evidence that these particular additives can be especially harmful to kids, the elderly and developing fetuses. Yet, they’re allowed to be routinely – and liberally — added to scores of processed foods, even organic, vegetarian and “natural” ones, for the devious purpose of fooling the tongue so the food tastes better.  That’s why we’ve designated them as five, four and three on our list of additives to be avoided in Citizens for Health’s  “Read Your Labels” campaign:

(5) Monosodium glutamate, (4) autolyzed yeast and
(3) hydrolyzed protein

Monosodium glutamate is by now a familiar name that many consumers make a big point to avoid. And while you’ll still see it in numerous products such as chips, ramen noodle dishes and soups, manufacturers know that many consumers check package labels for this neurotoxic flavor enhancer.

That’s why looking for monosodium glutamate on ingredient labels is just the tip of the iceberg.

In selecting our top ten food additives to avoid, we not only picked monosodium glutamate, but also two of the most common ingredients that contain manufactured glutamic acid, the substance in monosodium glutamate that triggers all those adverse reactions. And there are dozens more. In fact, if you want all the manufactured glutamic acid (or MSG) out of your diet, you won’t be eating many processed foods.

There is no doubt that the food industry has a love affair with MSG. It allows products with bland or sparse ingredients to taste really exciting, both saving companies money and adding immensely to sales. Why use 20 chickens in a commercial chicken soup recipe when you can use half that number, add some yeast extract, and everyone will love the taste?

The history of monosodium glutamate use is a sneaky one as well. This toxic chemical found its way into more and more products during the 1950s and ’60s, its use having reportedly doubled in each decade since the 1940s. In addition to being marketed as an ‘off the shelf’ flavor enhancer, it was also at one time added to baby food. But in the late 1950s, researchers tested the chemical on infant mice and discovered it destroyed nerve cells in the inner layers of the retina.  A decade later, prominent neurosurgeon Dr. John Olney, found it had a similar effect on cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Disclosure of that information to Congress in 1969 was enough to get monosodium glutamate voluntarily removed from baby food, to which it was being added in amounts equivalent to those that had produced brain damage in test animals.

Experts now know that feeding excitotoxins, such as monosodium glutamate and other ingredients containing manufactured glutamic acid, to newborns and young children can have devastating effects on learning ability, personality and behavior. In his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills (originally published in 1994), well-respected neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock noted that  “sometimes the effects might be subtle, such as a slight case of dyslexia, or more severe, such as frequent outbursts of uncontrollable anger…”

The list of adverse reactions to these additives is wide and varied, and because they are “sneaked” into so many  foods, highly sensitive people who react to very small doses have no way of knowing they have even been exposed.

The Truth in Labeling Campaign, a grassroots, science-based, information service to help people identify reactions to manufactured glutamic acid and avoid ingesting it, estimates that as many as half of all Americans are sensitive to ingredients containing MSG. And the harm these additives cause isn’t necessarily limited to obvious adverse reactions, for as Blaylock points out, MSG can produce “silent damage to the brain with very few symptoms.”

How to keep your diet (relatively) free of MSG

While monosodium glutamate can be easy enough to look for, the dozens of ingredient names that also contain manufactured glutamic acid can turn a trip to the supermarket into an adventure in chemistry.

Along with autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed protein, you need to watch out for anything that’s “hydrolyzed,” and basically any ingredient name that contains the word “protein” (e.g., whey protein isolate, textured protein).  (For a complete list of ingredients that “always” and “often” contain MSG,  look here). To add to the confusion, many companies use the trick of  putting “NO MSG ADDED” on the labels of food products that contain various amounts of manufactured glutamic acid, which is ‘hidden’ in over 40 different ingredients.

Another misleading Swanson label. This one claims “No MSG added.”

Highly sensitive people can react to extremely small doses of these additives, making nearly all processed foods a dangerous proposition for them. One such extremely MSG-sensitive individual was the late Jack Samuels, who with his wife Adrienne, a Ph.D. focusing on research methodology, founded the Truth in Labeling Campaign, sharing studies and information they learned over decades of research at their web site www.truthinlabeling.org.

