Category Archives: grocery


Ingredients Based On Corn

 

Corn is one of the most highly genetically modified (GM) ingredients in the United States.  For that reason I encourage people to eat organic corn in order to avoid the GM contamination as well as the high levels of pesticide that are one of the results of genetic modification.  

There are six forms of corn – dent corn, flint corn, flour corn, popcorn, sweet corn, and zein. Most people don’t think about the different forms when they’re buying fresh, frozen, or canned corn at the grocery store.  Those are easy to identify.  And corn, corn flour, corn starch, or corn syrup are easy to identify by reading the label.  The challenge however is that corn can be turned into a rather startling variety of ingredients that make an appearance in every single food category at the grocery store.

For those trying to avoid GM corn, or those who have a food sensitivity to corn, it’s not always easy to know which ingredients got their start from corn.  Use this list as a resource to help you know which products to buy organic or, in the case of a food sensitivity to corn, avoid.

Corn-based ingredients

  • Ascorbic Acid – also sometimes listed as vitamin C
  • Baking Powder – this may contain corn starch
  • Brown Sugar – made from white sugar with caramel coloring added 
  • Calcium Citrate – also known as ‘calcium salt of citric acid’ 
  • Caramel – coloring agent frequently used in soft drinks.  Can be made from cane sugar but most commonly made from corn; a known carcinogen
  • Cellulose – a form of plant fiber (note: this ingredient can also be made from wood) 
  • Citrate – this sour flavor enhancer comes in several different forms: Calcium Citrate, Magnesium Citrate, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, etc. 
  • Citric Acid – made by adding the mold Aspergillus niger to a base of corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch, or other cheap sweet solutions
  • Corn
  • Corn Meal – as well as being used for cooking, corn meal can be used for dusting baked items
  • Corn Starch – may be found in OTC tablets
  • Corn Syrup – may be found in liquid OTC medications such as cough syrup
  • Decyl Glucoside – often found in shampoo and other personal care products
  • Dextrin, Maltodextrin – used as a  thickening agent for condiments, frozen confections, and other foods
  • Dextrose (glucose) – found in sweets, may also be present in processed meats
  • Ferrous Gluconate – an ingredient found in black olives
  • Flavoring – Artificial or “Natural Flavors” may be corn based
  • Golden Syrup 
  • Honey – HFCS is sometimes fed to bees causing their honey to then have corn in it
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
  • Iodized Salt – Dextrose may be added to iodized salt to help stabilize the iodine 
  • Lactic Acid 
  • Magnesium Citrate – Magnesium salt of citric acid
  • Magnesium Stearate
  • Malic Acid
  • Malt/Malt Flavoring
  • Maltitol – a sugar alcohol made by hydrogenating maltose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannitol – This sugar alcohol is often blended with corn-based sugars
  • Methyl Gluceth – a cosmetic emollient
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – MSG can be made from corn
  • Polydextrose
  • Polysorbates (i.e. Polysorbate 80)
  • Potassium Citrate 
  • Powdered Sugar – may contain corn starch
  • Saccharin
  • Sodium Citrate 
  • Sodium Erythorbate – may be made from beets, corn, or sugar cane
  • Sodium Starch Glycolate – may be made from corn, rice, or potatoes
  • Sorbitan – made by dehydrating sorbitol  
  • Sorbitan Monostearate – may be found in various types of yeast (baking, brewing)  
  • Sorbitol – this sugar alcohol often appears in diet candies or gum, can also be in oral care products
  • Starch – unless otherwise specified (such as potato starch) this is probably corn starch
  • Sucralose – Splenda is often made with dextrose or maltodextrin 
  • Sweet’N Low – made with dextrin 
  • Vanilla Extract – may be made with corn syrup 
  • Vinegar, Distilled White 
  • Xanthan Gum – often grown on a base of corn or corn sugar 
  • Xylitol – can be made from birch or corn, in the US it is frequently corn
  • Zein – used in time-release medications

 

 

What’s That Flavor?

what's that flavor

Food manufacturers are always looking for new ways to keep consumers engaged with their brands.  They’re also looking for new ways to encourage you to eat, or a new flavor to tempt you with.  After all, the more you eat, the more profitable their product is.  Unfortunately this has turned us into a nation of snackers.

We’ve been so effectively marketed to that we think we have to have snacks.  Even more than that, when we say the word snack most people think chips, pretzels, granola bars, or other high carbohydrate foods which deliver a lot of calories and little to no actual nutrition.  

a snack is not a meal

Unfortunately the more we snack the less hungry we are when meal time comes around.  So perhaps we don’t eat a real meal.  And then a couple of hours later we’re hungry again and it’s time for another snack.  By the time you get to the end of the day it’s possible that you’ve simply snacked for the entire day.  You go to bed, wake up, and do it all over again. The challenge is that you’re just making yourself hungrier and hungrier.  Your belly may be full, but your body is not nourished.

