Category Archives: gmo


glyphosate, is it safe?

The Dangers Of Glyphosate

What is Glyphosate?

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, popular weedkiller, currently used in yards, parks, and farms all over the world. Controversy has long reigned over the use of this highly effective herbicide, due to its potentially dangerous effects on health and on the natural environment. Many highly respected researchers, including Dr. Stephanie Seneff at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, have been looking into the effects of glyphosate for many years. As a result of all of this research, there is now a considerable body of evidence against its use in gardening and agriculture.

In agriculture, we have seen a sharp rise in the amount of genetically modified crops, created to be resistant to Roundup, i.e., glyphosate. By modifying the crops, so the thinking went, farmers could spray Roundup on the crops with abandon. Although we have seen an increasing amount of genetically modified crops, we also now have a number of glyphosate-resistant weeds. This, quite obviously, defeats the purpose of spraying crops with herbicide.

Not Just For Weeds

In addition to its uses as a weed killer, glyphosate is also being sprayed on a variety of crops to dry them out before harvesting.  Currently, it’s being used on a wide variety of crops including:

  • buckwheat
  • corn
  • flax
  • lentils
  • millet
  • non-GMO soybeans
  • oats
  • potatoes
  • rye
  • sugar beets
  • wheat

This widespread usage is causing more glyphosate to appear in the food supply. Even at levels above EPA guidelines, which have been already been found by experts to be too high. This excessive exposure only adds to the overall body burden and increases the damage to the environment and to our health.

Health Risks

For many people, the biggest concern around glyphosate is its potential effects on human health. The health risks could be wide-ranging. Scientists have suggested links between the use of glyphosate and conditions including auto-immune diseases, autism, and problems with the body’s natural microbiome. Some studies even suggest that it could contribute to a range of common cancers, including breast cancer and certain types of leukemia.

The Microbiome

In 2013, a study by Dr. Stephanie Seneff and Dr. Anthony Samsel showed that glyphosate inhibits the activity of cytochrome P450, which is an important human enzyme. By interfering with this enzyme, it increases the damaging effects of other dangerous chemicals, reduces the body’s resilience to toxins, and contributes to inflammation. The results of these effects include gastrointestinal disorders which are associated with disturbances in the gut microbiome.

Gout

In another study, Dr. Stephanie Seneff and her colleagues argue that glyphosate-induced changes to the microbiome contribute to the epidemic of gout that is present in the developed world today. Like many gastrointestinal diseases, gout is a condition that is characterized by inflammation. Seneff’s findings suggest that traces of glyphosate in the diet could be the primary factor in the recent dramatic rise in gout cases in the United Kingdom.

Cancer

In another study, Dr. Anthony Samsel and Dr. Stephanie Seneff found correlations between the use of glyphosate on crops and a rise in the number of cases of a range of common cancers, including breast cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer, and myeloid leukemia. These findings reflect the World Health Organization’s labeling of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic.” Some proponents of glyphosate argue that the amounts that are used on food crops are not large enough to cause cancer in humans, but it is difficult to precisely control the size of the dose of glyphosate that any particular individual receives from their diet.

Effects on the Natural Environment

In addition to its potentially harmful effects on human health, glyphosate also poses dangers for the environment. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, recommends that people do not use the product close to fresh water because of its harmful effects on amphibians and other wildlife. However, it is not clear whether farmers and gardeners follow this recommendation. Even if they do make an effort to keep glyphosate away from sources of fresh water, rainwater, runoff can carry the product into streams and rivers, where it can wreak havoc on the health of fish and amphibians such as frogs. Furthremore, even if glyphosate does not directly kill fish and other wildlife, it can kill plants that these animals depend on for survival, causing ecological devastation that extends all the way up the food chain.

Depleting Nutrients From Soil

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate binds tightly to particles of soil and can persist in the ground for up to six months after it is applied. Bacteria will gradually break it down, but many experts argue that the effect on the soil is long lasting. Healthy soil contains a range of minerals that plants need to grow, including magnesium, nitrogen, and phosphorous. Glyphosate can affect the concentrations of these nutrients in the soil, which could affect the ability of plants, including food crops, to grow and produce healthy fruits, vegetables, and seeds.

Friend or Foe?