Now that you have some idea of where you’ll find various forms of MSG, if you want to know why such dangerous ingredients are still allowed in food, we suggest you read  The Man Who Sued the FDA,

by Adrienne Samuels, which documents Jack and Adrienne’s own story of  ‘discovery’ in regard to MSG that spans several decades. The book is also the story of how industry and, in particular, a lobbying group known as the Glutamate Association gets its way when it comes to keeping this toxic additive in the food supply at all costs, even to the point of producing studies claiming MSG to be “safe” that many experts have deemed blatantly flawed.

Admittedly, keeping your family’s diet free of these neurotoxic substances may be tricky, but is well worth the effort. Remember, the brain you save may be your own.

Read Your Labels: The “Brominated Brothers”: Still at Large Despite a Bad Rap Sheet

From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of

 

The next ingredient to avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign should have been banned in the U.S. decades ago. It has been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals for over 30 years, and the evidence of its toxic nature is so compelling that this additive has been banned in many countries, including Europe, China, Canada, and Brazil.

In the United States, however, it can still be found in processed foods ranging from breads to tortillas to knishes. The only good thing we can say about this additive is that its use is on the decline, no doubt due to some really bad press over the years, but you still have to be on the lookout to avoid it. Read on to learn how keep this unnecessary, toxic ingredient out of your diet.

Number 7: Potassium bromate

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

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

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

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

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

This leads us to another nasty bromine additive…

Number 6: Brominated vegetable oil

This Mountain Dew also contains almost 12 teaspoons of HFCS

While PepsiCo got lots of kudos back in January when it announced that it would be removing brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, from one of its Gatorade products, that doesn’t mean it’s gone from the marketplace.  In fact, PepsiCo continues to use BVO in other beverages it makes, such as Mountain Dew

BVO, which used in food and beverages for the highly important cosmetic purpose of keeping their ingredients all  neatly blended together, builds up in fatty tissue and has been shown to cause heart damage in research animals. But while it is banned as a food additive in many other places, including Europe, India and Japan, its  status has been in limbo at the FDA for over three decades.

BVO is especially apt to be found in in orange and other citrus-flavored  beverages, so be sure and check their ingredients carefully before buying them..

Breaking news on the HFCS front

Consumer groups and public health departments from around the country recently submitted a petition to the FDA asking the agency to set a safe level of added sugars in drinks. Of course when you’re talking beverages, especially soda, those “sugars” will most likely be in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which one of the groups involved, CSPI says is currently at “unsafe levels.”

That’s not hard to believe when one considers the vast amount of foods and drinks that still contain this test-tube sweetener. To get an idea of just how much HFCS is manufactured, you need look no further than the Corn Refiners Association’s “Corn Annual,” which lists an unbelievable shipment total for HFCS in 2012 of over 19 billion pounds!

Hopefully, those amounts will go down the same way potassium bromate use has begun to diminish – although it will only happen if enough consumers ‘just say no’ to products containing this cheap synthetic sweetener that’s a major suspect in the obesity epidemic.

Read Your Labels: A Pair of Preservatives to Beware Of

From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of

What if we told you that two closely-related preservatives, commonly-added to scores of processed foods (many of them for kids), are banned in Japan and most European countries; have been found to alter brain chemistry in mice when they are exposed prenatally; that one is listed as a carcinogen by the state of California, and that by adding these chemicals to its list of “eliminated” ingredients, the Feingold Diet success rate for treating kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) almost doubled!

Well, listen up, because this pair of preservatives, commonly added to our food for the sole purpose of extending its shelf life to increase manufacturers’ profits, are the next unnecessary, harmful ingredients we urge you avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign,

Number 8: BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoulene)

Sometimes we get so used to seeing certain ingredients listed on labels that it seems they must be OK. Such is the case with BHT and BHA, which are used in scores of products, such as cereals, snack foods, chewing gum, pies, cakes, processed meats and even beer. These industrial preservatives are also sprayed onto the lining of food packages.

BHA and BHT, which are actually made from coal tar or petroleum, have been the focus of behavioral and health concerns for decades, although the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow the use of these industrial anti-oxidants in food products (as well as medicines and cosmetics).

Over 30 years ago studies found that after pregnant mice were fed BHT and BHA, their offspring were born with altered brain chemistry. According to the researchers, “the affected mice weighed less, slept less and fought more than normal controls.” On top of that, BHA is considered a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization and listed as a carcinogen in California.