Snacking is not meant to replace mealtime.  It’s a mini-meal.  A little something to keep you going if you’re hungry in between regular, nourishing meals.  Preferably something that has a little protein and a healthy fat.  Healthy snacking can help to keep your blood sugar stable.  All day snacking, especially with high carbohydrate snack foods can put you in the front row seat of the blood sugar rollercoaster.

manufacturer manipulation

As part of their effort to keep you snack-engaged, food manufacturers sometimes run campaigns designed to get consumer feedback on flavors.  One example is the Pepsi Co. “Do Us A Flavor” campaign which they’ve been running since 2012.  [I’m deliberately not linking to it because I don’t want to participate in bringing attention to it — you’ll see why in just a minute]  Thanks to this campaign they’ve come up with different, unusual flavors of potato chips such as Korean Barbeque or Smoked Gouda and Chives.  Some manufacturers are looking to build brand excitement by “retiring” flavors or creating “limited editions” in an effort to create a scarcity effect.

By creating these campaigns the manufacturers are hoping to build further brand engagement.  To hook you a little bit more closely to the brand.  They don’t need to guess at developing new products.  Consumers tell them exactly what they want so the manufacturer can make it.  It allows them to save money and tempt you to eat more snacks.

All of these flavors, however, don’t add up to good nutrition.  They simply add up to more chemicals and more calories. 

new flavors

 

resources

If you’re looking for a healthy snack check out this article on protein snacks to boost energy.

Want to know more about flavors and how they’re used in food?  

When you’re looking for a snack, remember, a snack is not a meal.  Choose a little something with some protein in it and have just enough to get through your day to your next meal.  You’ll feel better and your metabolism will be more balanced because of it.

Taste Versus Flavor

There is nothing better than the taste of biting into a fresh, homegrown tomato, juicy and full of flavor. Or is there?

For decades, commercial food manufacturers have been trying to improve upon nature’s ability to provide us with enticing flavors in our diet. The “natural flavor” additives discussed previously are just one facet of this effort to manipulate flavors.

We don’t often think about it, there is a difference between taste and flavor.  Taste is the perception of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (or savory).  Smell, temperature, texture and more all go into creating what we perceive of as flavor.  Here’s a video that explains a little about it:

Screenshot 2015-12-21 12.55.23

Flavor Manufacturing Companies

The confusion comes in when our senses are manipulated in order to convince us that something tastes good.  Processed food manufacturers employ separate companies tasked with creating flavor compounds that manipulate and attract consumers.  They spend tens of millions of dollars to find what is just the right balance to make something appealing.  For example, if it’s a snack chip how salty and fatty does it need to be, how much crunch, how much texture?  This is something that they look at for each and every product.

It goes beyond simple combinations however.  Wild Flavors, a flavor-development company based in Cincinnati, Ohio, has created an additive called “Resolver” that they claim can overcome undesirable taste components by attaching itself to a given receptor on the tongue and preventing that particular taste from being perceived.  Alternatively, companies like Givaudan and Cargill  create tastes rather than prevent them and are responsible for thousands of flavors we experience in everyday products.  They manufacture flavors for a vast number of foods and beverages, as well as pharmaceuticals, oral care products like toothpaste or mouthwash, lip balm, vitamins and even pet food.

Food Addictions

The more sinister result of this Frankenstein approach to flavor manipulation is the creation food addictions.  Global food conglomerates don’t deny that one of their goals is to develop products that consumers will purchase again and again.  It is troublesome that these companies appear to place commercial interests above public safety and health.  These addicting flavor concoctions are often made from an extensive list of chemicals.  In fact, more than 300 individual compounds may be necessary to endow a food with the flavor associated with a ripe strawberry or the fresh, homegrown tomatoes we love.

How can this type of manipulation possibly benefit consumers?

Unfortunately flavor profiles are often secret and hidden on the label under the terms “natural” or artificial flavors.  This is because they are considered valuable intellectual property.  Food manufactures try to conceal the fact that processed foods are flavored with a myriad of chemicals with unknown long-term effects on the human body and brain.

The good news is that as the public becomes more informed, and concerned, about the chemicals and artificial ingredients added to our food there has been significant backlash.  In response, some companies have begun to remove some of these harmful ingredients.  Just this summer, General Mills announced it will strip all artificial flavors and colors from its cereals by the end of 2017.  Other companies are also beginning to remove artificial ingredients from their products.  Not because they want to, but because consumers are demanding it.

