Category Archives: labeling


Titanium Dioxide: What Is It? And Is It Safe?

What is Titanium Dioxide?

Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring compound used as a coloring agent in cosmetics, personal care products, supplements, and processed foods.

It whitens and brightens as well as prevents discoloration. Titanium dioxide also blocks ultraviolet (UV) rays, which is why it’s found in many sunscreens.

The compound used in manufacturing is chemically processed to remove impurities. And it’s supplied in a powder form.

Powdered titanium dioxide generally appears to be safe. However, the widespread use of titanium dioxide “nanoparticles” has raised some concern.

What are Nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles form when titanium dioxide powder is further ground into microscopic particles. And while these microscopic particles are chemically identical to their larger counterparts, their behavior and reactivity may differ due to an increase in surface area.

Further, their minuscule size may increase absorption and circulation within the bloodstream.

What are the Potential Risks?

Research has shown that titanium dioxide nanoparticles have the potential to cause free radical damage (a.k.a. oxidative stress), which results in cell damage, DNA mutations, inflammation, and immune system activation.

When inhaled, these particles have the capacity to travel directly to the lungs and brain. As a result, neurological damage is highly possible. This is why it’s never a good idea to use spray sunscreens, especially on the face.

Further, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified titanium dioxide nanoparticles as “possible carcinogenic to humans” according to animal inhalation studies.

These nanoparticles are also considered an “occupational carcinogen” by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Human studies using sunscreens have shown that titanium dioxide nanoparticles don’t substantially penetrate the skin. However, long term safety studies have yet to be performed. In addition, the potential risks of oxidation caused by sun exposure are unknown.

Titanium Dioxide in Food

Titanium dioxide is found in the largest concentrations in candy and chewing gum. But it’s also found in cottage cheese, yogurt, condiments, processed meats, and snack foods.

However, it’s worth noting that only one third of the titanium dioxide used in food is in the nanoparticle form.

Nevertheless, we still don’t fully understand how titanium dioxide is absorbed, distributed, and excreted by the body. Thus, we couldn’t possibly understand its toxicity when consumed orally.

Although, one study found that oral consumption of titanium dioxide nanoparticles contributed to gut inflammation in those with inflammatory bowel disease.

How to Reduce Your Exposure

Unfortunately, food producers can use up to 1% titanium dioxide (food grade) without declaring it on the label. Or, it may be hidden behind terms such as “natural color” or “natural coloring agent.”  

Thus, the best way to avoid titanium dioxide in your food is to consume more whole foods and to choose organic whenever possible. Interestingly enough, titanium dioxide is not approved for use in organic foods. 

When it comes to medications there is little you can do. However, you can opt for supplements without added colors as well as sunscreens with non-nanoparticle zinc oxide only.

When it comes to cosmetics and personal care products, always read ingredient labels. And if you’re not sure, you can always check the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database.

In conclusion

The information we have thus far on titanium dioxide and more importantly its nanoparticles is concerning. And a lack of data in some regards doesn’t imply safety.

Thus, I recommend applying the precautionary principle and avoiding exposure whenever possible.

References
– Evans, S. M., Ashwood, P., Warley, A., Berisha, F., Thompson, R. P., & Powell, J. J. (2002). The role of dietary microparticles and calcium in apoptosis and
   interleukin-1β release of intestinal macrophages. Gastroenterology,123(5), 1543-1553. doi:10.1053/gast.2002.36554
– Skocaj, M., Filipic, M., Petkovic, J., & Novak, S. (2011). Titanium dioxide in our everyday life; is it safe? Radiology and Oncology, 45(4), 227–247.
   http://doi.org/10.2478/v10019-011-0037-0
– Weir, A., Westerhoff, P., Fabricius, L., & von Goetz, N. (2012). Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products. Environmental
   Science & Technology
, 46(4), 2242–2250. http://doi.org/10.1021/es204168d

Jell-O Simply Good (or Still Just As Bad?)

Kraft recently released a new line of “Jell-O Simply Good” products. According to them, they are “delightfully honest” and “made with the good stuff.”

However, I found several questionable ingredients still lurking inside. Let’s take a look…

A Closer Look at the Ingredients in Jell-O Simply Good

Cane sugar is the most abundant ingredient in this product (19 grams per 1/2 cup serving to be exact). And it’s most likely made from genetically modified and pesticide laden sugar cane.

Gelatin gives Jell-O its gel like consistency. And it can be a health promoting ingredient if sourced from grass-fed and pastured raised cows. However, in this case, the source of gelatin is unknown.