While there are many cereals available that don’t contain these or any other chemical preservatives for that matter (including organic varieties), one of the biggest producers of breakfast cereal, Kellogg’s, is also one of the bigger users of BHT, which we found in practically every Kellogg’s cereal we looked at – including its cornerstone product, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

A brand is only as good as its ingredients

Fortunately, many shoppers are no longer willing to accept the presence of such unsavory additives simply because the products that harbor them are put out by “trusted” brands.

“I don’t understand why they use these toxic preservatives when there are alternatives,” noted one, New Jersey resident Dan Brown, who banished his kids’ favorite cereal, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, from the house when he learned about the harmful effects of the BHT it contains.

Consumers seem to want what Mom’s Best is offering. The company is now number three in the ready-to-eat cereal market.

Brown, a stay-at-home dad and professional musician, who says his family goes through “a lot of cereal,” was so angry with what he read about BHT and BHA, that he wrote Kellogg’s, saying he had found another brand that was cheaper “without BHT and other additives and chemicals,” telling the company, “I am sorry that you feel that you have to poison me and my family to make a profit on your food; maybe you should rethink your business plan…”

One company that seems to have carefully considered its business plan is Mom’s Best Cereals. Based in Minneapolis, this four-generation family-owned business makes 10 cereals containing no high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or artificial flavors or preservatives such as BHA or BHT.   Now ranked third in sales in the U.S. ready-to-eat cereal market, Mom’s Best has managed to win over consumers such as Brown, who have ditched the big-brand cereals such as Kellogg’s and General Mills for ones containing better ingredients.

“Once you learn what’s really in these products, you can’t go back, especially when you’re feeding it to your kids. For manufacturers to put harmful ingredients in food  marketed to kids just blows my mind,” says Brown, whose advice to other parents is to “read the label, no matter how hard that can be when you’re shopping, especially shopping with kids. But you’ve got to do it.”

**********************************************************

Stay tuned as we continue our countdown of the top ten ingredients to avoid including a soda additive that’s also used as a flame retardant, a known carcinogen that is still in baked goods in the U.S. because it helps food manufacturers make more money and a very common flavoring additive that kills brain cells.

Read Your Labels: Still In Our Food After All These (Heart Damaging) Years

From our Read Your Labels Campaign, an installment in the series “Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid”, courtesy of

 

If you still think that it really isn’t all that important to read a food product’s list of ingredients, then you really need to read this blog.

Our pick for the next ingredient to avoid in our Read Your Labels campaign is a sneaky and especially evil one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that if people in the U.S. cut this stuff out of their diets it would prevent over 20,000 heart attacks and more than 7,000 deaths a year from coronary disease, while a study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated the heart-damaging toll from this ingredient is over 200,000 “events” a year.

The best part of banishing this heart-disease-promoting ingredient from your menu is that you won’t miss it one iota. But in order to do so, you need to ignore both claims that a product doesn’t have any and what appears on the “Nutrition Facts” label, and go directly to the list of ingredients.

Number 9: trans fats (as in partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil)

By now everyone – doctors, registered dieticians, government authorities, health officials –  everyone agrees that trans fats are really, really bad for you.  Not only do they increase LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, but they decrease your “good”  HDL cholesterol. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, studies have shown that people with the highest blood levels of trans fats are at much greater risk of developing certain cancers. So why are there still trans fats in processed foods?

One reason is that partially hydrogenated oils containing trans fats are cheaper and easier for food manufacturers to use. But the main advantage these highly processed oils provide to the food industry is the way they keep pastries, breads, cookies, crackers and other baked goods from going rancid, allowing them to remain on store shelves longer than they ordinarily would. In other words, they increase a product’s “shelf life” even while quite possibly shortening the life of the consumer who buys it.

Besides bakery items, this industrially-created oil can often be found in frozen or refrigerated products such as French fries, pizza, dough, pies and cakes as well as in many of the items served in restaurants, including fried foods, pies, cakes and salad dressings.

Now you might think that checking the Nutrition Facts label, which has required trans fat labeling since 2006, would be the easiest way to avoid this artery-clogging substance. Think again. Current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations allow manufacturers to claim there are “zero trans fats” on the Nutrition Facts label as long as the amount is under 0.5 grams per serving (an amount that varies from product to product and is usually much less than you think). Let’s say you eat three servings of a food that claims to have zero trans fats, but in fact has 0.4 – just under the amount required to be labeled. Without realizing it, you’ve just consumed 1.6. grams of trans fats (or more, if your portion size was bigger than what the serving size is on the label).

