Category Archives: Food Additives

Whole Foods Bans False “Healthy” Claims Based on Presence of a Probiotic

whole-foods-image

Whole Foods has told a number of its product producers to ‘cut it out’ – to quit advertising and promoting assorted junk foods as healthy simply because their makers have built a probiotic of one kind or another into them.

This is a brilliant more.

Too many producers are trying to climb on the “we’re healthy” band wagon – failing to realize the public is getting too smart for such ruses.

Adding a probiotic to something doesn’t, in and of itself, make the product “healthier”.

Probiotics are supposed to help clean “bad stuff” out of your colon and, in the process, have a positive impact on your health. But when an item otherwise falls into the “junk food” category – loaded with”added sugar” and extra calories – a probiotic is not, in the short or long term, going to defeat that.

First of all, probiotics are said to work over a long period of time, when consistently taken daily. The excess sugar and other unhealthy ingredients in health foods act on your system with hours, or days, at worst. Even if you ate the sweet thing, or whatever it is, daily, the probiotic’s effects would be overcome by the negative effects of the negative stuff.

A significant share of the public realizes that. Those who don’t, well, they can’t see that those producers are effectively lying to them.

And that’s wrong.

Ingredient-watching is a worthwhile activity. Practice it.

Consumers Want ‘Clean’ Food Labels; Now Professionals’ Tool Helps Them Define What Is, Isn’t, ‘Clean’

 

Every so often (every fifteen minutes or so, it sometimes seems!), a new food-related ‘buzz word’ catches the ear of consumers – sometimes almost at the same time it attracts the attention of food industry professionals. Not long ago, the ‘new’ word, or phrase, was ‘clean labels‘ – meaning, among other things, labels free of multi-syllable, unpronounceable words naming ingredients no one without a science degree can understand.

Consumers want ‘clean’ labels – and the products behind them to be healthier, less likely to initiate or compound health issues, than too many existing products are, or appear to be.

Complex additives are put into food products for an assortment of reasons, including flavor enhancement (salt and other spices being good examples), an ability to hold various ingredients in a liquid, semi-liquid or solid formula (emulsifiers and stabilizers), and shelf life-extending (salt again, as well as other things). Some of these reasons have seemed to make sense to product producers, but increasingly, they make less if any sense to consumers. That, and the fact that consumers are increasingly demanding healthier, ‘greener’ foods, are leading causes of the clean label movement.

The tool at https://gocleanlabel.com/about/ was created by a professional for professionals, but consumers, too, can use it to learn more about the clean label movement and, more specifically, to answer questions they have about specific ingredients. Questions such as ‘what is this’ and ‘what is it meant to do’. You also can use it to identify still-being-used materials that are, or aren’t, ‘clean’.

Both food processors and retailers are making strong steps to ensure fewer potentially harmful (or simply unnecessary) chemicals are added to foodstuffs. Undoubtedly, there are people who feel the industry isn’t moving fast enough – people who would, in effect, throw the baby out with the bathwater: Good chems out with not-so-good (or absolutely bad!) ones.

Ultimately, members of the consuming public need to take a greater interest in educating themselves about food additives, and learn how to make reasoned decisions about what they’re OK with putting in their bodies, and what they’re not.

I am working on a feature (for fooddive.com) about the new nutrition label that has been developed by the FDA. It is tentatively scheduled to become mandatory on a majority of food products (all except those produced in relatively small volumes) in 2018. But there’s already some push-back from at least one organization, and you can expect more push-back as a result of what we can only imagine will be dramatic, drastic changes of direction by the incoming presidential administration.

The thrust of my piece concerns the fact that changes to the nutrition label, while very much a separate issue from the overall additives one, reflect the fact that both industry, which had a hand in shaping the proposed label, and government are struggling – and that is not too strong a word – to deal with increasing scientific knowledge about foods and with changing consumer expectations.

As a courtesy to the readers of this blog, I will post a short note when my fooddive.com feature on that topic is published. (FYI, I write regularly on ingredients for fooddive.com. And as I’ve done for most of the past 40 years, I also regularly scan food trade publications – and now, web sites, too – around the world for both industry trends and consumer attitude shifts for this blog, which originated in the mid 1970’s as a column for trade publications in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.)