This serves as a reminder of the power we have when we take personal responsibility for what we consume and take initiative to educate ourselves about what is in the foods we eat.

Gluten-free — Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Will eating a gluten free diet make you healthier? Not necessarily. While eating gluten free is necessary for those suffering from celiac disease, for the majority of people who don’t suffer from gluten intolerance it’s not necessary to go out of your way to avoid it. However doing a gluten elimination diet can help to determine if gluten sensitivity is an issue for you.

For the 1% of Americans who do suffer from celiac disease, it is critical to remove gluten from the diet completely. Otherwise it can cause damage to their small intestines as it is an autoimmune disease. A larger, growing percentage of the population are experiencing non-celiac gluten sensitivity. While they don’t have damage to their small intestines, they can experience some symptoms similar to those with celiac disease.  These symptoms may include brain fog, bloating, fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, and more, all of which can be helped by removing gluten from the diet. Unfortunately however, a gluten free diet may be harmful to your health if you’re not careful as many gluten free items lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Not only that, but they often contain processed and or refined additives that can cause digestive upset.

According to a Consumers Report 2014 survey, approximately 25% of people questioned believed that gluten free foods have MORE vitamins and minerals than other foods. Many people simply think that eating gluten free is healthier. Because gluten free foods are usually highly processed, have less nutrition, and still contain unhealthy ingredients such as artificial colors , artificial flavors, additives, and preservatives, that may not be the case.

HIGHLY PROCESSED

Gluten is found in many whole grain products made from wheat, barley, rye, and spelt.  These grains are commonly found in many foods that we eat.  The gluten free alternatives for breads, pastas, cereals, pastries, and other processed foods are often made from highly processed alternatives such as starches, or flours from non-glutenous grains. They also usually contain fillers, extra fat, sugar, and/or sodium to replace the taste or texture of gluten. Whole grain products naturally contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber, highly processed food products however, do not have the same beneficial levels of these nutrients. If you’re trying to reduce the amount of gluten in your diet, aim for real, whole foods that are naturally gluten free such as quinoa, brown rice, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.

LESS NUTRITION

Gluten free baked goods typically use flour replacements that provide less nutrition than whole grain flours. These replacements are usually low in nutrients and high in carbohydrates. Tapioca starch, cornstarch, and potato starch are three ingredients commonly used to replace wheat (or other glutenous grain) flour(s) in gluten free food items.

  • Tapioca starch – often used as a thickener, however it contains no nutritional benefits and is over 88% carbohydrates by weight.
  • Cornstarch – very low in dietary fiber and contains negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals. An added challenge with cornstarch is that the corn may be genetically modified which present additional health challenges.
  • Potato starch – frequently used as a thickener, contains little nutritional value while having a very high starch content. Another issue with potato starch is that potatoes are increasingly being genetically modified.  Currently there are five different varieties that have been modified.

DIGESTIVE UPSET

Gluten is a very important part of many food products, especially for bread. Gluten is like a “glue” that helps food products stick together so they aren’t crumbly and fall apart. The gluten in grains such as wheat allows it to rise and have a fluffy consistency rather than being dense and flat.  In order to compensate for the lack of “glue” in gluten-free products manufacturers use gums  to give the dough a sticky consistency. The most commonly used gums are xanthan gum (used as a thickener, emulsifier, and food stabilizer), guar gum (a thickening, stabilizing, suspending, and binding agent), and locust bean gum (used for thickening and gelling).  While these gums are generally safe for consumption, because they are mostly indigestible fiber they often cause side effects such as intestinal gas and bloating. Some of these additive gums, such as xanthan gum, can be sourced from corn or soy (two highly GMO crops) which would be another reason to avoid them.

LESS VITAMINS MORE SUGAR

Just because something is gluten free doesn’t mean it is a healthy choice, low in calories, or low in carbohydrates. Actually many processed gluten free foods are less healthy in that they have more calories and sugar than regular foods. Many gluten replacement foods are actually not only low in nutrients, they’re very high in carbohydrates.  Because these carbohydrates are highly processed they are foods that can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels.  This is a significant difference from gluten-free whole grain products such as quinoa or amaranth which, because they are whole grains, do not have the same effect on blood sugars.

As an example, a Consumer Reports comparison of a regular blueberry muffin with a gluten free blueberry muffin found that the gluten free muffin contained 30 more calories and 7 more grams of sugar.  

