Category Archives: Food Research

Those For and Against GMO Labeling Lost With the Defeat of a Senate Bill

 

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Increasingly, scientists are modifying, or altering, organisms (such as seeds) for any of several reasons. Seeds are modified to make them more resistant to diseases. They also are altered to speed the growth of whatever a given seed was ‘designed’ to produce.

Other reasons for modifying an organism can include [1] to either speed or slow its ripening process and [2] to improve its ‘stability’ on long journeys from its place or origin to the place it will be processed or consumed.

Some segments of the public believe that any modification done to an organism, for whatever reason, should be disclosed. Many of those people believe that such disclosures of a Genetically Modified Organism, or GMO, should be on a product’s label – either, from one perspective, identical labels comprising details established at the federal level (in the U.S.) or, from another perspective, state-mandated labels that could, in any number of ways, vary from state to state.

The U.S. Senate refused to give the go-ahead to a bill that would have allowed voluntary GMO labeling at the federal level – for products distributed nationwide, in other words – and disallowed another approach to labeling: Mandatory labeling at the state level.

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It’s hardly surprising that a leader among those opposing state-level GMO labeling is the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group. Their view is based on the not-unreasonable assumption that state-level labeling would be a nightmare for manufacturers, since states’ standards could conflict with each other both as regards the information GMO labels must include and, for example, the size and positioning of the type to be used. Then there’s the issue that a plethora of existing label rules already get in the way of each other and, even setting that aside, often tend to leave consumers worse off rather than better-informed.

Two examples:

[1] [portion sizes, relative to their content. An 8-ounce (226g) bag of Ritz Toasted Corn Chips declares a serving size to be 13 chips, or an ounce of chips. Thus, there are eight servings per bag.

‘Reminds me of an old potato chip (crisp) commercial, “Bet you can’t eat just one!”

But you should limit yourself to one ‘serving’ in this and many similar instances: Each of those in this bag contains 160 calories, 60 of them from fat. And that serving also contains 140mg of sodium – 6% of the governments ‘recommended daily allowance’ (RDA) for that mineral.

Compare that to a 3.5 ounce (100g) box of Nabisco’s Gluten Free Rice Thins. Its serving size is 18 pieces, or thins, containing 130 calories, 15 of them from fat. And its 84mg of sodium are said to represent 4% of the RDA for salt.

Is the portion size, on many packages, truly reflective of consumer behavior? Or is it, more accurately, a measure designed to let manufacturers/packagers express, in the most favorable way, an ingredient content level they anticipate consumers will view as ‘reasonable’ relative to their own health or their RDA?

[2] label size/contents. As it happens, both of the above-described products are served up in packages large enough to include all the details – some of them ‘optional,’ where the label is too small for all the details – spelled out in the government’s existing labeling standards.

Those standards are up for revision under the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2015, which has been kicking around since it was the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013.

Among that Act’s provisions is one that would require manufacturers and/or importers foods of introduced into the U.S. to provide the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) “information that must be included in the labeling of food (the NFB, or Nutrition Facts box; ingredient statement, and any natural or artificial flavoring; any applicable allergy statements; nutrient content claims; health claims; a copy of the principal display panel; and whatever else FDA might request),” the FDA Law Blog website of the Hyman, Phelps & McNamara law firm says.

So, the already-crowded (and not-as-informative-as-was-originally-intended) NFB is likely to get more crowded, or not feature more ‘optional,’ potentially-valuable bits of information.

GMO labeling came into effect in Europe in 2004. At that time, the just-cited website gmo-compass.org initiated an online survey for “stakeholders with interests in the risks and/or benefit assessment of GMO’s.” Scheduled to end last July (2015), the survey’s aim was “to identify which research needs should be prioritized, thereby contributing to the commissioning of research on the health, environment and economic impacts of GMO’s.”
Results of that survey haven’t been announced, but you can count on one thing: The “research needs” identified by European participants, at whom the survey was directed, will vary, perhaps significantly, from comparable GMO-related findings in the U.S.

That’s as sure as the fact that the just-defeated bill in the U.S. Senate was applauded by the website NaturalNews.com, reflecting its labeling of that bill as The DARK Act – with DARK standing for Denying Americans the Right to Know Act – because it would have outlawed state-level GMO labeling laws.

It’s one thing to argue for the public’s right to know this, that or the other thing. But it’s another thing altogether to favor legislation that would have, beyond a doubt, push food prices up because of manufacturers’/packagers’ higher costs due to their need to comply with various states’ differing rules.

Yes, genetically modifying organisms has both proponents and opponents. As is usually the case, the argument for one or the other side of that position will no doubt continue – possibly long beyond the working or even actual lives of the arguers.

But here’s the thing: It would make no sense, from anyone’s perspective, to have a patchwork of GMO labeling laws, conflicting with each other in any number of ways. Sadly, unless Congress (which can’t, these days agree on anything) acknowledges the need for and passes legislation for a nation standard, people like Mike Rogers, the guy behind the NaturalNews.com website, will continue to favor faulty public, state-level policy not likely to truly benefit anyone.

Just as he promotes dietary supplements that may, perhaps, be just as beneficial.

 

Going Organic to the Billionth Degree

 

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General Mills, which in FY 2015 did some $675 million in annual sales of organic products, making it the U.S.’s third largest organic and natural food maker, is planning to double the amount of acreage from which it harvests the ingredients for its products of that type.

By 2019, New Food Magazine reported this week (on March 15), the company intends to be sourcing organic ingredients from some 250,000 acres.

That UK-based magazine quoted Jeff Harmening, the company’s executive VP and Chief Operating Officer for U.S. Retail, as saying they expect to achieve $1 billion in annual organic/natural products sales by 2019, a year earlier than previously predicted.