(By the way, between them, this blog and my other one, YouSayWHAT.info, have been read in no fewer than 80 countries in the last year!)

Seaweed-based stabilizer/emulsifier Banned for Organic Foods in U.S.

carrageenan2-1

It’s called carrageenan, and if you closely read content labels, you’ll notice it’s in a lot of things – as a thickener, an emulsifier (to help hold other ingredients in the appropriate mix), and as a stabilizer. It’s also said to increase shelf life – a feature of questionable value, given that food processors often are best-guessing the long-term viability of their products when they put ‘best by’ or ‘use by’ dates on them.

(I still have a too-large bottle of dry curry that is in the neighborhood of 20 [or more!] years old. While it no doubt is not as potent as it once was, it’s still a viable product in my kitchen – able to contribute both flavor and heat to dishes without resulting in, as an un-viable spice might, stomach distress or worse.)

The U.S.D.A.’s National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) ruled last week that, as of 2018, carrageenan will no longer be allowed in products labeled as ‘organic’.

Does that mean carrageenan is ‘dangerous’, or that it potentially poses some kind of threat to consumers? Not necessarily. For all intents and purposes, that ruling simply acknowledges that, because it is exposed, during processing, to chemicals that fall outside the definition of ‘organic’. Carrageenan will continue to be used as a product-building aid in processed foods not, as no ‘processed food’ could be, described as ‘organic’.

Carrageenan is derived from a type of seaweed harvested primarily in the Philippines, Indonesia and East Africa. During commercial processing, it is exposed to assorted chemicals so it ends up as a fine powder, in no way resembling seaweed one might encounter ‘in the wild’.

CivilEats.com has a highly informative article on carrageenan here.

I can’t help but wonder what what kind of ‘organic’ product would need a stabilizer or an emulsifier. So I also can’t help but wonder why the U.S.D.A.’s National Organics Standards Board agonized – as they apparently did, not over just months, but years – as to whether carrageenan should in any way be associated with something said to be ‘organic’.

I don’t, as my wife would say, git it.

Organics now represent in the neighborhood of 11% of all produce sold (at retail) in the U.S. And organics’ share-of-market is growing – just as, hardly coincidentally, processed foods sales are slipping down an icy slope. The reason is simple: Not just Millennials, but older generations, too, are fed up with ingredients labels full of ‘stuff’ they can’t even pronounce and have no clue what it is or why it’s there. A sizable number of them have taken stands against the likes of Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Blue No. 1 – synthetic colorings used to make food look better. They have, so far as we know, no effect on taste, but opposers of them contend they might affect us in some other, nefarious way.

(A quick aside: Why, pray tell, do forty or more shades of red exist, as food colorings? Or five or more shades of yellow? And not one of them a pastel!)

It is truly frightening to think of the tens of bunches of money being wasted on [1] developing all those odd colors and their counterparts in other food ingredients and [2] investigating and regulating same. Part of the problem is, of course, we have more people than viable jobs.

When I lived in England, from 1971-76, in the first of the offices I worked (for a year), every so often – I think it was weekly, but perhaps it was bi-weekly – an employee of a contractor came in and wiped down all the telephone handsets, probably aided by something less potent than the sprays restaurant servers use on tables between guests. On the first such visit I witnessed, I was astonished, and I was astonished again every time I saw this ritual repeated. It seemed perfectly pointless, and a waste of my employer’s money, to engage someone to provide this ‘service’.

Yet here we are in 2016, when a significant majority of U.S. supermarkets have a sanitary lotion dispenser available just inside the door – so no one should have to (heaven forbid!) touch a cart handle they haven’t subjected to a sanitary wipe-down after wiping down their own hands! (What have the most obsessed of those shoppers been doing/touching before entering their local food dispenser’s shop?)

It’s partly because some shoppers/consumers do think that way that the NOSB has banned carrageenan from ‘organics’. That seaweed—sourced ingredient probably poses no harm to humans, but better safe than sorry, right?