Many gardeners and farmers rely on glyphosate because it is very good at killing unwanted plants and weeds. However, the dangers of glyphosate mean that its ability to get rid of weeds might not be worth the potential damage to our health and the environment. In particular, concerns over the damaging health effects of dietary glyphosate, as highlighted in the research of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, should give us pause before using glyphosate or purchasing foods that have been grown using this dangerous herbicide. The effects of glyphosate on the natural environment also should also not be ignored, as it could have potentially devastating effects on natural freshwater ecosystems.

Sources

 

Ingredients Based On Corn

Corn is one of the most highly genetically modified (GM) ingredients in the United States.  Because of the challenges that genetic modification presents for our health and for the environment, I encourage people to eat organic corn. This also helps to avoid the high levels of pesticides and glyphosate used in growing the crop. The ability to use these chemicals are the primary reason for the genetic modification in the first place.  

Varieties of corn

There are many different forms of corn. When eating fresh, frozen or canned, it is sweet corn which only represents approximately 1% of all the corn we grow in the United States.  Field corn, sometimes referred to as dent corn, is the most common variety grown in the U.S. It represents nearly 60% of the entire corn crop. This variety is used for ethanol and livestock feed.   

Other uses for corn include corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup and in the confectionary business.  Popcorn is a separate variety. According to the Popcorn Board, the average American eats 42 quarts per year for a total consumption of 13 billion quarts.

Corn is also used in the textile industry and as a biodegradable plastic.

On the label

 Corn by itself is easy to identify in foods or on the label. The challenge is that it can be turned into a rather startling variety of ingredients. These ingredients make an appearance in nearly every single food category at the grocery store. This is problematic for the nearly 10 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with an allergy to corn. 

For those trying to avoid it, whether due to allergies or a desire to avoid GM contamination, it’s not always easy to know which ingredients got their start from corn.  If you’re looking to avoid GM products the easiest way is to choose either organic or GMO Project Verified products.  In the case of a food sensitivity or allergy use this list as a resource to help you know which products to avoid.

Corn-based ingredients

  • Ascorbic Acid – also sometimes listed as vitamin C
  • Baking Powder – this may contain cornstarch
  • 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, cornmeal 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 cornstarch
  • 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 cornstarch
  • 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

More Food Allergy Info

All About Eggs
Do You Have Oral Allergy Syndrome?
Food Intolerance Testing

 

 

 

 

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.

Boy Scout Popcorn – What’s In That Bag?

It’s Girl Scout cookie time. Everywhere you turn, at the grocery store, at the mall, outside shopping centers, are young girls dressed in their uniforms, selling cookies.  And if you live in suburbia, they’re knocking at the door, earnest little faces selling what is arguably one of America’s favorite cookies. However people are more aware of what’s really in those cookies and it seems like everywhere you turn people are complaining about the trans-fats, the GMOs, plus all the other negative ingredients.  The Food Babe even wrote an article dissecting the cookies and their ingredients.  *

I was talking about this with someone recently and she mentioned that she no longer buys Girl Scout Cookies because as much as she loves them she doesn’t want to eat all of the negative ingredients. Then she followed up with, “Thank goodness popcorn is safe. Because I love my Boy Scout Scout popcorn, we always buy enough to last the whole year.”  Ummm, excuse me? Well that’s a big whoops. Everyone is so focused on the Girl Scouts and their cookie sales that no one is really paying attention to Boy Scout Popcorn. Unfortunately it’s not as great as you might think. Let’s take a moment and look at the label of just two of the different flavors.

What’s In The Popcorn?

Mira_PopcornInfoGraph1_FIN

Mira_PopcornInfoGraph2_FIN

Important points

More than just what’s in the infographic is the story behind a few of the ingredients:

  • The dairy products are most likely to be from conventionally raised cows. These animals are given antibiotics, a lot of antibiotics.  In fact some estimates are that more than 70% of all antibiotics prescribed in this country are given to animals, not to directly to humans.  Studies have shown that overuse of antibiotics does contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria. You can read more about it here, here and here.
  • Citric Acid sounds safe enough, most of us think of it as being sourced from citrus fruits. Unfortunately in the world of food production that would be too time consuming and too expensive. This citric acid is most likely to be made from fermenting mold with genetically modified corn. Virtually all of the citric acid in the U.S. is manufactured this way.
  • By now many of you are aware of the fact that trans-fats have been banned. However manufacturers have until 2018 to remove them completely from their products and they can apply to the FDA for a permit allowing them to continue to use it.