Regular muffin: 340 calories, 17 g fat, 24 g sugar
GF muffin:          370 calories, 13 g fat, 31 g sugar

Whole grains are a good source of many nutrients especially the B vitamins, iron, and fiber. It’s important to understand that even gluten free grains when consumed in their whole grain form provide a high level of nutrients.  It is the processing that damages, or reduces, the micronutrient levels while increasing carbohydrates.  Gluten-free grains include:  quinoa, teff, amaranth, rice, corn, millet, buckwheat, and oats.

Check out this slideshow of popular gluten-free food products

ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS

Just because a food item is gluten free doesn’t mean that it is free from artificial colors, artificial ingredients, or preservatives. If you’re trying to eat gluten free, make sure you read the label. Rather than relying on gluten-free versions of cakes, cookies, crackers, cereals, and other starchy crutch foods, it is best to find whole foods that are naturally gluten free. Whole foods which aren’t processed are more likely be free from artificial additives.  It’s important to remember that gluten-free isn’t the magic pill to a clean and healthy diet.  Choosing vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, fish, and lean meats will provide the healthiest options.

Are Natural Flavors Really “natural”?

If asked about the connotation of the word “natural,” descriptors like “healthy,” “fresh,” “made without chemicals” or “made in nature” come to mind. According to the Environmental Working Group, “natural flavor” is the fourth most common ingredient listed for processed food, but do we really know what this term means?

Here’s a short video that effectively uses humor to illustrate what “natural” really means.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 9.18.45 AM

Natural Flavors Defined

The truth is that “natural flavors” are defined so broadly that they can encompass a vast number of substances that we wouldn’t consider natural. As defined by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the Code of Federal Regulations, “natural flavor” or “natural flavoring” means [quote]the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.[/quote]

What does this mean? “Natural flavors” listed on a nutrition label does not refer to any one specific kind of additive but includes any chemical or combination of flavorings derived from any of the above “edible” sources as long as they aren’t synthetically formulated. Lisa Lefferts with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that:

A flavor ingredient can consist of some combination of about 2,300 different substances.

Would you believe that food manufacturers can add beaver anal gland secretions to your food and call it “natural flavors”? These secretions, known as castoreum but rarely labeled as such on packaging, are often added to ice cream and utilized for “natural” vanilla and raspberry flavoring.

If that isn’t disturbing enough, natural flavors can also include GMO ingredients, mold, fungus, bug shells, pig stomach lining and animal bones. It is daunting to think that vegans trying to avoid animal products could be inadvertently eating some of these items labeled as “natural flavoring.” In addition, wine and beer are often clarified with isinglass, which is prepared from the bladder of a sturgeon, or gelatin derived from the skin and connective tissue of pigs and cows. And you won’t find isinglass on the label of your favorite beer since no law requires it.

Russel Blaylock, M.D., author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, has written that even the controversial additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) falls under the “natural flavors” umbrella and can be added to processed foods with no mention of it on the label.  MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate, described as a normal neurotransmitter in the brain by its defenders.  However, when introduced to the body in high concentrations, it causes neurons to fire abnormally, literally exciting our cells to death.  Food manufacturers add this cheap, concentrated form of salt to our food in order to excite our taste buds.  It can make us crave sugar, and it interferes with satiety hormones like leptin.

Many popular processed foods list “natural flavors” among their ingredients as we can see in this slideshow.

Food manufacturers use this “natural” designation loosely to deceive consumers into believing questionable ingredients are healthy, fresh and wholesome.

“Natural flavor” is an important additive to watch out for and a good reminder to be vigilant when reading food labels in order to be fully educated about what we are consuming.

beans-TIG

Groceries – What Can I Get For A Dollar

As more and more people learn to chose whole foods, real food, to feed their family the market share for processed foods is dropping.  Groceries are a necessary part of living, we all need to eat. But there are no guarantees about how well we eat. Given that their mission is not to sell food but to make a profit, many food manufacturers are looking to reverse the decline in profits.  Their primary tactic is to go after lower socio-economic consumers.  Unfortunately these are the ones who have the tightest budgets for food and who may not stop to consider nutritional value per dollar spent.

The cost of groceries

To tempt consumers to by their highly processed foods producers use the following tactics:

  • available at lower cost grocery stores
  • available at discount stores (such as The Dollar Store)
  • offer multiple purchase coupons
  • offer smaller packages at what appears to be a low price
  • offer single serving size options
  • create discount menu pricing (at fast food locations)

Unfortunately those options not only offer incentive to purchase junky foods, they are also more expensive when you price out the actual cost per weight or volume.  Sadly it’s a recipe for a health disaster.  

Yes, that burger may only be a dollar, same with those fries.  But it’s nutritionally deficient food which is high in calories, fats, and chemicals.  It may fill you up but it won’t nourish you. That cereal package may seem like a deal but there’s no real nutrition in the package and it often comes with a lot of sugar. Your belly may be full but your body is depleted.