Litigation lawyers would, of course, disagree.

Parents Get Baked Junk Food Banned From Schools

montgomergy-county-schools

A parents group in the Montgomery County, Maryland school district has been struggling, cajoling, begging and fighting hard to improve the quality of food served – and made available, ala carte – to students in their area’s schools.

They recently had a noteworthy success, first reported on their own Real Food For Kids – Montgomery (RFKM) web site then, for good measure, on the wonderful web site called The Lunch Tray.

The latter, a creation of Bettina Elias Siegel, does nationally what the RFKM folks do a mere few miles from the headquarters the federal agency – the U.S. Department of Agriculture – that could be doing more than it already is to boost the quality of what kids are given to eat in schools.

The RFKM folks have managed to convince their school district to eliminate Baked Doritos and Baked Cheetos from the list of foods kids can choose from an ala carte menu. Their argument was, simply, that these products, as TheLunchBox.com put it, “are so-called “copycat snacks” –  i.e., junk foods tweaked to meet the USDA’s new Smart Snacks nutritional standards but which otherwise look just like their less-healthy supermarket counterparts.

“Specifically, in this case, Cheetos and Doritos sold at school (in cafeterias and for fundraising) are baked instead of fried, [and] have a reduced fat content and are considered ‘whole-grain rich’.”

The LunchBox.com article continued:

RFKM particularly objected to these snacks because they contain certain artificial food dyes and other additives which the group has deemed problematic. According to a quote in RFKM’s newsletter, the head of the district’s nutrition services department agrees, saying “Cheetos and Doritos were products that we elected to remove for sale because the ingredient label had such a plethora of additives and preservatives. We are continuously seeking to purchase food and beverages with cleaner labels.”

This is a nice victory for RFKM parents, but the group’s experience is also instructive for all parents seeking to make change in their district’s school food program.

According to the RFKM newsletter, the group first requested that the district ditch various food additives three years ago. It then doggedly kept on top of the issue in an organized fashion, refusing to give up even after various set-backs. Here’s the group’s own account:

RFKM first brought the issue of food additives to the attention of MCPS in 2013. In response to a parent petition and testimonies before the Board of Education in June of 2014, MCPS developed a policy prohibiting from future bids for school food many of the chemicals that RFKM had requested be removed (including MSG, trans fat, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Aspartame, Acesulfame-Potassium, Saccharin, Butylated Hydroxyanisol (BHA), Potassium Bromate, Propyl Gallate, Sodium Tripoly Phoshate, and TBHQ). However, right before that policy was put into effect, a 3-year contract for a la carte foods, many of which contain these additives, was signed by MCPS. Last March, RFKM helped pass a resolution through the Montgomery County Council of PTAs asking, among other things, that MCPS not serve foods with artificial food dyes.

In the meantime, at many individual schools, parent representatives of RFKM had stepped forward to ask for healthier a la carte options. As a consequence, some schools, such as Somerset Elementary School . . . had already replaced Cheetos and Doritos with 51% whole grain pita chips, SmartFood Popcorn and Tostitos, all clean label products with whole grains. However, almost all MPCS middle and high schools, and many elementary schools continued to sell these chips until this year. While Doritos and Cheetos may not have disappeared completely (there are reports that they are still available in vending machines), we are thankful to MPCS for making them less accessible to students by removing them from a la carte options. And we look forward to the time when no MCPS foods will contain artificial colors and other harmful ingredients.

The upshot, TheLunchbox.com reported:

Reforming school food from the grassroots level is not always easy. It often takes considerable persistence, time, effort and some highly dedicated individuals to coordinate the campaign. And, as my recent, dispiriting experience in Houston ISD well illustrated, even after requested reforms are implemented, parents may still need to act as watch dogs to make sure their district doesn’t backslide on its promises.

Kudos to RFKM for its continued progress. You can read more about the group’s history and mission here.”

This is a mission that should be taken up elsewhere – in a lot of ‘elsewheres’ . . . school districts across the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world).