Dried strawberry juice provides a “natural” flavoring. But, it doesn’t add any nutritional value. In fact, it only adds more sugar.

Adipic acid gives Jell-O a bit of tartness. While it is an organic compound, adipic acid is the precursor of nylon. And it rarely occurs in nature.

Disodium phosphate helps control acidity. Scientists synthesize it by combining phosphoric acid with a sodium compound. According to the Environmental Working Group, sodium phosphates may increase one’s risk of heart and/or kidney disease when consumed in excess.

Sodium citrate also controls acidity. And it is generally considered safe in small doses. However, it’s most likely made from genetically modified corn. Thus, those with corn allergies should avoid products with sodium citrate.

Natural flavor additives lead consumers to believe the flavor is all natural. However, this is far from the truth. While the final product is derived from something found in nature, chemical solvents are used to manufacture them. Further, food companies are not required to disclose the actual contents of natural flavors. Thus, we’ll never really know!

It’s also worth noting that Jell-O Simply Good truly gets its flavor from these “natural” flavors as opposed to strawberry juice. Juice is actually quite bland and its flavor diminishes over time. On the other hand, scientists specifically design natural flavors to be potent and shelf-stable.

Fumaric acid is another additive used for tartness. In general, small quantities are considered safe.

Turmeric oleoresin is supposedly a “natural” coloring agent made from turmeric. However, volatile chemical solvents are used to make it. And when fed to rats and mice in this study, it had carcinogenic effects.

According to the same study, consumption of turmeric oleoresin was also associated with a higher incidence of stomach ulcers and inflammation of digestive organs.

And in case you’re wondering, human safety studies don’t exist. They wouldn’t be ethical. And this is true for most food additives.

Vegetable juice is used for coloring in this product. And it’s relatively benign. However, the type of vegetable juice used is unknown. And the vegetables are most likely grown with pesticides.

Jell-O Simply Good versus Original Jell-O Mixes

The main difference between Jell-O Simply Good and the original Jell-O mixes is the removal of artificial flavors and dyes. This is a step in the right direction. But, far from “simply good” or “delightfully honest” in my opinion.

Other than the flavors and colors, the products are almost identical. Both have questionable additives, zero nutritional value, and an abundance of refined sugar.

A Healthy Alternative

real gelatin peach gummiesAs previously mentioned, gelatin can be a nutritious addition to your diet. However, quality matters. I recommend using a clean, no additive gelatin made from grass-fed and pastured raised cows.  My preferred brand is Vital Proteins.

Here is a fun recipe you can use to make homemade “jello” gummies with fresh juice and natural sweeteners.

Do you already use gelatin? If so, what are your favorite ways to incorporate it into your diet?

Clean Label Starches: Better For You Or Just Another Bait & Switch?

Are clean label starches a healthy choice? Well, the answer depends on whom you ask. If you ask the food manufacturers, clean label starches are definitely a better choice over more traditional modified food starches. Not because clean label starches are actually better for you, but because they allow processed foods to have a cleaner looking list of ingredients.

What are Food Starches?

Both starch additives are derived from ingredients such as corn, potato, tapioca and wheat. Both are modified from their original native state to withstand extreme food processing conditions, such as ultra high heat and homogenization.

So what’s the difference? It all comes down to HOW the starches are modified.

Modified versus Clean Label Starches

Chemicals (usually acids) are used to make modified food starches. As a result, the FDA requires them to be labeled as “modified” food starches.

On the other hand, clean label starches are produced by physical means, such as purification and heat treatment. Since no chemicals are used, a clean label starch may simply be referred to as “starch.”

Why use Food Starches?

Modified food starches and clean label starches both act as thickening agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers in many processed foods. Both are added to improve “mouth-feel” as well as maintain a desired texture and taste.

clean label starch in yogurtModified food starches are found in a wide variety of foods.  One example is yogurt. Take a look at the list of ingredients of this popular brand of fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt:

INGREDIENTS: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Cane Sugar, Non-GMO Corn Starch, Organic Natural Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Vanilla Bean Specks, Gellan Gum

One of the biggest hurdles manufacturers face with fat-free products is texture. This is where starch additives come to the rescue. They produce a thick and creamy yogurt in the absence of fat.

“Corn starch” sounds cleaner and more natural than “modified corn starch.” But from a health standpoint, clean label starches are no better than their chemically treated counterparts. Clean label starches are just another bait and switch in my opinion.

Potential Health Concerns

Both starches are nutritionally void. And it’s not always clear what ingredient the starch was originally derived from. In most cases it’s genetically modified corn, but not always.