Eating healthy for less

It is possible to eat healthy for less, it simply means making different choices.  A recent trip to the grocery store* highlighted a few foods which are healthy and available for $1 or less per serving.

appleApples: Nature’s perfect 100 calorie snack pack, the average apple contains about 100 calories. They are a good source of fiber, including pectin (a type of fiber that may be good for reducing cholesterol). Apples also provide vitamin C and healthy phytonutrients which can help moderate blood sugar. At $1.15 per pound with three medium apples in a pound it comes to just under three apples for a dollar.  This was the price for organic apples which represent the best choice as there are no pesticides on them.  Obviously conventional apples are less expensive but come with a chemical coating.

beans-TIGBeans: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, are all good nutritional choices for fiber, folate, iron, and protein. Their high levels of fiber make them an excellent choice for helping to reduce cholesterol and manage blood sugar. $0.79 per pound for lentils means 12 servings per pound, all for less than a buck.

broccoliBroccoli: Contains calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber. Low in calories it’s delicious raw, steamed, or stir-fried. One bunch will set you back $0.99 for around three 1⁄2 C. servings.

Collard Greens: This dark, leafy green and others such as kale, spinach, or mustard greens are loaded with vitamin C, carotenoids, and calcium.  This week at my grocery store organic collards were $0.99 per bunch with one bunch providing 2-3 servings cooked. It’s delicious when cooked with onions and fresh herbs.

eggs-TIGEggs: A great source of protein, lutein, and zeaxanthin (good for eye health) as well as selenium, B2, B5 and B12 eggs are a nutrition powerhouse. They are versatile, easy to prepare and can be served for any meal. At $2.39 per dozen for large, cage free, grain fed eggs that’s 5 eggs, and five servings, for $1.00.

Oats (old fashioned rolled): high in fiber and a good source of manganese, selenium, vitamin B1, magnesium; a 1⁄2 C. serving even provides 6 g. of protein, they are also scientifically proven to reduce cholesterol (whole oats are best). $0.15 per ounce means that whole oats come out to 6 1⁄2 ounces for $1.00 or a little over 4 servings.  note: for those who need to eat gluten free the cost for oats would be different.

Sweet Potatoes: An excellent source of beta carotene, vitamin C and provide a sweet potato-TIGmoderate amount of fiber. A 5” long sweet potato weighs about 4.5 ounces, for $0.89 that’s a little more than one serving (3.5 ounces per serving) for less than a buck.

Admittedly it takes a little more effort to eat for less when you include time for shopping and cooking.  But if you’re willing to focus on health and spend the time, it is possible to get a lot of nutrition for just a dollar.

 

*These prices reflect a trip to my grocery store in my local area in Texas.   Prices may differ depending on location.

Good, Better, Best

Good better bestI recently had the absolute delight of being invited to cook in the fabulous kitchen at Three Goats Farm.  Designed and operated by the amazing Primitive Diva, Melissa Humphries, this is a fun place to hang out and you couldn’t ask for better company to hang out with.

Getting ready for the launch of Primitive Diva TV, PDTV, she invited me to film an episode while we chatted about the concept of good, better, best, when it comes to food and nourishing your body.  I love helping people move up the nutrition ladder so to speak.  It’s difficult to go from a highly processed food plan to one that truly nourishes your body.  I certainly know, from personal experience  and from working with clients, that it’s a step-by-step process which takes time and effort to achieve.  I don’t know anyone who has made a huge jump overnight and managed to stick with it.  You start where you are, decide what you’re going to focus on, and begin to make changes.  Just as in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race.  Small measurable changes, mindfully made over time are most often the ones that are sustainable and lead to long-term, healthier change.  Extravagant changes and massive numbers of them, all at the same time, are overwhelming.

One way to manage this change is to focus on shifting food, recipes, ingredients up the ladder from good to better to best.

Here’s an example that we used in the filming.  [In case you’re interested we made the polenta and Tuscan Stew recipes from The Pantry Principle on pages 124 and 145 respectively]  In the example below I’m going to talk about upgrading your polenta.

Good is when you decide to shift from a heavy processed food and/or restaurant/take-away diet to making more foods at home.  There is often less chemicals, less sugar, salt, and fat.  The serving sizes are more reasonable.  In the case of polenta this may mean purchasing a chub of polenta and heating it up at home as part of your recipe.