A well-rounded zero

Some manufacturers play the zero trans fat game with an interesting twist in logic. Pillsbury’s refrigerated pizza crust product, for example, that contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil has a happy label statement in a yellow circle of “0g Trans Fat.” But next to the hydrogenated oil is a little asterisk that sends us to a note at the bottom of the ingredient list that says, “adds a trivial amount of trans fat.”  So is it zero or is it “trivial?” And what exactly is Pillsbury’s idea of trivial? The only thing we know for sure is it’s under 0.5 grams per serving or they couldn’t put that big zero on the package.

(One of the more interesting facts about trans fats is that at one time they were considered healthier than the saturated fats found in dairy products such as butter or in meat. Then in the 1990s researchers started identifying the adverse health effects of consuming trans fats, but by this time they were entrenched in the food supply, and it has only been recently that food manufacturers have begun removing them to some degree.)

Trans fat-free zones?

In 2007, New York City Mayor Bloomberg followed through with his phaseout of trans fats in the city’s restaurants by banning them from serving foods containing over 0.5 grams. But that prohibition carries the exact same “zero trans fats” labeling loophole that the FDA has allowed in supermarket foods. So while the New York City “ban,” along with similar ones in places like Philadelphia and Boston may have reduced the amount of trans fats consumed by restaurant patrons, it by no means has banned them, as a much smaller city is now attempting to do.

On January 1st, the Boston suburb of Chelsea, Massachusetts was poised to be the first city in the nation to have a complete ban on trans fats in packaged and restaurant foods sold there. Not the 0.5 grams allowed in Boston and other locations, but nada – absolutely zero.

Unfortunately, this groundbreaking achievement was postponed, perhaps due to heavy pressure from industry, especially the National Restaurant Association, whose representative was quoted as saying the group was “encouraged” by the delay, which will “allow the industry to provide additional perspective.”

The Chelsea ban, which will be reconsidered by the city’s board of health later this month, would certainly be a strong message to “industry,” to get off the corporate couch and stop selling foods that considerably reduce a consumer’s “shelf life.”

But why wait, when you can institute your own trans fat ban right in your own home?  All it will require is a moment to read the ingredient label before you allow a product to enter.

Coming next: the carcinogenic additive in your chips and cereal.

CFH Kicks Off “Read Your Labels” Campaign

“Read Your Labels” Campaign Lists Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid

February 19, 2013

Courtesy of Linda Bonvie, FoodIdentityTheft blogger and frequent contributor to Citizens for Health

 

Do we really need Yellow 5 and Red 40 in apple pie?

If there’s one piece of advice you keep hearing from us, it’s that reading the ingredients label is the only way to really find out what’s in a processed food. Not the nutrition facts label, not the front of the package, and certainly not the advertising copy.

To encourage this time-honored way to actually know what you’re eating (or considering consuming), Citizens for Health is launching “Read Your Labels,” a campaign to create greater awareness of the unnecessary, harmful or controversial additives that are commonly found in the foods and beverages we buy and casually consume without giving them a second thought.

If you only read ingredients occasionally, we’d like to get you into the habit of doing it all the time. If you seldom or never do, now’s as good a time to start as any. To get you going, we will be listing our top ten ingredients to avoid  – and the reasons for doing so – in this and upcoming blogs. We think once you see some of the things that are actually in processed food products, you’ll become a regular ingredients checker before deciding to purchase and eat any of them.

Number 10 : artificial colors – and why you should shun them

The synthetic hues you’ll see on food and beverage ingredient labels include Red #40, Red #3, Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Green #3.  But you don’t need to memorize all those before you shop for food – all you have to remember is that any product whose ingredients include colors accompanied by numbers or “lakes” should be left on the shelf.

The entire history of artificial colors has been colored by controversy. While they may make products appear more attractive, they represent just the kind of chemical additives we should  delete from our diets – something that’s especially true for kids. But then, the fact that so many supposedly “harmless” coloring agents have been found to be otherwise is hardly surprising when you consider their origins and backgrounds. Many of the older dyes were made from coal tar – a thick, black liquid derived from, well, coal. (Now, does that sound like anything you’d like to ingest?) Some are still in use today, while many newer ones are petroleum extracts.  They may also contain measurable amounts of toxic contaminants, such as lead, mercury and arsenic.