“We’re building strategic relationships directly with farmers for our products and are dedicated to working with growers to optimize production and quality, adopt standard practices and accelerate supply,” Harmening said.

The company’s growth in organic acreage is, New Food said, part of its “sizeable investments to meet growing consumer interest in natural and organic foods, which is expected to drive double-digit industry sales growth over the next five years.”

Ultra-Processed Foods Are Killing Us!

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A newly-reported on study says that more than 50% of American’s calories come from ultra-processed foods, which collectively contain more than 90% of the excess sugar calories in a typical American’s diet. The fortunate exceptions to the rule – people who don’t consume such high volumes of ultra-processed foods or huge excesses of sugar – include vegetarians and vegans. Also consistently outside the crowd of consumers of especially unhealthy foods are those who, like me, have medical conditions (mine is Chronic Kidney Disease) that require close monitoring of what and how much is eaten. By the nature of this kind of diet, ultra- and even highly-processed foods are pretty much off the (dinner) table.

Ultra-processed foods contain high volumes of such things as salt, sugar, oils and fats, plus an assortment of flavorings, emulsifiers and other additives designed to mimic real foods, the researchers quoted by HealthDay said.

Ultra-processed foods include foods include sodas, sweet or savory packaged snacks, candy and desserts, packaged baked goods, instant noodles and soups, and reconstituted meat products, such as chicken and fish nuggets.

By comparison, “processed” foods, which also contain added salt, sugar and other substances including preservatives, use those added ingredients in far smaller quantities than ultra-processed foods serve up.

Excess sugar in the diet boosts your risk for weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, said lead researcher Euridice Martinez Steele, from the department of nutrition in the School of Public Health at Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo.

Too much sodium (salt) also increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks and other negative medical conditions.

“Decreasing the consumption of ultra-processed foods may be an effective way of reducing the excessive added sugar [and sodium] intake in the U.S.,” Steele says.

She notes that people should avoid processed products that require little or no preparation – things such as packaged soups, instant noodles, prepared frozen dishes and sandwiches, cold cuts and sausages, ready-to-eat sauces and cake mixes.

She’s a strong advocate of drinking water, pasteurized fresh milk and freshly squeezed fruit juices, and, avoiding soft drinks, sweetened milk drinks and reconstituted, flavored fruit juices.

The report was published online March 9 in the journal BMJ Open.

The researchers reviewed information from more than 9,000 people. They all took part in the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Study volunteers provided information about their diets.

The researchers found that added sugars make up more than one in five calories in the average ultra-processed food product. That’s as much as eight times higher than the calories from added sugars found in other foods, Steele said.

The recommended upper limit of calories from sugar is 10 percent of daily calories, the researchers noted. In people who ate the most ultra-processed food, more than 80 percent exceeded the upper limit of sugar.

Only people who ate the least ultra-processed foods had below the recommended levels of sugar, the researchers said.

“What many consumers do not realize is that added sugars come in many forms in many highly processed foods that include desserts and sweets, but that also include foods like sausages, cereal bars, ketchup, French fries, salad dressings and frozen pizzas,” said Samantha Heller. She’s a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

This survey highlights the extraordinary amount of ultra-processed foods in the American diet, and the over-the-top amounts of sugar and salt and fat found in these foods, she said.

One serving of a frozen French bread pizza contains 830 milligrams of salt, four different kinds of added sugars, trans fats and 21 grams of total fat, Heller pointed out.

“Another, more nefarious and insidious problem lurks in these foods as well,” she said. “Ultra-processed foods are chemically designed by the food companies to induce cravings for those foods, and sugar, fat and sodium are a big part of those formulas.”

The only way to break the chemical food cravings, and slash the intake of chemicals, calories, added sugars, fat and sodium, is to make more food at home from scratch, Heller said.

‘Want To Be Smarter? Eat Chocolate!

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Chocolate consumption can make you smarter? A new study says ‘yes’. (Photo: ALAMAY)

A recently published study showing that chocolate consumption can make you smarter – yes, make you smarter! – revealed a ‘who woulda thunk it’ fact: Women — those in this study, anyway — eat more chocolate than men; At least the ones in this sample did!

That chocolate can enhance your mental and cognitive abilities – including math skillsis surprising. That women tend to eat more chocolate than men is sort of like saying men are more likely than women to urinate standing up!

The study described recently in the journal Appetite, was done in the U.S. between 2001 and 2006. It was an isolated and carefully calibrated sub-set of a study that began in the 1970’s to examine the cognitive abilities of close to 1,000 people, who were followed over a significant number of years.

The chocolate-related part of the study was done at the urging of  Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia. She recognized that the so-called Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) presented a unique opportunity to examine the effects of chocolate on the brain because of its large sample, of slightly fewer than 1,000 individuals spanning a broad age spectrum.

Researchers have long known that chocolate consumption can help reduce one’s risk of strokes, reduces ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels while boosting ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol levels, can protect your skin against sun damage, can help you lose weight, reduces stress in mothers-to-be, reduces blood pressure,  and even help prevent diabetes. But Ms. Crichton’s research provided an exciting new reason to enjoy one of the world’s favorite sweets.

In 2009, 7.2 million tons of chocolate were consumed worldwide (Statista, 2015). Commonly associated with pleasure and enjoyment, chocolate is a frequently ‘craved’ food, possibly due to its rich natural complexity that provides a sweet taste. Its high carbohydrate and fat content and highly palatable orosensory qualities, obtained from its specific constituents, may all contribute to its appeal as a ‘comfort’ food, various sources say. (See above-cited sources.)

It’s a good bet that sectors of the food industry will do what they can to exploit the MSLS and even statistics cited here to further promote chocolate-based products. And why wouldn’t they?