There are also concerns regarding cross-contamination during the manufacturing process. So be extra careful if you have any food allergies and/or sensitivities.

Some argue modified starches are difficult to digest and there is some scientific evidence to support this. Scientists in this study found certain modifications decreased the rate of digestion in vitro. However, they put a positive spin on it. They suggest modified starches may act as a good source of resistant starch.

The truth is resistant starches aren’t all bad. Our bodies can’t digest them, but they do feed the good bacteria in our digestive tract. And a healthy gut flora is essential to optimal health. However, moderation is still necessary, especially for those with digestive conditions. And most importantly, there are much healthier sources of resistant starch available, such as whole grains, legumes, seeds and cooked then cooled potatoes.

Other Potential Hidden Ingredients

Lastly, there’s buzz about modified starches containing up to 10% maltodextrin, a complex sugar and a common hiding place for monosodium glutamate (MSG). But without access to industry formulations, we’ll never really know!

Healthy Alternatives

When it comes to Greek yogurt, there are several truly clean options available. But, only if you buy it “plain” and spice it up at home.  Or you can make your own Greek style yogurt by straining 32 ounces of plain, organic, whole milk yogurt in a lined colander overnight.

For a treat, top your yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. If a little sweetness is needed, add a drizzle of raw honey or pure maple syrup. A little bit goes a long way!

In Conclusion…

As always, you need to read the ingredient lists to know what’s in your food. But even then manufacturers keep coming up with new ways to trick consumers. When it comes to food starches, both the chemically modified and clean label versions are nothing more than highly processed additives manufacturers use to make foods highly palatable.

To stay in the know about other clean label ingredients food manufacturers are using, sign-up for Mira’s newsletter today! As a thank you, you’ll receive a free copy of Mira’s eBook “Eating Out, Eating Healthy”. It’s packed with tips for making healthy choices when eating out.

Top 10 Ingredients To Avoid

I’m often asked which ingredients we should avoid in our food.  There really isn’t a simple answer for that.  I could say all of the fake ones, but that leaves you to decide which ones are fake.  And truthfully some of them aren’t “fake”, meaning they’re not entirely from chemicals.  They’re just highly modified.  Either because they’ve been through some sort of a chemical process to invert, alter, or manipulate their chemical structure to change them significantly from their original form. 

An overview of Splenda (TM)

A perfect example of manipulation is Splenda.  It started out as sugar (which some could argue is highly processed, stripped of all minerals and therefore not a great choice to begin with).  In processing it becomes modified by the addition of sucralose which is made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen atoms and inserting three chlorine atoms in their place. Because it contains less than 5 calories per serving it’s labeled as having no calories.  (A single packet, weighing 1 gram, actually provides 3.36 calories — a miniscule amount, however this is still misleading labeling).

Unfortunately Splenda (TM) is far from the harmless non-nutritive sweetener that it’s advertised to be.  It has been shown to alter intestinal pH and reduces intestinal microflora.  We need a balanced pH for good health.  We also require beneficial levels of bacteria to help support good digestive health.

According to one report published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, there seems to be some evidence that Splenda (TM) may not be as biologically inert as advertised.  It also appears that exposure to high temperatures can cause it to break down into a toxic substance.

Ingredient Overview

While I frequently write about what ingredients are, where they appear, and other information you need to be aware of in the newsletter, I also recognize that it’s helpful to have a “cheat sheet” of sorts to give you an overview and help you break it down a little bit further.  So I’ve created the infographic below.  These are my top ten “baddies” and the ones that you really want to watch out for.  Print it out, write it down, whatever you need to do to be able to bring this information with you to the grocery store. 

top-10-ingredients-to-avoid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re looking for more in-depth information about ingredients your best resource is The Pantry Principle:  how to read the label and understand what’s really in your food. 

For regular, weekly updates on what’s going on in the world of food manufacturing and processing be sure to check out my newsletter, Food News You Can Use.

 

 

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.

Hormel’s Vital Cuisine — Ingredient Review

Food niches

Food producers like to target niche markets where they believe they can capitalize on the desire of the consumer in that group to eat according to their needs.  Categories may include diet or weight loss products, items aimed at athletes, or those who follow a particular dietary protocol such as Atkins, South Beach, Gluten Free, etc.  