The carcinogenic coloring Red Dye Number 2, for example, was in use until 1976, when it was booted off the “approved” list by the Food and Drug Administration, along with Violet Number 1. Then there’s the curious case of Red # 3, which was banned from use in cosmetics and externally applied drugs after the FDA found it caused thyroid cancer in rats, but strangely enough, its use in food items has continued to be allowed. But why wait for an often decades-delayed “official” decision, when you’re free to ban anything you like from your own home at any time?

The artificial color-hyperactivity link

Perhaps the most compelling reason to avoid artificial colors is the connection that’s been made between fake food dyes and hyperactivity in kids.

In 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest submitted a petition to the FDA to ban nine such food colorings and in the interim to require a package warning label on foods containing them that they “cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children.”

The FDA responded by convening a Food Advisory Committee in 2011 (after receiving almost 8,000 comments on the topic), which concluded there was not enough evidence to take regulatory action.

While the FDA might not have been convinced, the same can’t be said of European regulatory officials.  Since 2010, they’ve required foods that contain these unnatural hues to carry a warning label stating that consumption “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

In fact, the link between food dyes (and certain other ingredients, as well as foods themselves) and behavioral problems in kids has been known for quite a while. It goes back to  the 1970s when the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a California pediatrician and pioneer in the field of allergy and immunology, discovered the connection between what we eat and how it affects the way we feel and act. Since then, the Feingold Center he founded has helped scores of kids with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder by eliminating certain additives from their diets – all without resorting to drugs such as Ritalin.

It’s all very simple when you think about it. To help sell food products that are highly processed, manufacturers have doused them with cosmetics – a whole bevy of chemicals to make them seem more appealing. But despite assurances that these substances are harmless, a little knowledge of their checkered history should be enough to make them unwelcome in your home.

Stay tuned for the next additive to avoid – hint –  this heart-harming ingredient can be “hidden” on the nutrition facts label. We’ll tell you what to look for to keep this unnecessary and dangerous ingredient out of your diet.

CFH’s First Facebook Page Giveaway Challenge!

By now, some of you have heard of the New Mountain Dew beverage called Kickstart.

We are interested in checking out the ingredients for this new beverage, but it is hard to find it online.

Citizens for Health will give away a FREE, autographed copy of James Gormley’s book, “User’s Guide to Natural Treatments for Lyme Disease” to the FIRST person who photographs and posts a clear picture—on the CFH Facebook page—of the back of the Kickstart can which lists the Nutrition Facts and full Ingredients list!!

Please visit the Citizens for Health Facebook page and like us today!

Truth In Labeling: “What’s In A Name? Most Likely, An Attempt To Create A Phony Product Image”

Originally posted by
on FoodIdentityTheft.com, January 15, 2013

The real Chef Boyardee in a 1953 commercial

“Homemade goodness,” “real,” “fresh,” “natural” –  in the magic of marketing lingo, these are appealing words worth a lot of bucks. Even better is to have a founder, preferably one who goes back a few decades, when food was more ‘real’ than it now is, to pitch a product with their likeness and homey words.

I’m guessing most of us know there really is no Green Giant or Pillsbury Dough Boy, but what about the names and images of supposed entrepreneurial epicures attached to food products? Does featuring a culinary creator make for superior quality or is it just another device to entice shoppers?

Marie Callender’s: Okay, there actually was a Marie Callender who baked pies in the early 1940s and by all accounts was a real American success tale, turning her pastry prowess first into pie shops and then in 1969 to a chain of restaurants (which was sold to Perkins in 2006).

But what you’ll find in the supermarket frozen-food section seems to be another story — and don’t take the slogan on the packaging, “From my kitchen to yours since 1948,” too seriously, either.

It wasn’t Marie, but rather entrepreneur Larry Dinkin who was responsible for the marketing of Marie Callender Retail Foods, for which he was recognized in Advertising Age as one of the top 100 marketing people. Dinkin successfully steered the company from a start-up in 1987 to a sale to agri-business giant ConAgra Foods in 1994 for more than $150 million.

While the frozen Marie Callender’s line makes much of a ‘real’ Marie, showing a grandmotherly woman and kid on its website and using more buzz terms like “wholesome ingredients” and “a heritage of homemade taste,” a look at some of the actual ingredients these foods are made from don’t sound like anything a cook in 1948 would have used.