Better is realizing that corn is one of the most highly genetically modified crops on the face of the planet.  You don’t want to eat conventional corn anymore because you want to avoid the GMOs and probable heavy pesticide residue.  So you choose organic corn.  Possibly still in a chub.  Or maybe you decide to make it from scratch and you use organic ground cornmeal plus other clean ingredients.

Best means you’ve decided to really focus on eating well and are buying organically grown, sprouted cornmeal.  The sprouting adds extra nutrition, better digestibility, and reduces phytic acids and enzyme inhibitors which can interfere with nutrition.

One step at a time we work our way up the ladder to better digestion, better nourishment, better food sourcing.

We had a great time chatting in the kitchen.  As you can see from the picture above the food was so enticing that the aromas got us and we didn’t get a picture until after we’d dug in and started devouring it.  Mr. Diva came in at the end and polished off a plate of his own.  I promise, this recipe is a winner.  And so is Three Goats Farm.  I’m so excited for the launch of PDTV and I’ll be sure to post a link to share once this episode goes live.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about food, nutrition, holistic health, or how to take your recipes from good to better to best, don’t forget to take advantage of my AskMira January special.  Purchase two hours of my time, which you can use any time during the year, and get a half an hour free.  That’s a $50 value.  This offer is only available for the month of January but you can use the time in 15 minute increments anytime you like during 2015.

And in the meantime, let’s eat well to be well.

General Mills Buys Annie’s Homegrown

who owns your food?

The concept of corporate food ownership is rapidly becoming an important part of the conversation.  It started a long time ago but has increasingly made headlines starting back in 2013 with California’s Prop 37, a proposal to label GMOs on foods.  Major food manufacturers paid tens of millions of dollars to fight this initiative and ultimately outspent those who wanted to know by a factor of nearly ten to one.  Jeffrey Smith, the founding executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, and a very active consumer advocate and public speaker, stated that although Prop 37 did not pass it achieved two very important things.  It brought the issue of  genetically modified foods and GMO contamination to a great level of public awareness.  It also brought to light the web of who owns your food.  The Cornucopia Institute has a great graphic that shows who really owns your favorite organic brands.

Unfortunately many people think that if a food is an organic label that means it’s fine.  But the ownership of that product has a lot to do with it as conventional food corporations continually try to change, modify, or defeat labeling that would provide you with information you want to know.  Because consumers are demanding cleaner labels.  They’re shying away from conventional brands.  And profits are down for those conventional manufacturers.[1]  In order to bolster their bottom line many of these corporations are now seeking out and buying up majority share or total ownership in organic food companies.  And once they own them they change them.[2]

Contrary to what you may believe, food manufacturers are not really in business to make food.  They’re in business to make money.  With conventional food products that often means finding ways to save money, cheaper ingredients, brand building, and misleading marketing.[3]

The latest food company buy is the acquisition of Annie’s Homegrown by General Mills.  Although Annie’s and General Mills have both put out a huge marketing spin claiming that things will remain exactly the same, that the company is still committed to providing the organic goodness and quality that their consumers are used to.  The public however is very skeptical and grumbling loudly.  They don’t believe the hype and they are, at least for now, watching closely.  This may have to do with the fact that General Mills spent over $1.1 million on defeating Prop 37 and has continued to pour dollars into the anti-GMO labeling campaign every time the issue comes up.  They also very publicly announced that they would not be offering any more GMO-free products after discovering that GMO-free cheerios didn’t appreciably raise market share.  (Perhaps some of this has to do with the fact that it’s an exploded grain cereal which is nutritionally deficient and as consumers learn more they’re seeking out healthier choices?  But I digress…)

If nothing else the media attention and consumer outcry is giving clear notice to conventional food manufacturers that consumers are no longer blindly following.  They’re learning to think for themselves, to learn what’s really in their food, and to make value-based purchasing decisions that can have significant impact.

 

[1] General Mills is now seeking to reduce their costs by up to $140 million as they see profits and market share shrinking.  Cereal sales alone are down by 9% and overall General Mills business has dropped considerably.  No word about how the Annie’s acquisition was inspired by this.  It will be very interesting to see where these changes come from and how it impacts their brands.  Once concern is that they’ll wait until the furor over the Annie’s acquisition dies down and then make modest changes.  Unfortunately as consumers we tend to forget who owns that brand.  And staying on top of the web of ownership isn’t easy.