The latest target niche is cancer.  Hormel Foods, in partnership with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium, has developed a line of Ready To Eat (RTE) foods aimed at those undergoing cancer treatment.  Often people in this situation experience a wide range of issues when it comes to their food.  These can include lack of appetite or a change in tastes and eating sensations.  Coupled with a lack of energy, plus the physiological changes of treatment this often leads many people undergoing cancer treatment to be undernourished.  They frequently do better with nutrient dense, higher protein meals.

What’s in the box?

Unfortunately the choices developed by Hormel Foods do not represent the best options for nutrition as many of the ingredients are less than desirable.  Some are even known to cause cancer.  This is a rather upsetting thought when one considers that the item is aimed at those going through treatment for cancer who are presumably have a weaker immune system.  Below is a slideshow highlighting examples from the Vital Cuisine line.

 

I find it astounding and rather appalling that a company would put ingredients known to cause cancer into a food product designed for those going through this very condition.  

What to eat?

As mentioned above, the best food choices for those who are undergoing treatment for cancer are real, nourishing, nutrient dense foods. I always encourage people to read the label.  When dealing with a health-care crisis this becomes even more important.  While it may be overwhelming to learn how to understand the body’s nutritional needs when dealing with cancer, there are resources out there.  A couple of my favorite books are:

Screenshot 2016-05-09 18.35.54

The Cancer Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery by Rebecca Katz

 

 

 

Screenshot 2016-05-09 18.52.18 The Whole Food Guide for Breast Cancer Survivors: A Nutritional Approach for Preventing Recurrance by Edward Bauman and Helayne Waldman

 

 

 

The idea of niche marketing for specific health conditions is quite probably a new category of foods.  Who knows, we may find ourselves seeing foods designed to support those with arthritis, gout, or ulcerative colitis on the shelf next. As always it is important to look past the hype and the labeling.  Be informed, read the label, and eat well.

Sour And Tangy Flavor Trend

Sour flavors have piqued our collective interest, on par with the spice craze.  This consumer trend toward tangy flavors seems to have less to do with competitive one-upsmanship (as with spicy foods) and more to do with a movement toward wellness, artisanal foods, and ethnic cuisines.

More and more people are reaching for greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented foods due to their probiotic content and known health benefits.  As of 2013, Greek yogurt had expanded its market share from a mere one percent in 2007, to more than one third of the entire yogurt market.  Research has shown that fermented foods provide important nutrients, support beneficial bacteria for your gut flora and can help optimize your immune system.

Others have been introduced to sour tastes through Asian cuisine and ethnic dishes like kimchee.  Alongside the wellness fermentation trend, chefs are experimenting with pickling and other techniques to create sour flavors from cultures around the world.  In fact, Katherine Alford, a vice president at the Food Network says [quote]Sour flavors are having a national moment.[/quote]

This trend has invaded commercial industries as well.  There has been a large buzz surrounding sour beers with large distributers like New Belgium creating a new series of sour beers in light of their growing popularity in the United States.  Craft brewers all over are also trying to perfect the style, which involves intentionally spoiling the beer with good bacteria, the same microbes that make yogurt and miso.

Sadly, not all sour foods are healthy choices.  Wrigley, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc., saw a ten-fold increase in sales for sour gum in 2014 and has thus pronounced 2016 “the year of the sours” with plans to unveil several new sour candies and gums.  Pringles currently touts a tube of XTRA Screamin’ Dill Pickle chips with a dare: “Brave one bite and you’ll be hooked on the aggressive taste that won’t quit.”

Citric Acid

Unfortunately, this type of forceful advertising and manipulative use of sour flavoring highlight some concerns.  Citric acid – sometimes referred to as sodium citrate – is commonly the additive used to enhance flavor and provide the tangy, pucker-inducing taste that has become so popular.  This innocuous sounding additive is not commercially sourced from citrus fruits as you might think.  Instead, black mold is used to cheaply convert sugars into citric acid.  The sugars used in this process are often derived from cornstarch and the corn is highly likely to be genetically modified.

As a result, mass-produced citric acid is a hidden GMO ingredient that reportedly sets off allergenic responses in some sensitive consumers.  It is also known as an accomplice to the creation of benzene – a known human carcinogen.  It is often used like MSG, added widely to enhance and intensify flavors, while also functioning as a preservative.