Indian School Kids’ Milk Is Awash with Water

droplets-of-milk-mixed-in-water-in-ups-midday-meal-milk-scheme

Indian school kinds awaiting midday meal — and watery milk.

A surprise, sunrise inspection of a food preparation facility servicing 11,000 school children in India’s Uttar Pradesh province found 292 liters (308.5 quarts) of water in just 192 liters (202.8 quarts) of milk.

Radha Krishan Tivari, assistant director in the basic education department who held the surprise inspection, told The Times of India that schoolchildren were drinking milk that was more than 150 per cent water.

“We were simply stunned,” he told the paper last Thursday. “The visit to the kitchen of Nav Prayas, an NGO [non-government organization] we hired to supply milk and midday meals, left one dismayed.” He said the NGO supplies food to 131 schools, including 107 primary and 27 higher primary government schools.

He said that one student, speaking anonymously, said that many kids are unable to eat the food “as the quality is so bad.”

A report on the surprise inspection will be forwarded up the government chain, and the NGO will not be receiving payments for at least two recent months.

Critics Slam McD’s Ad, Say They’re NOT Loving It

mcdonald-s-mcnuggets-commercial-ad

 

It’s one thing – a nice thing, in fact – for McDonald’s to have eliminated artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets, but it’s quite something else, critics say, for the company to imply, as a current TV campaign does, that Mickey D focuses on serving, what “we all want – what’s best for our kids!”

Adding that line to a commercial selling McNuggets has some health advocates crying foul.

“That’s the defining line that sets up the whole ad,” says Emily Mardell, a registered dietitian in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. That and the whole concept of the ad, she says, “is incredibly misleading.”

Using even stronger language, the executive director of Ottawa (Canada)’s Centre for Health Science and Law calls that marketing approach “grossly misleading. Bill Jeffery argues preservatives or no preservatives, deep-fried and salted Chicken McNuggets “simply aren’t a healthy choice for children,” according to a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) report. “What they’re advocating is so far removed from good nutrition, it’s almost kind of laughable,” Jeffery declared.

Still, McDonald’s, says the company is very serious about its campaign to promote its preservative-free McNuggets, which already have no artificial flavors or colors.

The chain started offering its reformed finger food at U.S. and Canadian locations in August.

The move is part of a bigger mission to offer menu items that better “reflect the cares and concerns of the modern day guest,” McDonald’s Canada spokesman Adam Grachnik said in an email to CBC News.

“We are on a journey to be better.”

The journey includes dropping some reportedly questionable ingredients from McNuggets like TBHQ — a preservative used for vegetable oils.

Besides the line, “We all want what’s best for our kids,” the company also promotes the menu item online with the phrase, “Because your family matters.”

But health advocates say eliminating a preservative or two doesn’t change the overall health concerns with fast food.

“It’s not a categorical shift,” says Mardell.

“These are still foods that are high in fat, high in sodium. They’re not the types of foods that you want in the everyday or even in routine intake for children.”

According to McDonald’s own numbers, just four McNuggets contain nine grams of fat and 300 milligrams of sodium — one-quarter of the recommended daily sodium requirement for kids ages four to eight.

McDonald’s serves up its Chicken McNuggets with its own dipping sauces that contain preservatives. And the above-cited sodium numbers don’t include the accompanying dipping sauce, one of which, the barbecue, option has the highest sodium count at 300 milligrams — as much as four McNuggets.

And the fact the company’s commercials don’t mention that the dipping sauces still contain preservatives prompted the CEO of a major U.S. restaurant chain, Panera Bread, to also suggest McDonald’s is misleading customers.

“I was offended watching this commercial,” CEO Ron Shaich told Business Insider. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ Sure, you’ve got McNuggets that are preservative-free, but what are you dipping them in? Sauces that are filled with that stuff!”

McDonald’s Grachnik also listed an improvement the company made last spring: adding leafy green vegetables like kale to its salads. But in February, CBC News revealed McDonald’s crispy chicken caesar kale salad entree with dressing has more calories, fat and sodium than a Double Big Mac. At 1,400 milligrams, the sodium amount nearly meets an adult’s daily recommended intake.