The newest addition to the lineup is Marie Callender’s Comfort Bakes, which contain the typical long list of chemical additives, preservatives and ‘nonfood’ ingredients that we’ve come to expect in such  products, the “real” Marie Callender’s legacy for being a good cook notwithstanding.

Chef Boyardee: “A real person with real recipes.” So goes an ad for Chef BoyArdee products, and yes, Ettore “Hector” Boiardi was a real chef, an accomplished one at that, who landed a job at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1915 at age 17. In 1924, Chef Hector and and his wife opened what proved to be a most popular Italian restaurant in Cleveland, possibly inventing the “carryout” idea by selling his customers spaghetti sauce and meatballs in milk bottles.

The Chef Boyardee brand is now another part of the ConAgra lineup, but whatever great Italian dishes Chef Hector created have since morphed into your typical multi-chemical, quasi-food products that some have dubbed “Chef MSG.”

ConAgra, however, makes the most of Chef Hector, featuring a video with some “surprised but happy faces” when consumers learn there was in fact a real Chef Boyardee. One is so excited she says, “It makes me feel better about serving it to my family because it’s not just a made-up name and made-up label.”

Betty Crocker: This brand name has become so familiar that the fact there never was an actual “Betty Crocker” probably doesn’t matter anymore. And interestingly enough, the brand, owned by General Mills, no longer even portrays the persona of the fictional Betty that was carefully developed in the 1930s and updated and used for more than 60 years, along with a so-called “Betty Crocker”  featured on a radio show that ran for over 24 years.

With the quantity of ready-made foods now in the store, including dozens bearing the Betty Crocker name, it’s hard to conceive of a time when consumers regarded such products with healthy skepticism. But according to the Encyclopedia of Consumer Brands, “during the first half of the twentieth century, convenience foods were not associated with good eating.” However,  “all that changed in 1947, when the first Betty Crocker cake mixes hit America’s shelves.”

Now, of course, it’s just a brand name, covering products from Bac-Os to Bowl Appetit, as well as numerous cake, brownie, cookie and frosting mixes. And if you’re looking to avoid partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, it might be best to take a leaf from the past and once again think of these “convenience foods” as “not associated with good eating.”

Chef Michael’s Canine Creations: In spite of the commercials; there is no Chef Michael.

“My name is Chef Michael,” says a faceless fellow in the commercial, “and when I come home from my restaurant, I love showing Bailey how special she is.” But this dude is nothing more than a figment of the marketing minds at Purina (or its ad agency). Of course if you read the ingredients for this pet food it would be quickly apparent that meat-by-products, soy flour and corn gluten meal – all found in Canine Creations –  ain’t coming from any restaurant. (At least I hope not.)

‘Dump That Sugar’ Campaign: Good Intentions Gone Awry

Originally posted on FoodIdentityTheft.com by
January 3, 2013

In mid-December 2012, to much fanfare, a dump truck poured 9.6 tons of white sand onto the parking lot of Howard County, Maryland’s Burleigh Manor Middle School as students shouted “Dump That Sugar!” The dumping display marked the official launch of Howard County Unsweetened, a multi-faceted, community-wide campaign to reduce childhood obesity by helping kids and parents choose beverages with lower sugar content.

There was, however, a catch to this catchy campaign. Sugar is actually found in very few of the soft drinks sold these days, the vast majority of which contain high fructose corn syrup. A more apt analogy  might have been to dump an equivalent amount of sticky fuel oil to represent this industry-exclusive, goopy test-tube sweetener, found in everything from soda to bread to ketchup.

But then, it seems that more and more such well-intentioned efforts these days are missing the mark by confusing HFCS with “sugar.” In fact, this particular campaign launched by a Maryland-based philanthropy with the stated purpose of reducing childhood obesity and making it “easier for parents and kids to make better beverage choices,” also somehow neglected to even mention HFCS on its extensive list of sweeteners. It was a significant omission, since the higher fructose content of this laboratory syrupy concoction is considered by many experts to be a prime suspect in the current obesity epidemic. (This September, Citizens for Health, filed a petition with the FDA asking that the agency take action against manufactures using HFCS with fructose amounts above 55 percent, the highest the FDA allows. Read about that here, and see and sign petition here).