In August when the Boy Scouts start knocking on your door you may want to reconsider buying that popcorn. By all means, continue to support your local troop; but consider making a donation directly to them rather than buying the popcorn.

And if you want popcorn? My suggestion is to make it at home. Here’s my favorite recipe:

 

Delicious Noosh Popcorn
Print
Ingredients
  1. organic popcorn
  2. 2-3 tablespoons organic cold pressed coconut oil
  3. 2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  4. 1-2 tablespoons dulse flakes
  5. 1 tablespoon Himalayan sea salt
Instructions
  1. Pop popcorn in hot air popper according to directions
  2. While popcorn is popping melt coconut oil
  3. In a separate bowl mix together nutritional yeast, dulse, and salt
  4. When popcorn is done drizzle coconut oil over popcorn
  5. Sprinkle dry mix over popcorn and oil
  6. Mix well to combine
  7. Enjoy
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy https://www.theingredientguru.com/

 

Full disclosure: I used to be a Girl Scout, a Girl Scout Leader, and I raised three Girl Scouts. There was a lot of cookie love going on in our house for years. But all of that was before I became more conscious about ingredients. At this point when Girls Scouts I know ask for the sale my response is to simply make a donation to the troop. 

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.

Coconut Milk — Not As Healthy As You’d Think

Screenshot 2015-02-05 22.48.50

Big news!  Yesterday, Wednesday, February 4 2015, Starbucks announced that they would start offering coconut milk as a non-dairy option. It’s scheduled to appear at a Starbucks near you beginning on February 17, 2105. Normally that would be a great option, especially for someone like me who is currently dealing with food sensitivities and needs to avoid dairy.  It’s also potentially better than their current non-dairy option, soymilk, which is quite possibly genetically modified.

While I don’t drink coffee I do like an occasional green tea latte.  However, on closer inspection it turns out this isn’t going to be an option for me either.  The ingredients panel shows several items that I can’t consume and a couple more that I choose not to.

Let’s start with carrageenan.  It’s a red seaweed which has been shown to be problematic for those with digestive issues.   Not just those who have serious bowel health issues such as crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, carrageenan can also affect those who struggle with bloating or gas issue.  Many of them find that they do much better when they avoid carrageenan.  For more information check out this report by the Cornucopia Institute.  In fact many people who struggle with carrageenan also have issues with excessive amounts of gums in food products.  This coconut milk also contains gellan gum, xanthan gum, and guar gum.

For ingredients I choose not to consume, and which I advocate others avoid as well, we see “natural” flavors [quotes are mine] which could mean anything and sometimes is a code for monosodium glutamate.  There’s also corn dextrin which, because it doesn’t specifically say organic, could be genetically modified.  While coconut milk itself isn’t genetically modified, corn is one of the most highly GMO crops we have and conventional corn products should be avoided as much as possible.   The vitamin A palmitate is most likely a synthetic form of palmitic acid; it’s used to fortify dairy products.

There are coconut milks that do not contain these products however some of them contain a gum, usually guar gum, to help with thickening the coconut milk.  Be sure to read the label to avoid ingredients you don’t want to eat.

———-

Update:  A reader wrote in and told me that Starbucks was aligned with Monsanto and supported opposition to GMO labeling.  Research shows that Starbucks is not directly affiliated with Monsanto other than that they both belong to the Grocery Manufacturers Association which is vigorously opposed to GMO labeling.   Starbucks claims to be an “affiliate” member and in a direct quote from Starbuck’s website:

Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign. And Starbucks is not aligned with Monsanto to stop food labeling or block Vermont State law.

The petition claiming that Starbucks is part of this litigation is completely false and we have asked the petitioners to correct their description of our position. 

Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO labeling. As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution.

 

Glucerna – Is It A Healthy Choice?

Meal supplement beverages, such as glucerna, are frequently promoted by doctors for a variety of reasons.  In some cases it may be due to concerns about the amount of protein a patient needs, or if they are a “picky eater” and not getting enough nutrients.  An increasing number of these products are aimed at diabetics, purporting to help them control blood sugar levels.  Sadly these products come with a massive ingredient list and are not as healthy as the manufacturer would have you believe.

What’s in the can?