“Putting kale into the menu doesn’t mean you’re getting a healthy choice,” Toronto registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon told CBC News at the time.

When you add the accompanying dressing to the crispy chicken caesar salad with kale, it has more calories, salt and fat than a Double Big Mac.

mcdonald-s-burger-kale-salad

When you add the accompanying dressing to the crispy chicken caesar salad with kale, it has more calories, salt and fat than a Double Big Mac.

Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Health Science and Law says it’s nice to see a big company moving towards antibiotic-free chicken. But he still finds himself underwhelmed by McDonald’s changes.

“This isn’t about improving the health of their customers,” he concludes. “They’re just going to try to appeal to people’s emotions about health.”

Despite all the criticisms, McDonald’s is standing by its message of making positive changes to its menu. “We are proud of these big changes, even as we seek to do more and make the food people truly love to eat at McDonald’s even better,” said Grachnik.

Report Exposes Food Industry Cover-up

 

The following is a press release issued earlier this year (2016) by  The Cornucopia Institute, whose web site says the organization is “promoting economic justice for family scale farming”.
The web site’s ‘About’ section includes this statement: “The Cornucopia Institute engages in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture. Through research and investigations on agricultural issues, The Cornucopia Institute provides needed information to consumers, family farmers, and the media.”
You can expect this blog, now that we’ve discovered this organization, to pay close attention to its activities.

Carageenan_report_cover

Toxic, Carcinogenic, Degraded Carrageenan:
Widespread Contamination Present in the Common Food-Grade Ingredient

A just-issued report by The Cornucopia Institute summarizes research on the common food additive carrageenan, exposing the industry’s hidden data demonstrating that all food-grade carrageenan contains a carcinogenic contaminant—low molecular weight poligeenan.

Carrageenan, harvested from specific species of red seaweed, is a highly effective thickener/stabilizer found in processed foods including infant formula, plant-based beverages, deli meats, and some dairy products, including cream. The controversy over carrageenan has existed between food industry representatives and public health researchers for years, but it is now flaring up again over its use in organic food.

Cornucopia’s report, Carrageenan: New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer, and Diabetes, will be formally released in Washington, on April 25, at the upcoming meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board. The board will be debating whether to remove carrageenan from its list of approved materials for use in organic food.

Cornucopia, a farm policy research group, has made available the full set of data that was originally published online ten years ago by the Marinalg Working Group. The data show widespread contamination of food-grade carrageenan with poligeenan, both of which cause chronic and acute intestinal inflammation and can cause cancer.

Marinalg, the trade-lobby group representing carrageenan manufactures, had posted the illuminating research on its website, but later removed it since it has aggressively lobbied food safety regulators for continued approval of the use of carrageenan in food.

“This type of subterfuge by powerful agribusiness might have been successful at the FDA, or before European regulators, but we are optimistic that, carrying out the mandate of the U.S. Congress, the National Organic Standards Board will weigh the current evidence and protect organic consumers by banning this dangerous material,” stated Mark A. Kastel, Cornucopia co-director.

The “smoking gun” data was originally published to meet the demands of a 2005 European Commission recommendation that no more than five percent of food-grade carrageenan fractions should have a molecular weight below 50 kD due to the well-known health concerns associated with low molecular weight carrageenan.

Carrageenan producers have long claimed that food-grade carrageenan and poligeenan (a known carcinogen) are two distinctly different substances. The industry still denies that food-grade carrageenan contains poligeenan, however, publicly funded scientific research has long found otherwise.

“Now, the industry’s own data has revealed that all twelve food-grade carrageenan samples tested did in fact contain poligeenan in varying quantities up to 25%,” said Linley Dixon, PhD, Cornucopia’s Senior Staff Scientist.

Carrageenan is such an efficient inflammatory agent and carcinogen, it is widely used to study the molecular signals involved in cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Publicly-funded researchers have published dozens of studies on the harmful health effects of consuming food-grade carrageenan, but the industry has aggressively responded by funding its own studies, many of which Cornucopia critiques in the new report.

Dr. Dixon stated, “Marinalg’s cover-up of this scientific data demonstrates how damaging the results could be to the carrageenan industry.”