There’s also the fact that the “healthier beverages” and “better choices” the campaign recommends include drinks artificially sweetened with aspartame. For many years critics of aspartame (including Citizens for Health and the Food and Drug Administration’s Public Board of Inquiry on the sweetener) have raised substantial doubts about aspartame’s safety and pointed out its potential to cause serious health problems.

The Howard County Unsweetened campaign, sponsored by the Horizon Foundation, comes complete with two separate websites, a Facebook page and lots of tweets, all of which refer to syrupy HFCS-sweetened drinks as “sugary.” The Foundation has also joined forces with County Executive Ken Ulman to keep these so-called “sugary” beverages out of vending machines on county property.

One of the Horizon Foundation campaign sites, betterbeveragefinder.org, contains an entire database of drinks designated by either a “best” or “good choice” icon (collectively referred to as “the best beverages for your family”).  Site-recommended beverage swaps include practically every artificially sweetened drink there is – along with where to buy them.

 

‘Sugary’  shorthand substitutes for HFCS

In May of last year the Food and Drug Administration ruled that HFCS is not sugar and cannot be called “sugar.”  In spite of this fact the Howard County campaign has joined a growing number of media, politicians and health authorities in falsely using the “sugar” and “sugary” designations to describe products containing high fructose corn syrup. In fact, Dr. Michael Goran, co-author of a recent study on the increase in diabetes, has referred to the prevalence of HFCS as “a huge shift in the food supply that is increasing the amount of fructose that we’re exposed to.” (Read blog here.)  Health authorities virtually all concur that the consumption of excess fructose can have serious health consequences including obesity.

In addition to such confusion, a second sweetener problem may be occurring as a side effect of these well-intended efforts. It now appears that the type of misinformation disseminated by health campaigns of this sort may be promoting the expanded consumption of “diet” sodas and juice drinks containing controversial artificial sweeteners.  This past August, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that kids are already drinking more such synthetically sweetened beverages than ever before – twice as many, in fact, as a decade ago.

The Foundation’s “Better Beverage” site does acknowledge that there is “a debate” over the relationship between diet beverages and weight gain, but aside from that there is no mention made of the other health aspects of substituting one highly controversial test-tube sweetener (aspartame) for another (HFCS). I couldn’t help wondering how an organization with a mission of “improving health and wellness” could be recommending drinks containing aspartame for kids over 13 while ignoring concerns about aspartame safety. I also wondered how it could fail to make any reference to HFCS on either of its websites. So I put these questions directly to Horizon Director of Communications Ian Kennedy.

Kennedy’s answer to the latter question was that the Horizon board, working in conjunction with the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, had decided it wanted a “laser-specific focus on sugary drinks” – one utilizing “a sort of shorthand for things that are sweetened.”

Not only does the Foundation make a point of using this “sugary shorthand” in referring to all HFCS-laced beverages throughout its websites, but it also lists just about every different type of sweetener in existence – except, oddly enough, for the ubiquitous HFCS.

At betterbeveragefinder.org, the group categorizes sweeteners into three boxes representing “natural,” “artificial” and “hybrids.” While cane sugar – which is sucrose – is classified as “natural,” unaccountably, sucrose itself is listed separately as a “hybrid.”  Kennedy could not explain this inconsistency except to say he would “defer to our folks at the Rudd Center” on that question.

But the fact that HFCS, which is used in the vast majority of beverages containing caloric sweeteners, didn’t make the list at all is something Kennedy called an “oversight” on his part. He added, “we have corn syrup on the list, and as far as I understand (the difference) between corn syrup and HFCS is just that HFCS has been concentrated even more.”

In fact corn syrup and HFCS are decidedly not the same – (see my article here).

When I informed Kennedy  that there is a substantial difference between the two products, he again suggested he would put me in touch with the Rudd Center. I was also left a message from someone else at the Foundation later in the day offering to find a registered dietician who could “help” with my questions.  (I did call the Rudd Center but was unable to reach them during the holiday week. I plan to contact them again and try to get answers to these questions for an upcoming Food Identity Theft blog.)