[2] Example of change:  Stonyfield Farm used to be a separate company making yogurt.  Starting in 2001 Group Danone began to buy up shares in Stoneyfield; they now own 85% of the company.  Recently there have been a number of what I consider to be unhealthy (and unwanted) changes to the product.  Starting with the fact that they no longer have a cream on the top product.  Their marketing claims this is because “We’ve stirred in the cream…to make our creamiest, smoothest, whole milk yogurt ever.”  Not really, what they did was homogenize the product.  Easier and less expensive. Certainly not what the consumers are looking for.  They’ve also been adding pectin to their yogurt.  I clearly recall that it wasn’t in there before.  Pectin is a thickening agent.  To me that indicates the possibility that they are no longer allowing a full setting process on the yogurt and are force thickening it with pectin. This takes less time which probably increases profits but also decreases the health benefits as the live active bacteria may not fully culture.

[3]  Misleading marketing example:  Twix Swirls by General Mills.  It claims to be a good source of calcium and vitamin D plus touts the whole grains in the box.  However the ingredients list reveals a totally different story:  whole grain corn, sugar, corn meal, corn syrup, canola and/or rice bran oil, salt, trisodium phosphate, red 40, yellow 6, blue 1, and other color added, natural and artificial flavor, citric acid, malic acid, bht added to preserve freshness.  Another way to read this list is:  GMO, sugar, GMO, GMO, possible GMO, salt, trisodium phosphate*, artificial colors**, possible MSG, artificial flavors, GMO, allergen/highly inflammatory agent.  

 

*Trisodium phosphate, TSP, while deemed GRAS has been shown to cause irritations to the lining of the gut and is linked to both osteoporosis and kidney calcification.

** petroleum based artificial colors are strongly linked to attention related issues in those with AD/HD

You Can’t Sue Me Now

General Mills wants to turn Facebook likes into a legal agreement. The company has created a new privacy policy which basically states that anyone who has received “any” benefit from General Mills gives up their right to sue the company.  Even if the product in some way harms them or makes them ill.  General Mills has gone so far as to include giving them a “like” on their Facebook page as a benefit to the consumer.  The concept of benefits also extends to downloading coupons, signing up for contests, or any other form of interaction.  A consumers only recourse if they have an issue with the company will be either a negotiation process with the company or a binding arbitration, with the arbitration team no doubt chosen by General Mills.

Why was this policy enacted?  It appears to stem from an incident where two moms sued the company for deceptive marketing over their use of the term “natural” on a product which contained high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified ingredients.  Last month it came before a judge who refused to dismiss the case so it will be moving forward.

This is not the first time General Mills has been sued for deceptive practices.  In 2012 it was sued for using the word “strawberry” on a fruit roll-up product that contained no strawberries.  The case was settled and General Mills agreed to stop using that word on the package.

So why is there a picture of a Larabar at the top of this post?  Because guess who owns that brand?  In the “Who Owns Your Food” section of The Pantry Principle I share a graphic which highlights just how confusing and overwhelming the web of food has become in this country.  While I’m not sure (because I’m not a lawyer) if this position is defensible, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s stupid.  If you don’t want people to get upset about what you do to your food, don’t do that.  If you claim ingredients which aren’t in there, people have a right to be upset.  If you use deceptive marketing you should not be allowed to get away with it simply to make a buck.  Why defend your position to do the wrong thing?  That makes no sense to me.

And a startling thought that occurs to me, I  wonder if they will extend this legal stance to other brands where the consumer may not be aware of ownership.  So I’m highlighting the brands that I’m aware of which are owned by General Mills below.  Many of them may surprise you.

  • Cascadian Farms Organic
  • Food Should Taste Good (chips/snack product)
  • Larabar
  • Muir Glen tomato products
  • Liberte yogurt
  • Häagen-Dazs
  • Nature Valley
  • And if you’re interested…the list of mainstream Big G products is HUGE.  If you want to see all of them (and there are hundreds) you can look on their website http://www.generalmills.com/Brands

Want to let General Mills know how you feel about this issue? Sign this petition

And then buy a copy of The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what’s really in your food.

Update:  After a furious backlash from consumers and an overwhelmingly negative media focus General Mills has reversed itself on this decision.  Their blog post (entitled “We’ve listened – and we’re changing our legal terms back”) claims that “Those terms – and our intentions – were widely misread.”  They also offered an apology.

Whether their lawyers had a specific purpose in mind or if indeed the intent was misunderstood, it is a given that companies are going to spin things their way every change they get.  The most important thing to remember, as far as I’m concerned, is that this once again shows the effect a highly motivated and vocal public can have on corporate policy.  They won’t change and do better unless they believe they have to.

Let’s not forget one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

 

photo: Bradley Stemke

February – National Canned Food Month

Canned Food Aisle - San Jose

Due to the invention of canned foods in the early 1800’s our ability to store food for long periods of time has dramatically increased.  (I am always amused every time I remember  the can opener wasn’t invented until approximately 50 years after the invention of the can — I discovered this while researching my book The Pantry Principle.)  And if the ingredients in the can are dry or dehydrated in some way that storage can be as long as 30 years.  Quite handy if you’re preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse.