University of Illinois researcher, Joanne Tobacman, M.D., who has published widely on the subject said, “The carrageenan industry has tried for decades to retain using carrageenan in food products because of its biological reactivity with ingredients. This same biological reactivity is what makes carrageenan harmful. Food-grade carrageenan inevitably contains some lower molecular weight forms naturally.”

Dr. Tobacman continued, “Additional lower molecular weight forms are produced by processing, heat, acid, intestinal bacteria, and chewing.”

Research has shown that besides the initial contamination in food-grade carrageenan, stomach acid in the human digestive tract can convert a percentage of carrageenan that may otherwise be safe into the most dangerous, carcinogenic form.

Tobacman’s findings, along with others in her field, demonstrate the molecular mechanism by which food-grade carrageenan causes inflammation, cancer, insulin resistance, and an immunogenic response in humans.

Cornucopia’s report details many flaws in some of the industry-funded studies used by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) as justification for the continued use of carrageenan in food. In addition, the report provides a rebuttal to the industry’s critique of publicly funded research (the majority of US studies were funded by the National Institute of Health).

“In the past, a successful tactic by many financial interest groups, including the tobacco and fracking lobby, has been to attempt to discredit reputable, publicly funded research, and to fund their own flawed studies to create the impression that there is scientific debate,” Dr. Dixon stated. “The carrageenan industry has used both of these tactics and, to top it off, hidden its own counterproductive results as well.”

Cornucopia’s Kastel added, “If these scientists were accountants working for a corporation they might be accused of ‘cooking the books’ due to their protocols and the selective data they chose to discuss in the publication of these studies.”

Through experimentation, many people have discovered a correlation between carrageenan in their diets and a myriad of symptoms such as diarrhea/irritable bowel syndrome, and more serious inflammatory bowel disease and colitis. For many, when carrageenan is removed from the diet symptoms quickly dissipate.

As part of its investigation over the last three years, The Cornucopia Institute has received 1,337 questionnaire responses from individuals reporting they had suffered adverse health effects after consuming carrageenan. One respondent, Charlene Beebe of Townsend, Montana stated, “My husband has been ill with ulcerative colitis for 20 years, and has been in remission since we removed carrageenan. Unknowingly, I began buying cream with carrageenan in it for a few weeks now and he started bleeding and had a terrible gut ache for weeks now. I since found out the cream contains carrageenan and about fell through the floor. I am furious!”

The Cornucopia Institute’s report is being released as the National Organic Standards Board reviews carrageenan for continued use in organic foods. In addition to health concerns, the report points out that carrageenan is not “essential.”

“For every organic product containing carrageenan, an organic alternative exists, produced by one or more competitors,” said Kastel. “That has allowed the marketplace to prove, conclusively, that carrageenan does not meet the legal threshold as an ingredient in organic food based on a lack of essentiality.”

Leading organic brands, like the farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley, have removed carrageenan from many of their products in response to customer concerns. “The co-op has recognized the informed concerns of organic shoppers by labeling their sliced deli meats as containing ‘no binders, fillers or carrageenan’.”

Even some toothpaste brands have shunned the carcinogen.

“When the CEO of the iconic Dr. Bronner’s brand became aware of the research on carrageenan, their CEO, David Bronner, researched the alternatives and found that xanthan gum performed just as well in their toothpaste,” Kastel said. Dr. Bronner’s, known for its line of soaps along with other bodycare and food products, is a prominent leader in the fight to maintain organic standards and advocate for GMO labeling.
Cornucopia’s Kastel said, “We commend organic companies that operate under the ‘Precautionary Principle’ and strongly encourage members of the NOSB to protect organic consumers and their children as well.”

Like other regulatory bodies, the carrageenan industry is aggressively lobbying the NOSB, urging the board to retain the ingredient in organic food. However, efforts by the industry to cover up the harmful effects of carrageenan are being fully challenged setting the stage for a showdown in Washington, DC on April 25, where public interest groups and organic consumers, widely known for their passion and discernment, are likely to make their voices heard as well.