Glucerna - ingredient breakdown

I’ve chosen Glucerna because it’s one of the more popular products aimed at people with diabetes.  It claims to “Help Minimize Blood Sugar Spikes”, has 190 calories, and provides 10 grams of protein.  Just because something has a lot of protein does not mean that it’s helpful for managing blood sugar.  You need to read the label to see what’s really in that can.

INGREDIENTS:  Water, Corn Maltodextrin, Milk Protein Concentrate,       Fructose, Glycerol, Short-Chain Fructooligosaccharides, Cocoa Powder       (Processed with Alkali), Soy Protein Isolate, High Oleic Safflower Oil.            Less than 2% of the Following: Canola Oil, Soy Oil, Cellulose Gel, Potassium Citrate, Magnesium Phosphate, Salt, Choline Chloride,  Ascorbic Acid, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate,      Cellulose Gum, Potassium Phosphate, Natural & Artificial Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Monoglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Liquid Sucralose, Potassium Hydroxide, Magnesium Chloride, Carrageenan, Turmeric Concentrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Manganese Sulfate, Calcium Pantothenate, FD&C Red #3, Cupric Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Chromium Chloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Sodium Molybdate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenate, Phylloquinone, Cyanocobalamin, and Vitamin D3.

That’s  quite a mouthful.  Literally.  So now let’s break down that long list  so you can really understand what you’re getting.

Glucerna ingredients

Sugars

This product delivers 6 grams of sugar per serving.  That’s a lot of  sugar in my book, especially for a beverage that’s supposed to balance blood sugar.   The very first thing that stands out for me on the ingredient list is that the first ingredient is water, meaning that most of this product is water.  

When we go through the list of ingredients we see that it has several different sources of sugar and sweeteners.  To have all of this in a product clearly aimed at people trying to better manage their blood sugar levels does not make sense.

  • Corn Maltodextrin: The corn is most likely genetically modified meaning that this has GMOs in it.  I do not advocate consuming GMOs and recommend avoiding them as much as possible.
  • Fructose: This is probably from either sugar cane, sugar beets or corn.  While I don’t know which one it is I will point out that the sugar beets and corn are most likely to be from GMO sources.  Excess consumption of fructose has also been shown to have a negative impact on the liver.  
  • Glycerol: This is a sugar alcohol which can be synthesized or made from either plant (soy, i.e., GMO soy) or animal (tallow) sources
  • Sucralose: An artificial sweetener which can cause a host of negative health issues including migraines, dizziness, digestive disturbances, and allergic type reactions.
  • Acesulfame Potassium: Another form of artificial sweetener.  Unfortunately studies appear to show that consuming a lot of artificial sweeteners may be linked to weight gain.

Other negative ingredients

  • Artificial flavor:  Made from “proprietary chemical formulations” the actual ingredients are not required to be listed on the label as long as they are considered GRAS.  However, many artificial flavor formulations have been shown to cause nausea, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, chest pain and more.
  • FD&C Red #3: Made from petrochemicals, this artificial dye can have a very negative impact on brain chemistry.  Studies have positively linked inattentive type behaviors, anxiety, and aggression with consumption of artificial food colors.
  • GMO ingredients:  In addition to the probable GMOs found in the sugars listed above, this product also has Soy Protein Isolate, Canola Oil, Soy Oil, and Soy Lecithin.  Soy and canola are two of the most highly genetically modified crops currently out there and should be avoided.
  • Milk Protein Concentrate: Sometimes listed as MPC, this highly processed ultra-filtered product is highly likely to come from cows that have been treated with artificial hormones and antibiotics.  These artificial hormones have been linked to overall immune system issues, metabolic syndrome, and even diabetes.  Overconsumption of antibiotics through animal products have been linked with antibiotic resistant diseases.
  • Carrageenan: is made from red seaweed and is often highly problematic for those who have digestive issues.

Many of the other additives are most probably synthesized versions of the vitamins that they represent, not the forms found in nature which are more readily absorbed by the system.

Overall this is not a product that I would suggest for anyone.  There are too many negative ingredients and I do not believe it’s a product that delivers any sort of health benefit.

Update  

When I posted this on my Facebook page it generated a number of comments asking what would be a good alternative.  If you’re looking for a protein drink there are powders that have a reasonable protein content, far less sugar, and few to no dubious ingredients.   I encourage you to read the label and understand what’s in the can before you make a choice.  The object is to choose one that has no negative ingredients.