There are two major types of canned goods, those you make yourself at home (such as jams, pickles, chutneys, etc), and those you purchase at the grocery store.  For the purposes of this post when I talk about canned goods I’m referring to those that you purchase.

Leaving aside the matter of zombies, it is prudent to have some canned goods on hand either as part of a well-managed pantry, or in case of an emergency.  While it’s a great thought to prepare all of your food fresh and from scratch, in our over-scheduled American culture this can be a little difficult to achieve on a daily basis.  And if the power goes out or there’s a storm preventing you from getting out to the store it’s helpful to have canned goods on hand.  How much you have on hand is a matter of calculation; determining how many people, how many days/meals you want on hand, and how you plan to rotate things through your storage.  That’s a little more complicated than can be addressed in a blog post.  If you’re interested in working with me to figure out your food storage needs email me and we’ll schedule a time to talk.

When buying canned goods one of the big issues is what’s in that can.  I’ve talked about this before in The Pantry Principle as well as in blog posts like this one about peaches.  Unfortunately many canned foods these days come with a raft of chemicals added to them.  This is meant to extend the shelf life.  However given the fact that there are alternatives I’m not convinced that we  need to buy canned food with these health-harming additives in them.

One specific example that I use when demonstrating this to clients on a Grocery Store Tour* is coconut milk.  Canned coconut milk is an option that is (a) more portable than the refrigerated cartons, and (b) easier than making your own (recipe below for those who really want to know how).  However many brands of canned coconut milk contain harmful ingredients that you don’t want to consume such as sodium metabisulfate, polysorbates, and possibly citric acid which is, contrary to popular belief, not from lemons but often from corn, making it a probable genetically modified ingredient.  So an important point when purchasing canned coconut milk, or any canned ingredient, is to look at the ingredients list and avoid ingredients you don’t want to eat.

Even more challenging however is the use of BPA in many canned foods.  And this includes those canned foods that come in jars because the lids have BPA in the lining.  BPA is an obesogen, a hormone disrupting chemical, and something that you want to avoid as much as possible.  Sadly it is extremely difficult to avoid it altogether as it also appears in paper products, grocery store receipts, DVDs, reusable cups, and other places.  But the more we reduce BPA in our food, I believe the better off we are.

This requires more research, looking for brands which don’t have BPA in their can lining.  I have compiled a list, based on information from the vendors, that lists BPA free producers.  Bear in mind that some of these companies are still in transition.  However they are making the effort, and spending the money (BPA free linings are more expensive), to bring you a BPA free lined can:

  • Amy’s
  • Eden Foods
  • Muir Glen
  • Native Forest
  • Sprout’s – I believe they’re still working on it
  • Trader Joe’s – in transition
  • Wild Planet – in transition

On a side note:  In the United States 1 in 6 people doesn’t have enough to eat.  Approximately 14 million of them are children.  If you’re cleaning out your pantry and shifting to foods which are free of chemicals and BPA you may want to donate them to the Food Pantry.  If your budget has a little room to spare consider buying a little extra and donating it.  As much as I teach and promote eating as clean as possible, I also believe that eating is better than not eating.  It’s a good-better-best philosophy.  Click here to find a food pantry near you.

Something else to keep a lookout for which may be coming soon to a canned product near you is SLIPS.  This stand for Slippery Liquid Infused Porous Surface.  It’s a product which has been invented to get the container absolutely squeaky clean.  Unfortunately it looks like it’s going to be made from chemicals and infused into a teflon substrate which will then be used to coat or line the inside of your jars and bottles.  I’m waiting and watching.  If you find a ketchup container (or any other jar) that comes absolutely clean with no sticky bits and no scraping be sure to let me know.

Want to know what’s really in your food?  In addition to reading this blog you truly must have good resources at hand.  One is to buy yourself a copy of The Pantry Principle, the other is to sign up for my newsletter.  New subscribers also get a great free e-book, Eating Out Eating Healthy.  It’s all about learning how to eat well to be well.

And now here’s that recipe I promised you:

Homemade Coconut Milk

2 cups hot water
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Blend together (I use my Vitamix) until it’s creamy looking, 1-2 minutes
Strain into a fine mesh strainer (I have one I use for rinsing quinoa)
Press to get all of the liquid out
Store in the fridge, use within 2-3 days
optional – 1-2 drops of vanilla added to this is fabulous when pouring into a cup of Teeccino

*Want your own personalized Grocery Store Tour?  Contact Mira

 photo: KingOfHearts