One thing the betterbeveragefinder site didn’t neglect to mention, however, was sugar’s long-time presence in the food supply, calling it something “your grandmother might have used.” Kennedy concurred, adding, “certainly sugar has been a part of our diets for hundreds of years…the difference is we’re seeing that sugar is becoming a more prominent part of our diet,” with that second reference to “sugar” meaning any “full-calorie sweetener” such as HFCS. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, per capita consumption of sugar — like your grandmother used — has remained essentially constant for the past 100 years, while the use of HFCS, the “syrupy” stuff, has exploded during the time that obesity and diabetes has grown to nearly epidemic proportions.

Aspartame concerns still ‘premature’ after all these years of danger signs

Asked whether he thought the campaign encourages the consumption of diet beverages containing aspartame by teens, as reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Kennedy responded, “I don’t think so.” But he provided no evidence to support his position.

“We understand that people have their own tastes and if somebody really wants the taste of a cola, given the science that is out there, the better options for now are ‘low’ or ‘no calorie’ colas” (although the Foundation would prefer water or beverages without any sweetening agents as a  source of hydration).

“In our conversations and review of the literature, it’s mixed on artificial sweeteners,” he maintained. “There wasn’t the strong body of evidence pointing to their unhealthy nature that there was for sugary drinks. It’s a tricky area given the mixed nature of the scientific evidence,” but “we felt it was premature to exclude them.”

Strongly disagreeing with that assessment, however, is Citizens for Health Board Chair Jim Turner, a Washington, D.C. attorney and author of the best-selling book The Chemical Feast: The Nader Report on Food Protection at the FDA, who, since 1970, has been demanding that the safety of aspartame and other sweeteners, be proven..  “When something is harmful” Turner says, “the longer it takes to ‘prove’ the harm the greater the damage.  Here we have trusted intermediaries – schools, governments, obesity centers, etc. – recommending that children consume products in spite of the ‘mixed nature of the scientific evidence’.”

“The FDA and various companies that have profited from aspartame have turned the law on its head. They argue that aspartame should remain on the market until its critics can prove that it is unsafe,” says Turner.  “The law says no additive can be used unless and until it is proven safe. Schools and communities fighting obesity,” he adds, “need not and should not be bound by the notion that we should consume an additive until and unless it is proven unsafe.”

Turner’s work led to the removal of cyclamates from the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list of food additives, helped get a warning linking cancer and saccharin on saccharin labels, and led to the FDA’s Public Board of Inquiry that rejected the marketing of aspartame, only to be overturned by an industry friendly FDA commissioner.

Aspartame (originally marketed as NutraSweet), is made up of three neurotoxic chemicals – substances that are toxic to brain cells, Turner points out. His advocacy group managed to keep this synthetic sweetener off the market for 11 years, until 1981, when its use was approved over the advice of FDA scientists, as well as the FDA Public Board of Inquiry that concluded aspartame should not be permitted in the food supply based on data, including several animal studies, linking its consumption with brain cancer.

How, then, did aspartame ever make it into the food supply and why don’t today’s obesity fighters seem to care about its history?

“One month after that board ruled, Ronald Reagan was elected president, and Donald Rumsfeld, the head of Searle, the company that made aspartame, was on Reagan’s transition team. When Reagan took office, a doctor who had worked for the Defense Department during Rumsfeld’s tenure as Defense Secretary under President Ford was appointed as FDA commissioner and overruled both the Public Board of Inquiry and all the scientists at the FDA who supported its decision,” Turner explained.

Turner summarizes the entire aspartame fiasco as a case of “political toxicity and biological toxicity working together to create toxic health problems for the public.”

And while the Horizon Foundation refers to aspartame-sweetened drinks as “healthier” options than the full-calorie version, Turner has a far graver concern about its increasing consumption.

“After aspartame went on the market, a particular type of brain tumor, the same type that showed up in the rodent studies we were relying on over 30 years ago, increased by 10 percent in people in the United States,” he said.  “In addition, there have been studies in the past few years connecting aspartame with cancer. All in all, it’s a horrendous story.”

A story, apparently, that the Horizon Foundation is either unaware of or would rather not talk about. Instead, the Foundation chooses to focus its efforts strictly on calories, even while obscuring health concerns about aspartame and other noncaloric sweeteners and blurring the huge distinction between the consumption of traditional sugar and the high fructose corn syrup that has come to replace it in so many products.

Certainly a tanker truck dumping fuel oil onto the grounds of Burleigh Manor Middle School to chants of “spill that syrup” would have been a much more fitting way for the Foundation to have launched the Howard County Unsweetened campaign.