An even better choice than a beverage would be the addition of real foods that are nutritionally dense and provide balanced protein without junky ingredients.  One of my favorites is soaked raw nuts or grass fed bison jerky.  My friend and colleague Trudy Scott is a huge fan of tinned sardines.  There are plenty of other options out there if you read the label.

 

Nordic Diet

There’s a new diet trend that appears set to take the world by storm, the Nordic Diet. It appears to be a Scandinavian take on the concepts of the Mediterranean Diet. According to a study published in The Journal of Internal Medicine it lowered cholesterol and inflammation among study participants who followed the plan for 18 weeks.  Without a doubt there will shortly be a book, a cookbook, several websites with recipes, and a new crowd of enthusiasts.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it may not be the right thing for everyone.

The diet does allow for whole grains, primarily rye, barley, and oats, as well as low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, game meats (like moose), fruits, berries, vegetables, and canola oil. While new diet plans always garner a lot of excitement it’s important to remember that there is no one size fits all diet. We are bio-individual creatures and what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. If someone is gluten intolerant they need to avoid the rye and barley (and source gluten free oats) allowed in this nutritional plan. Just because it’s part of the diet doesn’t mean it’s the right choice if your body can’t handle it.

I do have a couple of thoughts about this diet and about food trends in general:

  • The Nordic Diet calls for canola oil. In the United States this is not a good choice as the vast majority of it is contaminated by GMO. Some estimates of contamination and cross-contamination are so high that there are those who believe there is no unmodified canola to be found in the U.S.
  • The diet calls for low-fat dairy. This is not a healthy option. Starting with the fact that dairy is one of our few food sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning it needs to be consumed with fat in order for the body to properly utilize it). Vitamin D is also important to help the body properly make use of calcium. When it comes to the old notion that high fat diets cause obesity, recent studies have shown that the opposite is true. In measured studies, those who consumed whole-milk dairy products had reduced risk for obesity.
  • The diet does not, as far as I’ve been able to find, specifically talk about sourcing of food.  While game meat is unlikely to be adulterated with added hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, poultry and fish need to be sustainably sourced.   It’s interesting to note that game meat in general may be gaining some prominence as people seek to avoid meat from animals raised in confined operations.
  • Vegetables and fruits still need to be sourced without pesticide residue and GMO contamination.
  • I imagine that there will be more of a call for root vegetables.  This is a good thing as root vegetables are high vitamins, beta-carotene, and fiber.  [side thought: I’m always surprised when I buy parsnips at the grocery store and the checkout clerk wants to know  what the “white carrots” are.]

With food trends in general I expect we’ll face a year ahead with more, New, BETTER (read tongue in cheek) superfoods that convey all sorts of health benefits.  I’m not a huge fan of seeking those out and quite frankly we have superfoods that are local and easily accessible, there’s no need to keep chasing the latest super ones.

I imagine there will still be some sort of push to get bugs onto the menu and into the grocery stores.  They’re cheap and easy to raise, a quick, convenient source of protein.  I’m not a fan but that’s a personal preference.  I also don’t eat things like squid or eels that doesn’t mean I think they’re dangerous or bad for you.  With anything that we eat we have to look at how it’s raised.  Remember, you are what you eat includes whatever the animal you’re eating ate.

I still believe there’s not enough focus on fermented foods.  These are in a category referred to as functional foods, they have a specific health benefit.  In the case of fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, and lacto-fermented vegetables they add beneficial probiotics to our intestinal tract, helping us to break down our food, boost our immune system and stay healthy.  While I see more and more evidence of some fermented foods I believe we would all benefit from eating more of them.  Ideally we’d learn how to make them at home.

I’d like to believe we’ll continue to see a growing influence of tip-to-tail consumption that will encourage us to eat more fully from the whole animal.  Learning to eat organ meats again, consuming more bone broths, getting away from the white-meat-only-chicken-breast diet that so many of us have become accustomed to.

Whatever nutrition plan lies ahead let’s remember that we need to eat according to the needs of our bio-individual bodies.  Our dietary needs change over time.  We don’t eat the same in our 40’s as we did when we were a toddler or an adolescent.  But however we choose to eat, whatever we’re eating, let’s focus on clean, healthy, sustainably sourced foods rather than jumping from one popular diet plan to another.

photo: PL Przemek