Citric Acid is Commonly Added To
Symptoms of Citric Acid Sensitivity
  • Ice cream and sorbets
  • Caramel and other processed sweets
  • Sodas, cider, beer and wine
  • Many canned and jarred foods (preserves, canned fruits/vegetables, sauces, and even baby food)
  • Baked goods and cake mixes
  • Mouth ulcers or rashes
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea
  • Swelling of the mouth or throat
  • Headaches
  • Acid reflux in infants
  • Other symptoms of food allergy

How to Avoid Citric Acid

The FDA and international food regulating agencies consider citric acid to be a harmless additive despite public concern regarding these apparent sensitivities.  As always, read labels to avoid citric acid and other harmful additives.  Enjoy sour flavors healthfully and naturally with homemade kombucha, fermented foods and organic yogurt.

Sickly-sweet Additives

You’ve likely never heard of Senomyx, a biotech flavor engineering company that works with many major corporations from Kraft Foods and Nestle to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.  This flavoring manufacturer has stated in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission: [quote]The goals of our high potency sweetener program are to allow for the reduction of calories in packaged foods and beverages and to enable our collaborators to use product labeling referencing ‘natural flavors.’[/quote]

In line with this objective, Senomyx announced in August that its new additive “Sweetmyx S617” will soon be added to PepsiCo’s Manzanita Sol and Mug Root Beer soft drinks in the United States.  This artificial ingredient will allow food and beverage companies to reduce the calorie and sugar content of their products by amplifying the sweetness of sugar and other sweeteners.

Sweetness is arguably one of the most significant tastes we experience and crave in modern culture as we are seemingly bombarded with it – sugar is added to 74% of packaged foods!  Added sugar can sneak its way into your diet even when avoiding desserts like cookies and ice cream as it is found in many savory items like crackers, bread, salsa and pasta sauce.

The Power of Sweet

When we eat, the taste receptor cells on our tongues relay information to the brain signaling the specific type of flavor.  Sweetness from sugar is particularly powerful and has been found to stimulate brain pathways similar to the way an opioid would. In fact, in a well-known study, rats addicted to cocaine chose sugar over the drug when given the choice because the stimulating “high” from sugar is more pleasurable.

The startling reality is that many people are actually addicted to the sensation of sweetness and food manufacturers are taking advantage of this.  A typical 12-ounce can of regular soda can contain as many as 46.2 grams of added sugar, far exceeding the American Heart Association’s recommendations for sugar in an entire day.  One leading brand of yogurt contains 29 grams of sugar per serving and a breakfast bar made with “real fruit” and “whole grains” lists 15 grams of sugar per serving!

Many processed foods with “healthy” marketing jargon contain a shocking amount of added sugar, as we can see in this slideshow.

Corporations have been incredibly successful adding more and more sugar to processed foods so that we keep coming back for more.

However, in light of the obesity epidemic in this country, there has been some push back to reduce sugar content of processed foods.  Processed items with labels touting less sugar or lack of high fructose corn syrup are likely to be picked up by busy moms who want healthier convenient options for their kids.  Unsurprisingly, food manufacturers are working to meet this demand with manipulation instead of simply creating healthier formulations.  They’re seeking the best ways to reduce sugar without sacrificing the intensely sweet flavors that have us hooked and coming back for more.

In theory, a product that reduces calories and added sugar sounds like a great advancement for health.  Senomyx’s new additive Sweetmyx S617 is expected to reduce calories in the two newly formulated soft drinks by 25 percent, but at what cost?

Where To Look for Sweetmyx S617 on the Label

These flavor “enhancers” are not considered actual ingredients and are not required to be listed on packaging as anything other than artificial flavors.”  Frighteningly, Senomyx’s aim is to take these additives one step further and have them labeled as “natural flavors.”  Much like MSG, these flavor enhancers operate on a neurological level to produce this heightened sweet sensation, essentially tricking the brain into thinking foods are sweeter than they actually are.  This sounds like anything but natural!

The most troubling aspect of these new additives is that limited testing has been done to prove they are safe for consumption.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has determined through public records requests that the FDA does not have detailed safety information on these flavor enhancers and the limited analysis the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association has done does not meet FDA standards.  Many recommended tests are missing, including cancer studies, reproductive studies and screens to test how ingredients affect the nervous system.  Susan Schiffman, a sweetener expert and professor at North Carolina State University has said that [quote]To put anything into the food supply with this little testing is astounding.[/quote]

How can you avoid added sugar and corporate flavor manipulation?

You won’t find Sweetmyx S617 listed on any product’s label. As the FDA is comfortable deeming Senomyx’s flavor enhancers as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), avoid all processed foods that list “artificial flavors” among the ingredients where possible, to opt out of these untested additives.  In addition, reference Appendix One of Mira’s book The Pantry Principle for a comprehensive list of the many different names sugar can be found under and which ones to avoid.

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.